Manly Tears: A Reflection on the Career and Retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom

June 15, 2012

Features, Hockey

It seems like its been an eternity since Nick Lidstrom announced his retirement from the Detroit Red Wings, 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 other people time to reflect on his career, his legacy. And as I did so, I kept coming back to one thought over and over again.

There’s this nickname (haha pun) that Nick Lidstrom acquired over the past few years. One that, as it became more prevalent, I became more reluctant to accept.

People were calling Nicklas Lidstrom “The Perfect Human.” Perfect. That’s the operative word there. Anyone who has spent more then five minutes around hunk of rock and water we call Earth knows that perfect is a word that can leave you feeling pretty disappointed. Planning the perfect date is a great way to end up on a lousy date. The perfect chocolate chip cookie is guaranteed to be underwhelming. One man’s perfect day is another man’s personal hell. But regardless of my reluctance, the nickname stuck. And it stuck hard.

“The Perfect Human” also happens to be the name of an exceptional short film from the 1960s. Directed by Danish auteur Jørgen Leth, the film isn’t so much a story as it is the exploration of an idea. Can there be a perfect human? If there is such a thing, are we, as fellow humans, even capable of making that judgement? Do we have the facilities to inspect what might make up such a person? Or are our senses and cares far too shallow to make that judgement?

Mankind’s fixation on the concept of the Perfect Human goes back even further. One of Leonardo da Vinci’s most revered pieces, the Vitruvian Man, is da Vinci’s idea of the proportions of the perfect man, based on the work of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, who painstakingly computed the proportions that, as he believed, made up the human body as it had been designed perfectly by nature.  More then 2000 years after the death of Vitruvius, Nick Lidstrom strapped on a pair of hockey skates, and, at least in the world of hockey, perfection had a face.

Crude photo editing, or Da Vinci’s original intent? You decide.

Number 5 skated around the ice of Joe Louis Arena, and every other rink of the NHL, for two decades. Most people can’t even hang on to the same job for two decades. I don’t think that anyone could argue that wat Lidstrom did as a hockey player was anything but superhuman. He played with a skill level and degree of poise that may never be matched by any athlete ever again. He won four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies, and never missed the playoffs. And, perhaps most astoundingly, nobody has a cross word for him. Nick Lidstrom played a violent, bloody sport and a thoughtful, sportsmanlike way and managed to make exactly zero enemies in the process.

Is Nick Lidstrom the perfect human? I’m not going to place that burden on his shoulders. As a act of common human decency, I refuse to bestow the label of perfect onto anyone. Its just too much to live up to. But maybe, just maybe, Nick could be the exception.

So thank you Nick, for being you, for treating Detroiters to 20 years of magic, for being a exemplary role model, and for being an outstanding, if not perfect, citizen of the human race.

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