PITTSBURGH – There is no debate within the Detroit Red Wings organization. It all starts with Nicklas Lidstrom.
“He’s the best player on our team,” said Wings GM Ken Holland. Lidstrom captured his fourth Stanley Cup ring Wednesday night as the Wings defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 to capture the Stanley Cup in six games. In doing so, he also became the first European captain to ever hold the Cup above his head, taking it out of the hands of commissioner Gary Bettman.
“It felt great being the first guy to touch the Cup on our team,” said Lidstrom. “Otherwise it felt the same as winning the previous ones, where you’re so happy with the end result. You start training camp with a goal, and that is to win the Stanley Cup.
“You talk about it throughout the season and the way you have to play to be able to be successful in the playoffs. And we had a good regular season, and we were able to carry that into the playoffs, too, and so that’s something I’m more proud the way the team played in the playoffs, too.”
Conn Smythe Trophy winner Henrik Zetterberg, a fellow Swede, was filled with pride seeing Lidstrom lift the Cup as the first European captain.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Zetterberg. “There’s been a lot of talk about that throughout the years. It’s great see him lifting the Cup and with the ‘C’ on his chest. It means so much for the team and the organization. He’s bringing it every night. He’s probably our best player every night.
“And I’m really happy for him.”
On the ice, he remains the league’s top defenceman, on course to capture his sixth career Norris Trophy at the NHL awards in Toronto on June 12. The Wings’ puck possession and transition games are the best in the league and Lidstrom keys them.
“Lidstrom, I think just with his everyday professionalism and the modelling he does for the rest of us and how he carries himself, how he handles himself, how well he plays, how hard he practices, how good of fitness he maintains, is an example to everybody,” said Wings head coach Mike Babcock. “And I think that’s the key to leadership. Leadership is you can say some things sometime, but it’s more about what you do. And to me, that’s what he does for us.
“Obviously he’s a gifted, gifted athlete who reads the game as good as anybody and plays in all situations,” said Babcock. “So he’s real important for us, and when your best defensive defenceman is your best offensive defenceman, I think it helps, because you get the puck going.”
The 38-year-old Swedish superstar was solid again in the final, helping to slow down an potent Penguins offence. Lidstrom finished fourth in playoff scoring among defencemen with 13 points (3-10) in 22 games.
“He plays the most minutes,” said Holland. “Every year we seem to be in the top five in power play, we’re pretty good on the penalty kill and the last few years near the league lead in goals against. So he’s playing against the other team’s best offensive players, he’s playing on the penalty kill, he’s playing on the power play.
“Every year he’s near the league lead in points by defencemen. And we’ve got 100 points (in the standings) for eight consecutive seasons. I don’t know how else you can put it in perspective.”
His teammates marvel at their captain.
“I think Nick is one of those guys, when you have a chance to be on a team with a guy like that, it helps you to grow as a hockey player, and as a person as well,” said fellow Swedish blue-liner Niklas Kronwall.
Lidstrom took over the captaincy when legend Steve Yzerman retired in 2006. And he admits he had to change his style just a bit once he wore the ‘C’.
“I think I’m more vocal, especially in the room, maybe than I was in the past as assistant captain,” Lidstrom said. “I try to talk to some of the younger players a little bit more. Encourage them and try to help them out a little bit. The same thing on the back end, too, with my defensive partners that you want to be a little bit more vocal and try and help them out.
“And I do have lots of great help from the veteran players that we have on our team,” added Lidstrom. “Chris Chelios has been a captain before. Dallas Drake has been a captain. Draper has been around for a long time. And Maltby. It helps my job to have experienced players around me.”
Lidstrom led all NHL defencemen in scoring during the regular season with 70 points (10-60) in 76 games and led all blue-liners with a plus-40 rating. Since he began his NHL career in 1991-92, Lidstrom has the highest plus-minus of any NHLer at plus-378.
“When he showed up, we’ve never missed the playoffs since,” said Holland.
Lidstrom has played in 16 consecutive playoffs, a franchise record, beating Yzerman former record by one season. Lidstrom’s 213 career post-season games also eclipsed Yzerman’s franchise mark of 196.
“And on top of that, touch wood, he’s been a guy that’s missed 20 or 30 games over 16 years,” said Holland. “To me, Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, you’ve got to start to make a case for Nick Lidstrom right there for him to be maybe be the third-best Red Wing ever.
“I can’t tell you he should have won the Hart Trophy, but there’s no doubt in my mind he should have been a finalist for the Hart Trophy a number of times. I understand that he doesn’t wow you. He wows you because he never has a bad game and never makes a mistake night after night after night, year after year after year. That’s how I get wowed.
“When he does have a bad game, we talk about it in the coaches’ room, ‘Holy cow, Nick had a bad night tonight.’ Because you never see it.”
It’s been like that for 16 seasons – and counting.