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Future Hall Of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom Retires

I like to post a career retrospective whenever a player that I think belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame retires.  Today Nicklas Lidstrom is retiring.  He has had a great career proving himself to be one of the best defencemen in hockey history.  It is a shame that he is retiring now because even at age 42, he is still capable of All Star level play.

Lidstrom was born on April 28, 1970 in Vasteras, Sweden.  His first potential notice from hockey scouts came in the 1987/88 season when at age 17 (soon to be 18) he played three regular season games and five more in the playoffs with Vasteras IK’s team in Sweden’s division two league (this is not the elite Vasteras team).  This was the first year that Lidstrom was draft eligible and nobody selected him.  He was largely an unknown player.

He got chance to play with the elite league Vasteras IK team for 19 games the next season.  He posted an underwhelming no goals and two assists.  This was good enough for Lidstrom to get drafted at age 19.  He was selected in the third round 53rd overall by the Detroit Red Wings. 

Detroit let Lidstrom continue to develop as a hockey player in Sweden.  He played more games and began to get some better offensive numbers the next season.  This got him a spot on the Swedish team in the World Junior Championships.  After another season in Sweden, he was a key player on the gold medal winning team in the World Hockey Championships.  Lidstrom decided to come to the NHL the next season at age 21.  Before the season began he made an impression playing for Sweden in the Canada Cup.

His rookie season was good enough for a spot on the All Rookie Team as Lidstrom posted 60 points from defence.  Lidstrom slowly developed into an even better defenceman in his first few NHL seasons.  It was 1996 when he was 25 years old before he played in his first of eleven All Star Games.  In the 1996/97 season Lidstrom was part of Detroit’s first Stanley Cup victory in over 40 years.  When NHL players first went to the Olympics in Nagano, Japan in 1998, Lidstrom was a key member of the Swedish team.  Detroit repeated as Stanley Cup champions that season and Lidstrom made the First Team All Star for the first of ten times.  In 2001 he won his first of seven Norris Trophies.  He returned to the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and won his third Stanley Cup while repeating his Norris Trophy win.  He became the first European to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP that year.  Lidstrom won one more Norris Trophy in the two seasons before the 2004/05 NHL lockout, in which he did not play.

When NHL hockey returned in 2005/06, Lidstrom did not skip a beat.  He won the Norris Trophy again in each of the first three years of play after the lockout.  He won a gold medal in the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.  Lidstrom was named to the Olympic tournament All Star Team.  In 2008 he won his fourth Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings.  From this point Lidstrom began to show his age a bit.  His offensive numbers began to decline and while he remained a top defenceman, He was no longer clearly the best in the NHL.  In 2009 he made the NHL Second All Star Team for the first time.  He made it again the next season.  In 2010 he participated in his fourth Olympiad in Vancouver.  He won his seventh Norris Trophy in 2011.  Many considered this an award given in appreciation for his great career when no clear front runner emerged.  It was the only year in his career when he posted a negative +/- rating (-2).  Lidstrom played a final season with the Red Wings in 2011/12.  He was an All Star calibre player but was not chosen for the All Star Game when he made it clear that he wanted the break over All Star weekend.

Clearly Lidstrom is still a capable NHL player but he wants a break from the constant grind of NHL hockey.  He retires as a seven time Norris Trophy winner.  Only Bobby Orr won it more times (8).  He is the 50th highest scorer all time with 1142 career points.  This is sixth among defencemen.  He is tenth in career games played with 1564.  For a late bloomer, Lidstrom had a great lengthy career.  This is remarkable given that he was over 30 before winning his first Norris Trophy.  He is a member of the “triple gold club” having won Olympic gold, World Championship gold and the Stanley Cup.

With this retirement we are left with 13 players who I pick as Hall of Famers regardless of what they do in the remainder of their careers.  Here is the list:

Daniel Alfredsson
Martin Brodeur
Zdeno Chara
Sidney Crosby
Dominik Hasek
Jarome Iginla
Jaromir Jagr
Alexander Ovechkin
Chris Pronger
Martin St Louis
Teemu Selanne
Tim Thomas
Joe Thornton

The Stanley Cup finals are still underway so it is possible that this list will still grow this season.  Otherwise it may shrink with further retirements this summer.

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Comments

Nathan's avatar

Was Lidstrom really a late bloomer? 21 is ripe compared to guys like Yzerman, Crosby, or Gretzky, but it’s right within that range that most top-flight players start their career. The other thing is, the Norris wins would make you think he was a late bloomer, but if you look at his season-by-season numbers, and if you watched his entire career, it is truly remarkable how consistent he was. I think the fact he didn’t win a Norris in his 20s is more a reflection of A) how understated his personality is, B) how understated his playing style is (he might not hit much, but he always came out with the puck), C) how many good, more veteran D were still in the league through the late ‘90s (Bourque, Leetch, Macinnis, Coffey, Chelios), and finally D) how North American bias almost definitely played against him (he lost to Blake and Pronger in years where there are very very strong arguments to be made that he was the best D in the game).

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 05/31/12 at 04:15 PM ET

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D) how North American bias almost definitely played against him (he lost to Blake and Pronger in years where there are very very strong arguments to be made that he was the best D in the game).

there was no argument that Lidstrom should have won the Norris in the year Pronger won the league MVP, strong or otherwise.

Posted by larry from pitt on 05/31/12 at 05:02 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Lidstrom is definitely a late bloomer.  I think that is related to his style of play.  Lidstrom was arguably the smartest player in the NHL.  It takes time to learn all the tricks to do that.  It also allowed him to remain an All Star calibre player years after he had passed his physical prime.

When we compare to the other best defencemen of all time - Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Eddie Shore, Ray Bourque, Larry Robinson ... they all had Norris Trophy calibre seasons at a younger age than Lidstrom (Shore and Harvey had Norris calibre seasons before the Norris Trophy existed).  There isn’t anybody who is a good comparison with Lidstrom in terms of career achievement on defence who bloomed as late as he did.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 05/31/12 at 05:42 PM ET

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He was a great player and even better person (from a fans perspective).  Definitely sucks that he is retiring considering he was still the best d-man in the league last year.

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 05/31/12 at 07:09 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

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