The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/31/12 at 09:24 AM ET
As Sportsline’s Brian Stubits duly noted, Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom remains ever the polite captain, even in choosing to position the Red Wings to pursue free agents and trades to help fill the gaping hole he’ll leave in Detroit’s defense and the hearts of Red Wings fans, maybe to an extent that the Wings have never been as aggressive before: Lidstrom made sure to choose to hold his presser during the first of two days between Stanley Cup Final games, giving the league more than enough time to shift its focus back to the New Jersey Devils-Los Angeles Kings series and giving the flock of reports that will show up at Joe Louis Arena this morning at 11 enough time to shuffle back to Newark for Game 2 on Saturday.
Here’s a brief survey of what the rest of the NHL has to say about Lidstrom’s retirement, which the Wings’ press corps will undoubtedly continue to focus upon in the days, weeks and months to come, starting with videos from NHL.com:
Via Paul, here’s Wayne Gretzky’s take on Lidstrom retiring…
Here are Steve Yzerman’s comments about his former teammate…
Here are the NHL Network’s Mike Johnson and Barry Melrose weighing in…
Here’s Darren Dreger talking about the state of the Wings moving forward…
And this was Lidstrom’s first goal:
As NHL.com’s Corey Masisak notes, the news that Lidstrom was retiring took everyone at the NHL’s general managers’ meetings by surprise:
“He’s going to announce his decision for next ... I’ll let Nick—he’s played 20 years, he can make his own announcement,” Detroit GM Ken Holland said as he left the meeting at the Westin Times Square
As the GMs filed out of the ballroom at the midtown Manhattan hotel, several were asked about the impact of Lidstrom, who according to NHL Network will announce his retirement after 20 years in the NHL.
“I think he’s going to go down as one of the all-time best defensemen ever to play,” said Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman, who was the captain in Detroit before Lidstrom. “Having played with him and watched him closely from his first game, people know about it now but we’ve said it all along—you have to watch him closely to appreciate how good he is, what a great athlete he is because he makes the position look so easy. He is a special athlete.”
“I hope he does [retire], and I love him,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said jokingly. “I can’t talk about other teams’ players, but I admire him and I think he is one of the greatest. He is brilliant in how he plays. I said the first part jokingly. I hope he doesn’t retire. I think he is the standard of how we want people to play the game—the ultimate professional. I think he is one of the, when we’re teaching young defensemen how to play the game, I don’t think there’s ever been anyone as technically strong as him, and that includes everybody.”
“I think he’s going to go down as one of the all-time best defensemen ever to play.”—Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman on Nicklas Lidstrom
His absence could have a dramatic effect on not only the future of the Red Wings, but also the other top franchises in the Western Conference.
“Yeah, it is not easy [to replace him]. It has been a unique run,” Yzerman said. “I guess sitting from outside looking in ... their depth—they have some excellent young players not in the NHL coming forward. They’re going to be a strong organization. It is going to be take time to rebuild your defense when you lose a player of that caliber if you do lose him.”
Added Wilson: “How it impacts the balance—you don’t replace players like that. You don’t. When we teach young defensemen, you don’t even have to say anything—you just show them how he handles a situation. He’s brilliant in his simplicity in how he plays. Brilliant. There’s never enough centermen and defensemen in this business. If you lose one, you’re looking to replace one.”
• Sportsnet confirmed the news and stated it would stream the presser;
– Lidstrom was drafted in the third round, 53rd overall, by Detroit in 1989. With the No. 52 pick, Hartford took Blair Atcheynum, who went on to play 196 NHL games…none of them with the Whalers.
– Lidstrom played in 1,564 regular season and 263 postseason games, all with Detroit. Only Gordie Howe has played more games as a Wing.
– Lidstrom played his first NHL contest on Oct. 3, 1991. Eighteen days later, Winnipeg forward Alex Burmistrov was born.
– Lidstrom made the NHL’s All-Rookie team in 1991-92. The others? Dominik Hasek, Vladimir Konstantinov, Kevin Todd, Tony Amonte and Gilbert Dionne.
– Lidstrom has the eighth best plus-minus in NHL history, at plus-450. The next closest active player is Jaromir Jagr, at plus-280.
