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Was Nicklas Lidstrom better than Gordie Howe or Steve Yzerman? Pat Caputo says, “Yes”

A little after the trade deadline hits at 3 PM EST today, Red Wings will hold a special media availability in which the press will have their only opportunity to speak with Nicklas Lidstrom ahead of tomorrow's jersey retirement ceremony (6:30 PM, FSD, and the Wings now have a special webpage dedicated to the event), so a second wave of news will hit after practice and whatever moves the Wings do or do not make.

The Oakland Press's Pat Caputo's getting ahead of the field to some extent with an article about Lidstrom's legacy, and he's doing so in somewhat controversial fashion, suggesting that it's not Gordie Howe or Steve Yzerman, but instead Lidstrom who is the best-ever Red Wing:

It would be inaccurate to suggest Lidstrom has not been appreciated. Who in this town doesn’t love him? He is widely respected in the hockey world.

It’s just the degree, which suggests he is underrated. While Lidstrom had his share of brilliant games, they didn’t nickname one of hockey’s most famous feats after him, like the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” (a goal, an assist, a fight). He didn’t have a definitive goal such as Yzerman breaking a scoreless tie in the playoffs vs. the St. Louis Blues during overtime in the mid-1990s.

You might see Lidstrom play one game and not notice much. Then, after three or four games, you’d start to think, “Hey, this guy is pretty good.” After a full season, his genius would be evident. After two decades, seeing him play night after night, was incredible.

His plus-minus ratio was plus-450, and he was as good as any defenseman in history both on the penalty kill and the power play.

Beyond the numbers, it was Lidstrom’s style.

It was the smooth way he’d “walk the line” on the power play and unleash a shot at just the right moment. Lidstrom didn’t make big hits. It was a waste of energy and time. He’d merely ride opposing forwards off the puck and head the other way literally in the blink of an eye.

There would be times when Lidstrom would be skating backward and in two strides cover ground it would take other defensemen four – and get over to the other side of the ice and make a play.

Caputo continues at significant length, and I'm definitely curious as to what you think...

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w2j2's avatar

A premier, game-controlling Defenseman is the single most important ingredient of a Stanley Cup caliber team.

Lidstrom filled that role for the Wings for 20 years.
cool smile

Posted by w2j2 on 03/05/14 at 08:05 AM ET

Paul's avatar

I have watched both play, Gordie Howe wins.

Posted by Paul from Motown Area on 03/05/14 at 08:20 AM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

“they didn’t nickname one of hockey’s most famous feats after him”

How MANY times did I hear plays described as “Lidstrom like”
Sort of an adjective.

Posted by Rdwings28 on 03/05/14 at 08:28 AM ET

BenjaminKGT500's avatar

For once, I agree with Caputo

Posted by BenjaminKGT500 on 03/05/14 at 09:10 AM ET

topshelf14's avatar

When drafting a team any GM will tell you that a premier defensemen is the #1 priority over a #1 forward, or #1 goalie.

Lidstrom FTW

Posted by topshelf14 from Detroit, MI on 03/05/14 at 09:34 AM ET


Better all-around for a lot longer time, way more consistent game in and game out, and not injury-prone = much more important to the success of the franchise than Yzerman.  I can’t speak to Gordie.

Posted by jkm2011 on 03/05/14 at 09:36 AM ET

Mandingo's avatar

I never got a chance to see Gordie Howe play, but no question Lidstrom was better than Yzerman.

You’re talking about one of the top 2 or 3 defensemen ever to play the game.

That’s taking nothing away from Yzerman.

Posted by Mandingo from The Garage on 03/05/14 at 09:50 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

I’m going to take the easy way out and say that the comparison is pointless.

- Gordie Howe played in an era where the rules for notching an assist were different from Yzerman and Lidstrom
- The first half of Yzerman’s career was the highest scoring era in hockey history
- Lidstrom and Yzerman both played in eras where the players, as a whole, were true professionals when compared to Howe’s day—I don’t think it is unfair to say that a Howe in his prime versus an average mid-‘00s NHLer in his prime wouldn’t be in the same arena, athletically speaking… of course Howe would still have that skill advantage and nearly unmatched hockey smarts
- Howe played in a small league with a relatively short season… Yzerman and Lidstrom played in a large league with a very long season
- All three players played different positions

That’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. I guess if I had to pick I’d pick Lidstrom because he is very clearly one of the 3 best ever at his position. Great as Yzerman was, he is not a top 3 forward of all-time. And as great as Gordie was, I have a hard time separating the fact that Howe was simply one of the first “superstars” of the game from the discussion. He will be revered for that, and understandably so. It’d be the same as asking young hockey fans in Sweden if they think Lidstrom or Orr were better… Lidstrom is the likely choice due to exposure and the impact he had for the culture surrounding Swedish hockey that wasn’t directly on the ice.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 03/05/14 at 10:28 AM ET


Howe is the greatest winger in NHL history in terms of dominance of his era.  He’s #1.  Lidstrom, however, is #2.

Both would make an all-time NHL team, which Yzerman, sadly, would not.

Posted by captaineclectic on 03/05/14 at 10:37 AM ET


If you tell me tomorrow I could have an 18 year old Steve Yzerman, and 18 year old Nick Lidstrom or an 18 year old Gordie Howe… I pick Nick Lidstrom each time, every time, and in two seconds.

Steve Yzerman was the Captain.  Gordie Howe is in a whole bunch of ways the face of the entire franchise.  Nick Lidstrom’s got a real solid case for being the best defenseman of all time

We’re comparing Porsche’s, Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s here, but Lidstrom wins.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 03/05/14 at 11:05 AM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

Well a Porsche would never win against a Ferrari and a Lamborghini anyway.  smile

Unless you were Richard Hammond…

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 03/05/14 at 11:51 AM ET


Gordie put the team on the map and the length of his career is unbelievable. Stevie gave his heart, soul, and knee to the team and the city and will always be Detroit’s adopted son and The Captain and I’ll always tear up watching his retirement ceremony. Lids was a once in a lifetime talent, the best thing since sliced bread for 20 effn years though. I’d pick #5 ten out of ten times and twice on Sunday.

Posted by selke13 on 03/05/14 at 12:14 PM ET

calquake's avatar

I’ve had the privilege to see all three play and will suggest that I don’t have to pick who’s better.  They are all different, not better or worse.  Detroit doesn’t win the majority of their Cups without those 3 being present on the team.  I’m very content to know they all played for the best franchise in hockey. IMHO

Posted by calquake from a.k.a. Uniquake, workin' on my manifesto on 03/05/14 at 12:38 PM ET

redxblack's avatar

Howe was a huge fish in a relatively small pond. The fact that a 30 team league can support a player warranting such a comparison says a lot. In a much larger, more competitive league, Lidstrom rises to Howe’s level. That gives #5 the edge, IMO.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 03/05/14 at 01:22 PM ET

SYF's avatar

I’ve had the privilege to see all three play and will suggest that I don’t have to pick who’s better.  They are all different, not better or worse.  Detroit doesn’t win the majority of their Cups without those 3 being present on the team.  I’m very content to know they all played for the best franchise in hockey. IMHO

Posted by calquake on 03/05/14 at 11:38 AM ET

Word.  Different kinds of players from different eras each with their own contribution to the greatest professional sports franchise in history.  I refuse to get into this.

Posted by SYF from A tall cool pint of Guinness on 03/05/14 at 01:36 PM ET

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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.