GM Ken Holland did a great thing for his team when he brought back Nicklas Lidstrom to the Detroit Red Wings for another year.
He also did a wonderful thing for The Hockey News after the Wings won the 2008 Stanley Cup, penning a nine-point story that broke down Detroit’s method for building a winner.
The first bullet on that list was flooding the organization with good people; No. 2 was entitled ‘Players learn from other players.’
Holland talked about how he brought Henrik Zetterberg over from Europe after the center finished his Swedish Elite League season, during Detroit’s run to the 2002 Cup. Holland wanted the youngster to soak in the atmosphere and, more specifically, observe how some of the Wings vets went about their business.
After watching Detroit roll to the Cup, Zetterberg said his two favorite players to watch were Steve Yzerman and 41-year-old Igor Larionov.
Have a look at what Holland wrote in that 2008 story regarding Larionov’s future with the Wings as it related to Zetterberg’s development:
“I decided it was important to keep Larionov for another year or two, even though he was coming to the end of the line. Coaches can teach players only so much, but they can also learn a lot from veteran players.”
Let’s be clear about the fact the first reason to bring Lidstrom back into the fold is because, even at age 40, he’s one of the defensemen you’d most want on the ice when a game of any consequence is on the line. Retaining his captain was a no-brainer for Holland and really only hinged on Lidstrom’s desire to either keep playing or start the three-year countdown to his Hall of Fame induction.
But beyond everything he provides in games, it sure works out well for Detroit that Lidstrom remains in the mix as a tutor for 26-year-old Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl, a 23-year-old expected to make the jump from the American League to the big show in the fall.
Ericsson was scratched for a half-dozen games down the stretch, but at 6-foot-4 and more than 200 pounds, there’s still lots to like there.
Kindl was the Wings’ No. 3-ranked prospect in THN’s Future Watch 2010 and the scouting report on him went like this:
“Kindl is a good skater and passer who possesses a hard, accurate shot, making him a natural for the power play. He must cut down on giveaways and show better decision-making.”
Is there anyone better suited to show this kid how to run a power play while minimizing mistakes in your own zone than Lidstrom? Not unless Bobby Orr and Rod Langway are running a hockey school together this summer.
The Montreal Canadiens like to trot their symbolic torch out on the ice before games to interweave generations past with the guys currently wearing red, white and blue. But when you’re talking about a team that truly epitomizes the best of continuity, it’s obviously the Wings.
Just as Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk undoubtedly soaked in nuggets of wisdom from Larionov that helped them evolve into two of the game’s best all-around forwards, Ericsson and Kindl can only benefit from being around one of the best blueliners of all-time next year.
The significance of that mentoring is amplified by the fact that one of these years, Lidstrom is going to decide his last perfectly executed stickcheck is behind him and it’s time to fill his days worrying about something other than gap control.
When that inevitable day arrives, the Wings’ back end will be better positioned to handle the hole thanks to another 82-plus tutorials from No. 5.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.
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