– Lidstrom made an estimated $99.93 million during his NHL career, according to CapGeek
– Lidstrom won seven Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman, second only to Bobby Orr, who won eight. Lidstrom’s seven is equal the amount won by Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson and Rod Langway combined.
• The Sporting News’s Sean Gentile also confirmed the news.
Cranking up content in terms of substance, The New York Times’ Jeff Z. Klein offered obvious comments from Ken Holland and Steve Yzerman:
Detroit General Manager Ken Holland declined to say Wednesday whether Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom will announce his retirement at a news conference scheduled for Thursday morning in Detroit.
“I’m going to let Nick decide tomorrow what his decision is,” Holland said.
Holland spoke to reporters Wednesday after N.H.L. general managers met at a Midtown Manhattan hotel before the Devils and the Los Angeles Kings met in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals in Newark.
“I talked to him a couple days ago, three or four times over the last week,” Holland said. “I told him I wanted to know his decision before the draft, but of course it’s a major decision for him.”
Pressed as to what Lidstrom, considered the best defenseman of his generation, had decided, Holland said only:
“He has obviously come to a decision, which he’ll announce tomorrow. Tune in at 11 a.m.”
Lidstrom, 42, has played his entire 20-season N.H.L. career with Detroit, winning the seven Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman seven times, one short of the record set by Bobby Orr. He has won four Stanley Cups and one Conn Smythe Trophy, was a first-team All-Star 10 times and earned a gold medal when Sweden won the
2006 Olympic tournament. In 1,564 regular-season games he has 264 goals and 1,142 points, high totals for a defenseman, while taking a remarkably low 514 penalty minutes. Last spring, Lidstrom held a conference call to announced his return for the 2011-12 season. This time he is holding a news conference, and Holland said he would attend.
Steve Yzerman, the Tampa Bay general manager and a longtime teammate of Lidstrom’s in Detroit, said that once Lidstrom retires he will “go down as one of the all-time best defensemen ever to play.”
For your consideration, here are the raw numbers on some of the top modern rearguards:
Nicklas Lidstrom: 1,564 games played, 264 goals, 1,142 points, 10-time First-Team All-Star, two-time Second-Team All-Star, seven Norris Trophies, four Stanley Cups, Conn Smythe Trophy, Olympic gold medal.
Ray Bourque: 1,612 games played, 410 goals, 1,579 points, 13-time First-Team All-Star, six-time Second-Team All-Star, five Norris Trophies, two Canada Cups, Stanley Cup.
Larry Robinson: 1,384 games played, 208 goals, 958 points, three-time First-Team All-Star, three-time Second-Team All-Star, two Norris Trophies, six Stanley Cups, two Canada Cups.
Denis Potvin: 1,060 games played, 310 goals, 1,052 points, five-time First-Team All-Star, two-time Second-Team All-Star, three Norris Trophies, four Stanley Cups, Conn Smythe Trophy, Canada Cup.
Paul Coffey: 1,409 games played, 396 goals, 1,531 points, four-time First-Team All-Star, four-time Second-Team All-Star, three-time Norris Trophy winner, four Stanley Cups, three Canada Cups.
Alongside these five are perennial All-Stars and trophy-winners such as Chris Chelios, Scott Niedermayer and Brian Leetch, gritty leaders like Scott Stevens, Chris Pronger and Rob Blake, high-scorers like Al McInnis and Larry Murphy as well as legends from the 1960s and 70s like Red Kelly, Brad Park and Borje Salming.
And TSN posted videos of the presser’s confirmation, with Ken Holland stating that Lidstrom would make his own announcement, a 2:34 clip of Aaron Ward, Bob McKenzie and Ray Ferraro discussing Lidstrom’s career, Craig Button and Steve Kouleas discussing Lidstrom’s greatness, Aaron Ward and Darren Dreger talking about Lidstrom’s smarts, and Steve Yzerman weighing in on Lidstrom as well;
• Wings play by play announcer Ken Daniels spoke to The Fan 590 about Lidstrom’s decision:
• ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun confirmed the news…
“He’s going to announce tomorrow his decision for next year. I’ll let Nick, he’s played 20 years, he can make his own announcement,” Detroit general manager Ken Holland told reporters after the GMs met in New York before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Lidstrom, a surefire Hall of Famer, won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman seven times. He was a runner-up three other times.
