If you’re a Tampa Bay Lightning fan, you may want to stop reading here, lest your wound get too salty.
OK, maybe the healing has begun already thanks to Stamkos earning the Bolts captaincy. But it had to sting just a little to see the Detroit Red Wings very slowly raise Nicklas Lidstrom’s No. 5 jersey to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena Thursday night. One day after the Martin St-Louis fiasco made many of us re-explore the concept of long-term team loyalty, the Wings honor one of their many legends who spent their entire careers with them. And with respect to the likes of Steve Yzerman, I’d argue no Wing has ever been better at his position than Lidstrom.
Funny how, even as Lidstrom reached his mid-thirties, I remember debates with friends on whether Lidstrom would “start on your all-time blueline” opposite Bobby Orr. It was a heated discussion, with Ray Bourque, Doug Harvey, Eddie Shore, Denis Potvin and Paul Coffey all getting votes. By the time Lidstrom finished his career in 2011-12, however, the debate was non-existent. It was Orr and Lidstrom, period. Seven Norris trophies, four Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe will do that. As will the best positional play in the history of defensemen.
It’s that trait that made me realize, “Who is the next Nicklas Lidstrom?” isn’t the appropriate question. It’s “Will we ever see another Nicklas Lidstrom?”
There’s undoubtedly a slew of amazing blueliners in the NHL today. Erik Karlsson, still only 23, may finish his career as Lidstrom’s peer at least in pure puck-moving ability, and he may be more creative offensively. The Olympics reminded us how powerful and dynamic Drew Doughty and Shea Weber are, armed with big shots and the ability to throw their weight around. Zdeno Chara is shaping up as a Hall of Famer, a mountain of a man who plays an at elite level against elite competition 30 minutes a night. Ryan Suter has some Lidstrom in his game, well-rounded, poised and a pure minutes eater, but he has nowhere near the offensive ceiling of No. 5.
There’s no one quite like Nicklas Lidstrom, is there? Name me an blueline prospect in the game projected to score like an all-star and play elite shutdown defense without being a big dominant physical presence. During Lidstrom’s era, I’d argue Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer possessed the most similar skill set, as a guy who won a Norris Trophy on the strength of offense, skating and positioning. But he was no Lidstrom.
I’m not saying any of the game’s future stars, like Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba and Aaron Ekblad, can’t have amazing NHLer careers. They’ll simply do so in a different way than Lidstrom did. If anyone can do it like Nick, it’s Karlsson, based on his build and style, but his defensive play has a long way to go.
For now, and perhaps forever, there’s no one like Nick Lidstrom.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin