The debate was interesting, but not terribly long when we were determining The Hockey News cover feature for our European issue, due to come out next week.
Nicklas Lidstrom is our cover boy, plain and simple. The best European-trained player ever in the NHL.
A case was made for Jaromir Jagr, the five-time scoring champion and destined to be the top-scoring European for long time to come. Jari Kurri had a lot of support, as did Dominik Hasek. But the more we studied the facts and figures, the more it became obvious.
Senior writer Mike Brophy wrote a terrific cover story on Lidstrom for the European issue.
A quote from Detroit GM Ken Holland pretty much said it all why Lidstrom goes down as the top European ever to play in the NHL: “For the last 10 years we’re near the top of the league in points, he plays almost 30 minutes a game, always against the other team’s best players, he’s always one of the highest-scoring defensemen, most years we’re near the top of the league in power play, most years we’re near the top of the league in penalty-killing and most years we’re near the top of the league in goals against. He plays every critical situation. We won three Stanley Cups and five Presidents’ Trophies. We’ve been to the final four times in the last 12 seasons and he has been the one constant.”
It got me thinking. Is Lidstrom the best defenseman ever to play the game? Better even than the immortal Bobby Orr?
In a word, no. There’s not even a fair debate in that comparison. Orr re-defined the game and goes down, in some people’s books, as the best player ever, ahead of even Wayne Gretzky.
So Lidstrom is not in Orr’s ballpark, but when all is said and done for the 37-year-old Red Wing – who is showing no signs of slowing down – can he go down as the No. 2 defenseman of all-time?
Old-time hockey fans will preach that Doug Harvey deserves that status. A seven-time winner of the Norris Trophy as top defenseman, he finished sixth overall in The Hockey News definitive 1997 list of the 50 best NHL players of all-time – behind Gretzky, Orr, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux and Maurice Richard. Harvey played in the Original Six era and had no peers.
The next generation of hockey fans will make a case for Ray Bourque, who finished eighth in Top 60 Since 1967, a recently released book written by Ken Campbell and Adam Proteau of The Hockey News. One spot behind him in ninth is Lidstrom.
Armchair fans will have fun debating whether or not Lidstrom, in the final few seasons of his career, can pass Bourque.
Here’s a quick tally sheet of leaders as it stands now: points (Bourque 1,579 to 888); Norris Trophies (five each); Norris runners-up (Bourque 6 to 3); first-team all-stars (Bourque 13 to 8); second-team all-stars (Bourque 6 to 0); and, Stanley Cups (Lidstrom 3 to 1). Lidstrom also won a Conn Smythe; Bourque won a Calder.
My vote goes to Lidstrom. He still has fuel in the tank to make the successful pass.