“I’ve been dreading this day since I became manager in 1997.”
The perfect line to wrap up a perfect career from ‘The Perfect Human.’
That was Red Wings’ GM Ken Holland, summing up his thoughts during Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement press conference. One of Detroit’s core players, the new face of the franchise, has called it a career after 20 history-filled seasons, closing the final chapter on what will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame career for the one of the greatest defencemen to ever play professional hockey.
Lidstrom’s presser was much like his play on the ice–smooth, graceful, classy, elegant and mistake-free. It was perfect.
“Retiring today allows me to walk away with pride, rather than have the game walk away from me.”
After putting off retirement for the past few seasons, the 42-year-old finally decided to bow out while still atop his game. It marks the end of an era in Hockeytown, but one that should be celebrated, not mourned. And while there’s no question Lidstrom remains in an elite class of NHL defenceman, now may have been the right time for him to call it quits. With so many game-changing players available on the market, freeing up his $6M salary could go a long way into securing another top-level player. Sure, one more year would have been great, seeing as the Wings were going to host the Maple Leafs in the 2013 Winter Classic, but doing so may have compromised Lidstrom’s on-ice play.
Known for his durability, he missed a combined 11 games due to a bruised ankle and the flu. He had 34 points and a plus-21 rating that ranked among the league leaders. But he’s been playing at such a high level for so long, he simply wouldn’t allow his play to slip.
“Sadly this year, it’s painfully obvious to me that my strength and energy level are not rebounding enough for me to continue to play. My drive and motivation are not where it needs to be…That’s why I feel that it’s time to retire.”
Despite an ‘off year,’ Lidstrom was named the NHL’s best defenceman last year for a seventh time since 2001, matching Doug Harvey’s total and trailing Bobby Orr’s league record by one. When Lidstrom won his final Norris Trophy last summer, he was a finalist for the 11th time in 13 seasons. Lidstrom, however, easily could’ve shattered that record–he was a three-time Norris runner-up, and could’ve won it again during the 2004-05 lockout during the prime of his career.
Simply put, he was a once-in-a-generation hockey player. He’s a seven-time Norris Trophy winner, four-time Stanley Cup winner, a Conn Smythe winner and an Olympic gold medallist. There isn’t anything left in the game that he hasn’t won or accomplished. Amassing just 514 penalty minutes in his career, it’s a farce that he didn’t win a single Lady Byng trophy.
“It’s not that the tank is completely empty. It just doesn’t have enough to carry me through every day at the high level where I want to play at. My family and I are completely comfortable with this decision.”
What made him so unique was his ability to dissect players before they happen; to make the right play almost every time; positioning himself and knowing where the play was going before it happened. His play and leadership was freakishly consistent from 1991-92 through 2011-12. Lidstrom was a career plus-450. Think about that for a moment. Only once in his career did he record a minus rating–a minus-2 in 2010-11–when he won his seventh Norris.
Serving as captain for the past five seasons, Lidstrom had enormous shoes to fill in taking over the ‘C’ from the legendary Steve Yzerman. One of the classiest players to ever play the game, Yzerman made a seamless transition from a smooth-skating sniper into one of the best two-way forwards the game had ever seen. Like Yzerman, Lidstrom never compromised his image or his integrity with anything o or off the ice. As always, Lidstrom succeeded in taking over the role, winning a Stanley Cup in 2007-08 to become the first European captain to hoist the Cup in NHL history–a record that still stands to this day.
The Swede also accomplished something so rarely seen nowadays with massive contracts–playing out one’s career with a single team. Lidstrom did it, abd set an NHL record by playing 1,564 games with only one team. Lidstrom’s remarkable career ends with 264 goals and 1,142 points (6th-most among defencemen)–all with the Red Wings, and all having reached the playoffs.
“A couple weeks after the season is over, you start working out. Once I started doing that, I didn’t have the push I need, and I can’t cheat myself…Not where it needs to be to play at this level.”
For now, Lidstrom plans to move the family back to Sweden to be close with his sons and extended family, but hopes to one day accept an off-ice role in some capacity with the Red Wings.
With Lidstrom skating off into the sunset, the focus now turns to the present. A new captain will be named, with early predictions being F Henrik Zetterberg receiving the honour. F Pavel Datsyuk, F Valtteri Filppula nad D Niklas Kronwall all remain candidates, though.
And with Lidstrom’s contract no longer on the books, Detroit will have more than $20M to spend on free agency to try and fill his void. The Wings are expected to go hard after D Ryan Suter, D Shea Weber and/or F Zach Parise, all of whom are potential FAs on July 1.
Holland opened his speech with one of the most telling quotes of the day. It’s only fitting that he ends it, as well.
“I think he’s been the most valuable player of his era and will go down as one of the greatest Red Wings of all time.”