By Michael Caples and Stefan Kubus -
DETROIT – For the first time in more than two decades, the Detroit Red Wings will have to prepare for an NHL season without Nick Lidstrom.
At a press conference held inside Joe Louis Arena – the building where Lidstrom established himself as one of the best defensemen to ever play – the Red Wings’ captain announced that he would be retiring from the NHL.
“When I signed with the Wings back in ’91, I never envisioned myself playing for 20 years,” Lidstrom said. “It’s been a great ride.”
Many thought that, after the announcement of his Red Wings playing host to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2013 NHL Winter Classic and a disappointing first-round exit in this year’s playoffs, Lidstrom would come back for one more year.
But Lidstrom captured four Stanley Cups, Olympic gold, seven Norris Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Winter Classic victory, and 12 All-Star appearances, while being the first European player to win the Norris, Conn Smythe, and captain a club to Lord Stanley’s Cup – all feats that might never be duplicated.
“I’ve been dreading this day since I became general manager in 1997,” said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. “I’ve had the luckiest seat in the house for 15 years since 1997. I’ve had a front row seat in the press box to watch Nick play. I think he’s been the most valuable player of his era.
“He’s going to go down as one of the greatest Red Wings of all time, one of the greatest defensemen of all-time. A 10-time first-team all star, two-time second-team all star, seven Norris Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy, four Stanley Cups. What words can you use to describe an incredible career?”
Long serving as a quiet leader behind Hockeytown legend Steve Yzerman, Lidstrom took over the role of captain in 2006, and helped guide the Red Wings through the new salary-capped NHL. Under No. 5′s leadership, the Red Wings won 294 regular-season games over six seasons. Detroit recorded at least 100 points every season that Lidstrom served as captain.
Lidstrom has been a steady force on the Detroit blue line virtually since he has entered the league as a rookie back in 1991. And amidst all the Hall of Fame-caliber statistics and awards, perhaps the greatest statistic lies outside of all that.
The Red Wings’ captain said he didn’t think he would be able to find the energy to prepare for the next season at the level he was accustomed to.
“A couple weeks after the season was over, you start working out, you start doing the things you do to prepare for a long summer to stay in shape,” said Lidstrom. “Once I started doing that, I didn’t have that push that I know I need, that I’ve had in the past. I knew I didn’t have that drive in me. I can’t cheat myself.”
Since first donning the Winged Wheel, Lidstrom has helped the Red Wings advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs each and every season of his illustrious 20-year career. In the process, Detroit currently holds the longest active post-season appearance streak at 21 seasons. That streak is the longest active run of any of the four North American major professional sports leagues (NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA). The current run is tied for the fifth-longest NHL streak of all-time.
Though he suffered a pestering ankle injury and a significant drop-off in his offensive production this season, he was still the foundation for the Red Wings’ roster. Lidstrom’s steady, positional-sound play – exactly what he has made a career of – led Detroit again to not just a team record, but a league record. From Nov. 5, 2011 to Feb. 19, 2012, an astounding three-and-a-half month span, the Detroit Red Wings won 23 straight games at Joe Louis Arena, the longest home-winning streak in NHL history.
As he retires, Lidstrom stands as the Red Wings’ all-time leader in plus-minus (plus-450), points by a defenseman (1,142), and is second in games played (1,564) only to Gordie Howe. And if you want to talk ‘clutch,’ Lidstrom finished second in Red Wings’ all-time playoff points, with 183. Yzerman only had two more postseason points.
When Lidstrom captured gold at the 2006 Winter Olympics with Sweden, he became a member of what is known as the Triple Gold Club, an exclusive home to those who have captured a Stanley Cup, as well as a gold medal at the Olympics and World Championships.
“It’s hard to choose from when you’ve won four Stanley Cups,” said Lidstrom of his fondest memory over the course of his career. “I think the one in ’97 was pretty special because I remember it so well.”
Here is the final line for not just one of the greatest Red Wings ever, but one of the greatest defensemen of all-time: