Nicklas Lidstrom didn't win his seventh Norris Trophy in 2009-10. The upside of that was it prevented the geniuses who organize the NHL’s awards ceremony from spelling his name “Lindstrom,” the way they did two years ago.
The downside was those who voted for the award – a group of which this writer is a part – passed on the chance to recognize Lidstrom for quite possibly the most brilliant season of his Hall of Fame career.
Lidstrom posted his lowest offensive totals since the lockout this past season and the fourth-lowest production of his 18-season career. But those who watched his game closely point out Lidstrom was every bit as brilliant at both ends of the ice as he has been at any point in his tenure as an NHL player. To be sure, he did nothing to diminish his designation as the greatest European player of all-time.
And the fact he did it at this stage of his career is remarkable. In fact, no defenseman and only one other skater – the incomparable Gordie Howe, who registered a career-high 103 points when he was Lidstrom’s age – has played at the same high level as Lidstrom at this advanced an age. Lidstrom is already the oldest player to have won the Norris when he picked it up two years ago just after his 38th birthday and he continues to display Norris form.
His first pass is as accurate as ever and his defensive zone coverage hasn’t suffered one bit. His poise with the puck continues to be mind-boggling and his on-ice intelligence will never leave him. His pinpoint shots still hit the mark almost every time, including when he misses the net on purpose knowing the puck is going to bounce right into a scoring area. And he still logs all kinds of ice time in every possible situation. Lidstrom not only played every game in 2009-10, he recorded 25 minutes or more of ice time on 45 occasions and had played fewer than 20 minutes in just two games.
And get this: There were 12 players who averaged more than 25 minutes of ice time per game this past season. Taking Lidstrom out of the mix, the oldest of those players was 36-year-old Scott Niedermayer and the youngest was 22-year-old Jamie McBain. The average age of those 11 players was 29.8 years old, compared to Lidstrom, who turned 40 at the end of April.
Lidstrom was underappreciated outside of Detroit this season. He wasn’t a popular pick for the Norris Trophy as the three nominations went to Mike Green, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty. Of the trio, the oldest was the winner, Keith, who’s 26. But while all those players had periods last season where they faded, Lidstrom grew stronger and more dominant as the year progressed and saved his best play for when his team needed him the most.
When the regular season ended, the Red Wings had played their 291st game in less than three years. They were ravaged by major injuries to pivotal players and Lidstrom’s steady play held the Wings together through the difficult part of the season. Then he stepped up his play even more down the stretch as the Red Wings got healthy and played their way into a playoff spot for the 19th consecutive season and then past the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round.
In doing so, Lidstrom singlehandedly dispelled the possibility of retiring in the off-season. Of course, he could leave the NHL with his level of play still high and avoid the inevitable decline that every great veteran faces, but does anyone see Lidstrom losing it in the next 12 months, or even the next two or three seasons?
Certainly the Red Wings wanted him to come back and gave him $6.2 million on a one-year deal to do so. Lidstrom will play out the rest of his career on a series of one-year deals, which makes him even more valuable to the Red Wings. The fact he would not insist on a multi-year pact won’t leave the Red Wings with a large contract from which they have no way of extracting themselves if Lidstrom’s game or his desire to play does dwindle.
And that is the probably the biggest factor as to when he’ll hang ‘em up. When it comes to a player of Lidstrom’s age and experience, it’s not the 82-game schedule that becomes a grind, it’s the time that needs to be spent in the summer preparing for it. Will Lidstrom have the willingness to put in the two or three hours in the gym each day during the off-season that it takes to play at his level? Nobody knows when that day will come, probably not even Lidstrom just yet, but the you can be sure the Red Wings are tickled pink they won’t be faced with the prospect of life without him for at least another season.
The original version of this column appeared in the April 26 edition of The Hockey News magazine.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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