by Mike Chen on 10/03/08 at 08:44 PM ET
If you flipped open the 1998-99 The Hockey News yearbook today, you might do a double-take when looking at the #6 player. That can’t be right, you might think, because that’s the same exact player as in 2008-09. How is that possible?
Here’s something to consider. At age 38, Wayne Gretzky was at the brink of retirement. Bobby Orr wasn’t skating anymore. Ray Bourque was still great but not considered the top defenseman in the league. Yet, up in Detroit, something just doesn’t follow that pattern of skill deteriorating with age.
Presenting the curious case of one Nicklas Lidstrom who performed the age-defying feat of showing up at #6 in The Hockey News’ Top 50 players both in 1998-99 and 2008-09. Yes folks, he’s that damn good.
Lidstrom’s point totals have fluctuated throughout the years, and one of the strange trends is that they’ve actually gone up as he’s gotten older. Part of that has to do with the post-lockout style of play and part of that can be credited to the team around him, but in terms of his pure skill, it really seems like time is some sort of magic elixir that makes Lidstrom better. A quick comparison:
1997-98: 80 games played, 17 goals, 42 assists, 19 playoff points in 22 games
2007-08: 76 games played, 10 goals, 60 assists, 13 playoff points in 22 games
In terms of awards, Lidstrom has only missed out on the Norris trophy in 2004 and 2005 this decade; in 1998, Rob Blake was the Norris winner. To compare the two, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Lidstrom is simply better in terms of longevity and overall skill.
Lidstrom’s long-term sustainability has a lot to do with his style of play. He hardly gets any penalty minutes, and while he’s a tough player, his game is based on finesse, positioning, and—most importantly—smarts. As long as he can out-think opposing puck carriers, his positioning and stickwork can stay at their peak effectiveness.
A decade of excellence at the top. There aren’t too many players who can make the same claim, and the really scary thing is that it doesn’t look like Lidstrom will slow down anytime soon. Red Wing fans, appreciate what you got because it won’t come along again for a long, long time.
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