This is my tribute to Nick Lidstrom. There are many like it but this one is mine.
Looking back at Lidstrom’s career, I keep feeling a bunch of different emotions. Sadness, of course, because he’s gone and I don’t want him to be. There’s also a little bit of happiness because he got to go out on his terms. He didn’t stick around so long that our memories of him changed. But more than anything, I feel so much damn pride that he was on our team. He was a Red Wing and no matter how many times he became a UFA, there was never any doubt where he’d sign.
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Early in his career when we had Paul Coffey on the blueline, I didn’t think about Nick all that much. I could tell he was good because he had a great shot and was on the power play and penalty kill, but he wasn’t flashy like Coffey was. Coffey would jump into the play and score goals like a forward and that fired me up. Nick was steady. He was making plays in the offensive zone and he was always there in his own end when we needed him. Perfection.
Then when Coffey was traded for Shanahan, I sort of stopped thinking about our blueline. The Wings had changed their game in a way and were now a more physical team. Konstantinov was our most physical defenseman, so he was my favorite of the Wings defensemen. Still, Lidstrom was always where he needed to be. He would finish his checks, too, but not in a way that laid a guy out. Instead, he just took his man out of the play without taking a penalty. Perfection.
Don’t get me wrong here. I understood by now that Lidstrom was our best defenseman, that he was the NHL’s best defenseman, but I didn’t understand just yet how important he was to the team.
Then after the Wings won the cup in 2002 and we all sat waiting to see who would get the Conn Smythe, I tossed around some names in my head. Hasek? He started slow, but ended up being great. All those shutouts. Yzerman? He dragged this team through the first round with one leg. Then Bettman announced that it was Lidstrom and I said, “Lidstrom? Huh…” Then, after about 5 seconds of recalling all of his great plays, it hit me: “Oh my gosh, Nick Lidstrom is our best player. He’s frigging perfect!”
Yeah, yeah, you already knew that. Whatever. Better late than never.
The point is, he was always where he needed to be. Always. Perfection.
I have two obscure memories of Nick that I want to recall, then I’ll wrap this up. First one, and I don’t remember the year, but he was back skating into his own zone while a guy with the puck was coming at him. Nick put his stick up into the guys stomach, push with his stick and slowed down at the same time. The puck drifted out of the forwards reach and into Nick’s skates where he quickly gained possession and… was called for a penalty. The ref just kind of laughed because he wasn’t sure what to call, but felt he had to do something. Nick shrugged and sat for 2 minutes. I think they called it hooking. He never did it again. Perfection.
More recently, maybe 2010, he tried to make an outlet pass, but the puck jumped just as he passed it. The puck went right to an attacking forward. Before the forward even had the puck, Nick was in position and managed to poke-check the puck away before the guy took three strides. You know you’re seeing greatness when they show replays of a poke-check before going to commercial.
Well, that’s it. Congratulations to Nick Lidstrom on an amazing career and good luck to you in the future. Whatever it is you do from here on out, we all know it will be done to perfection.