Today, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom announced his retirement. We take a look back on the legendary, illustrious career of No. 5.
On the morning of Game 5 in Nashville last month, Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock was asked about his captain’s future. The Red Wings were trailing 3-1 to Nashville in their first-round series, and the elephant in the room was whether or not it could be Lidstrom’s final game in the NHL.
A stern Babcock, half-annoyed by the question coming just hours before an elimination game, said, “This is seven years for me that I’ve answered this question; I always say the same thing – he’s too good to quit.
“I think Nick Lidstrom retires when he thinks he’s not a good player anymore. I think he’s a pretty darn good player. I don’t know what could possibly be more fun than playing hockey at a high level on a great team.”
Later that evening, Lidstrom played over 22 minutes, blocked two shots and doled out one hit. After the final horn sounded on a 2-1 loss, Lidstrom went through the handshake line, had a long chat with Predators head coach Barry Trotz, each congratulating one another, and skated off the ice.
As it turned out, Lidstrom was skating into the sunset.
“It’s not that the tank is completely empty,” Lidstrom said at today’s retirement press conference. “I just don’t have enough to carry me through every day at the high level I want to play at. My family and I are completely comfortable with this decision. Retiring today allows me to walk away from the game with pride rather than have the game walk away from me.”
No. 5 had a helluva career. There’s no question he’ll go down as one of the league’s all-time greatest defensemen. Is he the best? Bobby Orr, among others, may have something to say about that.
But that’s a discussion for another day. This day is all about No. 5.
Lidstrom patrolled the Red Wings’ blue line for 20 seasons. He played in 1,564 regular season games (the most one player has ever spent with one franchise), racking up 1,142 points in the process. He played in 263 playoff games (if you think about it, that’s three extra seasons tacked on to the 20 he played) in 20 consecutive playoff appearances, winning four Stanley Cups along the way.
His individual accolades are as stunning as they are impressive.
No. 5 won a staggering seven Norris Trophies, one shy of Orr’s NHL record of eight. Lidstrom was an 11-time All-Star, won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2002 and claimed Olympic Gold with Sweden in 2006.
He was the 43rd player to wear the No. 5 for the Red Wings. It’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll be the last one, too.
Watching Lidstrom this season, especially in the playoffs, he didn’t look like the same player and was affected by a nagging ankle injury. And, as Babcock suggested, maybe No. 5 doesn’t think he’s a good player anymore that can help the Red Wings win another Stanley Cup. Lidstrom’s 34-point campaign in 2011-12 was his lowest total since a lockout-shortened season in 1994-95 (26 points in 43 games).
Whatever the case may be, No. 5 is going out on his own terms and you have to respect him for that.
A lot of veteran players hold on for one, two too many years at the end of their career despite a decline in performance. Even if he wasn’t the same player as he was over the last two decades, Lidstrom was still a top ten defenseman in the NHL. Hell, he won the Norris just last season! He could probably play for another five years and be an All-Star.
How many former players can honestly say they retired when they were still one of the best at their position? Not many.
Lidstrom could have elected for one final victory lap, play in the 2013 Winter Classic in Detroit and take another shot at a fifth Stanley Cup.
Instead, he is going out on his own terms.
If there was ever a perfect hockey player, Lidstrom might be it. On the ice, he personified greatness. Off the ice, he personified class. It may be a long time before we ever see another player and individual like him in this league.
Heroes are remembered, but legends never die. Lidstrom is already a legend and will never lose that status.
We applaud No. 5 on an outstanding Hall of Fame career that may never be repeated.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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