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Please, Direct Your Fists Away From My Face and Vital Organs: The Case for Nicklas Lidstrom’s Retirement

April 25, 2012

Hockey

Let me start by saying this: I know my proposal may be shocking, but the death threats are really unnecessary, and in poor taste. I understand that Red Wings fans are passionate about good old #5, but I assure you that I’m not some sort of “lunatic Wings hater who should be buried alive in pile of used hockey gloves” or “heretic who deserves to be run over by zambonis repeatedly until nobody can tell where his body ends and the ice begins,” so please stop thinking those things and give me a chance. There will be plenty of time for oddly specific, hockey themed cyber bullying later.

Now, lets try an experiment. Take out a full size, 8 and 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of paper. Grab a pen, and dead center in that sheet of paper write one name: Nicklas Lidstrom. Take your time. Remember, there’s no “n” in Lidstrom. Done? Good.

Now, this exercise is important, so bare with me. Start thinking of great defensmen in NHL history. As each comes to mind, place his name on the paper. If he was better then Lidstrom, place his name above Lidstrom’s. If he was Lidstrom’s inferior, place his name below. Again, take your time. I’ve got all day.

Finished? What do you mean you didn’t actually make the list? Yes I did honestly expect you to do this. Its not hard. You’re probably reading this on a computer right now, and I’d be willing to bet there’s a printer nearby. Just take a sheet out of there. There’s probably a Sharpee under your desk or something, write with that. OK? Look I don’t ask much of you, so just do it. Its really not a big deal.

Those of you with souls should have a page with a  list in front of you by now. And smack in the middle of that page should be Nick Lidstrom. But I’d be willing to wager that he’s not smack in the middle of the list. Unless you’re Don Cherry, I’d be even more willing to bet he’s one of the top three names on that list.

You can find this picture next to “xenophobe” and “seizure trigger” in any dictionary.

Personally, I believe Nick Lidstrom is the greatest NHL defensmen of all time. I’m not saying that this is the universally correct answer, and in my opinion, anyone who says otherwise is entitled to their inferior opinion. If Bobby Orr’s career hadn’t been cut so tragically short by a combination of reckless abandon and exposure to the toxic air inside the Boston Garden (citation needed), he would  not only be considered the undisputed greatest blue liner of all time, but the undisputed greatest player of all time. But I digress.

I’ve been pretty lucky in my lifetime, in the sense that I’ve never had to know a Red Wings team without Nick Lidstrom. Needless to say, a lifetime of hockey teams featuring the greatest defensemen of all time is a pretty good problem to have. I can’t ever recall saying one negative word about Nick. I can only remember a hand full of bad penalties he’s taken. Hell, I don’t think that Lidstrom has ever cost the Red Wings a hockey game. Nicklas Lidstrom is the paradigm of consistency and skill in a game that is increasingly determined by luck (see my live blog Conspiracy Central from last week for more on the why dumb luck matters more then ever in the NHL).

Over a 20 year career, Lidstrom has done nearly everything one player can do in the NHL. Four Staneley Cups. A Conn Smythe. Seven Norris Trophies. 12 All Star Games. Over 1500 games played. A career plus/minus of +450 (to put this in perspective, Lidstrom’s closest contemporary in this category is Chris Progner, who entered the league the same year as Lidstrom and is just +183). Lidstrom’s list of accolades could go on for pages. He is simply one of the most gifted men ever to put on a pair of skates. Without him, much of the Red Wings’ success over the last twenty years would likely not have happened.

But there comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to walk away from something they love. And I feel there is no better time then now for Nicklas Lidstrom. There’s a few reasons for this. On the surface, Lidstrom had a pretty good season. He was +21 and scored a slightly disappointing 34 points. However, Nick played in fewer games in 2011-12 then any year of his career (save the lockout shortened 1994-95 season). This is a clear indicator in a decline in Nick’s health, and his body’s ability to recover from injury like it used to. Missing 12 games is a pretty big deal for a player who’s never shown any indication that his body is subject to normal, human standards for endurance or pain tolerance.

Of greater concern is Lidstrom’s 2012 playoff performance. When I say Lidstrom did nothing in the Wings’ playoff series against the Nashville Predators, I mean that quite literally. No goals, no assists, and a cumulative plus/minus of zero.

Source: NHL.com

Not only did the Red Wings expect a greater contribution from their captain, they desperately needed it. For a player that has been the catalyst of his team for the past 20 years, Lidstrom was curiously absent in the playoffs. Some might even call his lack of productivity in the Wings’ 5 games against the Predators shocking. Personally, I find it indicative of the Red Wings’ issues as whole, but that’s a topic for a different article.

I’m not trying to argue that Lidstrom has lost it all together, far from it in fact. He can still skate circles around half the forwards in the league and could probably kick my ass if he was the fighting type. Nick Lidstrom can still play hockey at a high level, but not at the level we’ve come to expect of Nick Lidstrom. To me, there is nothing sadder in sports then a great player that hangs on for too long, and turns into another player entirely as a result. Remember Chris Chelios at the end of his career? Ever watch Gordie Howe play for the Whalers? Look at Shaq’s last few years in the NBA, or Jordan’s comeback with the Wizards, or Roger Clemens last run in New York. Sure, these aging greats could still show flashes of brilliance, but more often then not it was painfully obvious that it was time for them to call it quits.

Nick Lidstrom is an icon. Steve Yzerman may always be “The Captain”, but Nick will always transcend the need for any superlatives. He’s that good. Should Nick decide that he wants to play another year, or two, or three, that’s fine. He’s earned that right as the kind of player he’s been. Lidstrom never has to justify his choices in regard to the game of hockey to anyone. But, if he comes back, he runs the risk of having his (slowly) declining skills exposed, or suffering further injury that forces him into retirement, a retirement that would certainly not be on his own terms.

However, if he chooses to retire this off season, he will retire with nothing left to prove, no mountains left to climb, no goals left to accomplish. He will retire as the best, and will always be remembered like this:

Flawless, full of class and dignity, with a combination of boyish wonder and humility that makes him impossible to dislike. Nick will remain forever beloved by hockey fans the world over, and there will never be an asterisk or a “but” attached to his name. And really, isn’t that we all really want? Not just for our favorite players, but for ourselves as well?

I won’t even attempt to speculate on how the Red Wings might fill the void that Lidstrom would leave behind. Its likely an impossible task, and it would be far more reasonable to try to build the team in a different way. The Wings could expect to retain Lidstrom in some capacity, likely as a European scout, and he could still contribute to the team for decades to come. In any case, its safe to say that wherever Lidstrom’s future lies, it lies somewhere in the game of hockey.

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3 Comments on “Please, Direct Your Fists Away From My Face and Vital Organs: The Case for Nicklas Lidstrom’s Retirement”

  1. mattpocket Says:

    I will say this though. Everybody is making a deal over missing a few games… There is a difference between a one-off injury caused by some unlucky event and a chronic inability to stay healthy. if he had major knee surgery in his younger days, I would be perturbed. But I’m not so sure he’s a chronic injury case waiting to happen.

    Reply

  2. stefanjagot Says:

    Great article, this would be a solid opportunity for the Red Wings to insert some younger leadership with Datsyuk as Captain.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Manly Tears: A Reflection on the Career and Retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom « The Farm Club - June 15, 2012

    […] probably because I, like most people, never considered the possibility of a world without Nick. Despite previous statements, I honestly can’t say I expected to see him go. But, his decision has given me, and a lot of […]

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