“If he does retire, he’s going to go down as one of the all-time best defensemen ever to play,” said Steve Yzerman, Lidstrom’s former Red Wings teammate and the current Tampa Bay Lightning general manager. “Having played with him and watched him closely from his first game in the NHL, people know about it now and we said it all along, you have to watch him closely to appreciate how good he is, what a great athlete he is, because he makes the position look so easy. He is a special athlete.”
ESPN’s Jon Kramer offered Lidstrom “facts”...
MOST NORRIS TROPHIES NHL HISTORY
Bobby Orr, 8
Nicklas Lidstrom, 7
Doug Harvey, 7
Ray Bourque, 5
No one played more games in NHL history while spending his entire career with one franchise than Nicklas Lidstrom.
MOST GAMES PLAYED SPENT ENTIRE CAREER WITH ONE FRANCHISE
Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings: 1,564*
Alex Delvecchio, Red Wings: 1,549
Steve Yzerman, Red Wings: 1,514
Stan Mikita, Blackhawks: 1,394
*10th on NHL’s all-time GP list
NICKLAS LIDSTROM CAREER RANKINGS AMONG RED WINGS
Games: 1,564, 2nd*
Goals: 264, 9th
Assists: 878, 3rd
Points: 1,142, 4th
Lidstrom played 20 seasons, finishing with a minus just once (minus-2 in 2010-11). For his career, he was a plus-450.
If it matters, Barry Melrose says Lidstrom was the third-best defenseman ever…
And while I can’t share much of this, ESPN’s Craig Custance pondered Lidstrom’s “replacement” in an insider-only column, guesstimating that the Wings will grab Ryan Suter if he becomes available:
“I think he’s the closest,” said one NHL scout. “Suter can do it all. He’s in the prime of his career, or just reaching the prime of his career. The need in Detroit becomes very strong.”
It also makes Detroit an interesting option for Justin Schultz, the talented University of Wisconsin defenseman who still hasn’t signed with the Ducks. Chances are he won’t, which means he’ll hit the market as a free agent who will draw as much interest as anyone this offseason.
The competition for him will be intense, but Schultz may be intrigued by the possibility of being part of the next wave of young defensemen in Detroit. If Holland can put together a defense for next season that includes Suter, Niklas Kronwall, Ian White, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Smith, Quincey and Schultz, the Wings are in great shape. But unlike when they watched Yzerman step away, there isn’t an heir apparent ready to take Lidstrom’s mantle as the Red Wings’ lead blueliner.
“It was a little bit different when I retired,” Yzerman said. “You had Pav [Pavel Datsyuk] and Hank [Henrik Zetterberg]—two center men just hitting their prime. I think it’s fair to say and it’s by no means a criticism, but they don’t have Pav or Hank on the blue line ready to step in. It’s still a good group of defensemen. And they’re smart and resourceful, they’ll have a good defense next year.’‘
Either way, it’s going to be a team effort to replace Lidstrom, even if part of that team is someone as talented as Suter.
“No doubt. The pressure of somebody trying to take on those minutes—they have to disperse those minutes amongst the group and include the guys they add via trades or free agency,” said an NHL source. “You can’t sign one guy and replace Nick Lidstrom. That poor guy has no chance. No chance.”
• Now the Nashville press is reacting quite strongly and quite angrily to such suggestions. They almost angrily suggested on Twitter that there’s no way that Suter would leave, especially when having to face the prospect of standing in Lidstrom’s shadow, and as Paul noted, the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper certainly summarizes the Nashville line of thought:
Detroit is a big hockey market but it’s not as fanatical as Philadelphia — the Flyers are also rumored to be a potential Suter suitor — and leaves its superstars alone for the most part. Suter is a private person and likely wants to go to a place that would respect him and his family.
With Ken Holland as general manager, Mike Babcock as coach and Mike Ilitch as owner, the Red Wings should have the brainpower and the monetary resources to stay competitive for years to come. Also, Lidstrom’s $6.2 million contract comes off the books, giving the Red Wings even more money to play with.
But Suter would be replacing a Detroit sports icon, which is no easy task. If Lidstrom decided to stay one more year, Suter at least could have been eased into the successor role.
And the Predators eliminated the Red Wings from the playoffs this season. So if you beat them, why join them?
Detroit’s core is aging. Pavel Datsyuk, who will turn 34 in July, had knee surgery last season and appeared slowed during the playoffs. Henrik Zetterberg will be 32 in October. The younger Wings — Gustav Nyquist, Cory Emmerton and Tomas Tatar — are good, but they’re not high-end prospects.
Unless the Red Wings can make another move for a younger forward — such as Zach Parise, the top pending free agent — the Predators with Suter have more long-term potential than the Red Wings with Suter.
• Shifting our focus to more positive takes on Lidstrom and his legacy, the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle recalled his conversation with Lidstrom from two years ago...
How much have you thought about what you’ll do when you finally stop playing?
Lidstrom: “A little bit. But I haven’t really made up my mind what I want to do. I’ve got kids playing hockey so I’d definitely like to be involved with youth hockey somehow. Right now the plan is to eventually move back to Sweden.”
That seems pretty common among Swedish players in the NHL. After 20 years in North America, why do you think you’ll leave?
Lidstrom: “I think we are just close to our families, that’s what it comes down to. I have all my family back home, so I think that’s really what it boils down to for a lot of Swedes.”
Will you be involved in Swedish hockey?
Lidstrom: “Yeah. Where I live, they’re in the second division, right below the Elite League [in the Allsvenskan]. So I might be involved with that team and hopefully they’ll make the step up to the Elite League.”
Is all the talk about turning 40 and retirement off putting?
Lidstrom: “Well, it’s going to come sooner or later. It’s going to come. Now I’m getting up there in age, people are watching me closely and they think something’s going to happen [with my play falling off] but I prepare for every game the way I have for the past 10 to 15 years. Nothing’s really changed on my side. I know what I have to do. I feel the same out there.”
And the Globe and Mail’s David Shoalts spoke to Scotty Bowman about Lidstrom:
“I was always amazed,” Bowman said. “I don’t remember him getting caught up the ice and leaving his defence partner to defend an out-numbered situation. It was just uncanny the way his whole game evolved. He was so good at keeping the puck.”
Lidstrom’s 1,142 points place him sixth on the career scoring list for defencemen. But it was his ability to control the game from the offensive blueline and never make a bad decision with the puck that set him apart. Bowman says Lidstrom and Raymond Bourque were two of the best at patrolling the offensive blueline.
“They always made right decision to keep the puck in, to take the right shot at the net,” Bowman said. “Very seldom did they take chances. Their stats are so good offensively and it was not just fabricated from taking chances.”
Bowman coached both Lidstrom and the man he is usually compared with in the argument about who was the second-best defenceman of all time, Doug Harvey. It is hard to compare them, Bowman said, because they played in different eras, with Harvey spending most of his Hall of Fame career with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1950s before finishing up in 1969 at the age of 45 with Bowman and the St. Louis Blues. Those were mostly the pre-Orr years, when NHL coaches did not allow their defencemen much latitude to play offensively. However, Bowman said, there were similarities in that neither player was caught up the ice, both rarely made the wrong decision with the puck along the blueline and both were skilled passers.
“They controlled the game,” Bowman said. “They both had the same concept: The resulting play they made was not to give the puck away. They made plays. They had the ability to control the game, mainly because of their ability to pass the puck at the right time and play the point. When I look at a defenceman, when he gets the puck, what is the resulting play? Does his team keep the puck or does the other team get it? Over 95 per cent of time, when Lidstrom had the puck, one of his teammates got it.”
• And I’ll give the “last words” to two former Wings beat writers in Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika....
“I think Nick should announce his decision,” said the Wings’ Ken Holland after the NHL general managers’ meeting Wednesday in New York. “He’s earned that right.”
Lidstrom has won the Norris Trophy seven times, one short of the record held by Bobby Orr. He won the Norris in 2010-11, decided to come back and played at a high level this season. But he is 42 now, and he’s coming off one of the few injuries of his career—a deep ankle bruise—that made him look mortal down the stretch and into the playoffs. He has always set a high standard for himself, and if he feels he can no longer meet it, if he feels he no longer has the motivation to train for another long season, he will walk away from the NHL even when he could still play well and make millions. Holland said he spoke to Lidstrom a couple of days ago and three or four times in the past week.
“I’ve told him all along I really needed to know prior to the draft,” Holland said. “I wanted to make sure that he had all the necessary time. I mean, it’s a major decision for him. He’s obviously come to a decision.”
Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill have been able to rebuild the Wings on the fly. They have won Stanley Cups in 1997, ‘98, 2002 and ‘08 while turning over their personnel. They have kept winning while losing a long list of superstars that includes Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan.The Wings have some players in the pipeline, such as defenseman Brendan Smith, and they have the potential to make moves. They already had ample salary-cap space, and Lidstrom’s departure will give them $6.2 million more. They are expected to pursue the Nashville Predators’ Ryan Suter, a pending unrestricted free agent, among others.
The timing of this announcement helps their planning. It also gives plenty of heads up to any free agent wondering about the situation in Detroit or any team looking to make a major deal.
“It’s not easy. It’s been a unique run,” Yzerman said. “It’s going to take time to rebuild your defense when you lose a player of that caliber, if you do lose him. But I still analyze their organization like everybody else, and there’s a lot of good young players coming up from within. … Kenny and Jimmy, they’re smart, they’re resourceful and they’ll have a good defense next year.”
Holland didn’t look despondent Wednesday. He kept his sense of humor. He has said in the past that when Lidstrom retires, he will retire along with him.
“Yeah, I did say that,” Holland said, smiling. “This might be my last press conference. I’m not sure. You know what? I’m going to let Nick decide tomorrow what his decision is. From there, we’ll see.”
• And the Free Press’s Michael Rosenberg just recently joined Sports Illustrated, so he offers a take which is as deceptively simple as Lidstrom’s game: put simply, there isn’t anyone like Nick, and there never will be:
Lidstrom controlled 1,827 games with his mind. He knew what opposing players would do before they did. He saw openings when nobody else could, and he saw them close before they actually did. Mostly, simply, there was this: Imagine pouring a glass of water to the very top, without a single drop overflowing. Then imagine doing that thousands of times in a row. That was Nick Lidstrom. He always seemed to do exactly what he was capable of doing in every situation, and never tried to do a bit too much. I hate using these absolutes—always, exactly, never. But hey, they don’t call him the Nearly Perfect Human.
In hockey lore, Bobby Orr is the best defenseman ever. Well, it’s hard to argue with lore. Lidstrom played in a different era, against a much deeper league. He won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman seven times, but the truth is he probably should have won it 12 times. It took people a decade to realize how great he was. Heck, in 1997, Vladimir Konstantinov finished second in Norris Trophy voting—and that was the year Lidstrom usurped him in the Stanley Cup Finals.
A few months ago, as I researched this piece in my old job at the Detroit Free Press, I asked Lidstrom’s sister Ann Sophie the question everybody in the NHL asked every summer: When would Nick retire? “We ask sometimes,” she said, “but he says ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ He doesn’t want to talk about it.”
This was not surprising. Lidstrom in life was like Lidstrom on the ice: He never made a decision until he had to make it, and he never panicked. If he ever raised his voice, in two decades in the NHL, I never heard anybody mention it. He told me he gets mad on the golf course, but those who have played with him say Lidstrom’s mad would not qualify as mad for anybody else.
I don’t know why he finally decided to retire. Perhaps he will explain it at a Thursday news conference in Detroit. He certainly didn’t have to do it—the Red Wings wanted him back very badly, and as of this writing, he is the reigning Norris Trophy winner, having won the award in 2011. Perhaps his fluky ankle injury this year affected his thinking, though he said it would not. Maybe he saw his talent receding before anybody else did, and that ungodly, unteachable hockey sense guided him one last time. I like to think that Nick Lidstrom just looked at his career and decided he had done exactly what he was capable of doing, and he wouldn’t try to do a bit too much.
Update: Via RedWingsFeed, here are ESPN’s Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun talking about Lidstrom’s retirement:
Update #2: Lidstrom’s hometown paper, Vasteras Lans Tidning, also posted a photo gallery chronicling the early moments of Lidstrom’s career.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.