With the rumors and reports that Nick Lidstrom will be retiring, it seemed like the right time to see where he ranks among the top Red Wings of all time.
They are third in Stanley Cup championships to Montreal and Toronto. Those two teams, along with the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and New York Yankees, are the only teams in the four major sports that have more championships that the Red Wings.
During that time, there have been many great players that have worn the winged wheel.
It is a who’s who list of hockey greats that includes Sergei Fedorov, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuck, Brendan Shanahan, Norm Ullman, Red Kelly, Sid Abel and Alex Delvecchio, just to name a few.
That group alone would form an impressive Hall of Fame team to battle that of any other franchise.
As good as those players are, they cannot crack the top three spots.
Those belong to Gordie Howe, Nick Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman.
The argument could be made that these players could be 1A, 1B and 1C. Where is the fun in that?
Even being third on this list is an honor.
The leadership that Yzerman has brought to this team is immeasurable.
While it is a difficult attribute to measure, rest assured that Yzerman is the reason the Red Wings have been the best franchise in the NHL over the past 20-plus years.
Early in his career he was a high scoring player. His 155 points in 1988-1989 has only been passed by two players—Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. He finished his career sixth in points, seventh in assists and eighth in goals all time.
As amazing as he was on the ice, his leadership skills are what set him apart.
It would be difficult to find a player of his caliber in any sport that would alter their game the way Yzerman did.
When Scotty Bowman arrived in Detroit to coach the team, he wanted Yzerman to focus on defense. That was a big turn for the superstar player, but he did it.
In fact, he took to the role so well that he became known as one of the best two-way players in the league. He cemented that by winning the Selke award.
His willingness to put the team first resonated with the entire locker room.
After dragging this franchise out of the “Dead Wing” era, he helped usher in the Stanley Cup era. He would raise the cup three times as a player, and helped set the groundwork for a fourth after he retired.
What can be said about the man known as Mr. Hockey?
When he retired from the league, he owned just about every major offensive record in the NHL.
Second place was not even close.
The most impressive stat about his career is that he was Top Five in scoring for 20 straight seasons. He topped 20 goals an unbelievable 22 times.
He won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP six times—second most in league history. He also won the Stanley Cup four times with the team.
This is the stat the earned Lidstrom the top spot on this list.
While technically the Hart Trophy is for the league MVP, it has become an offensive player award. Only once in the past 40 years has a defenseman won that award.
That makes the Norris Trophy the de facto MVP award for defensemen.
Lidstrom has won the Norris seven times to Howe’s six Hart Trophies.
To be considered the best at your position that many times is impressive. Beyond his seven wins, he was a runner up three more times.
It is rare to see a defender be able to shut down opposing teams' best players so well without ending up with a slew of penalty minutes.
While Lidstrom’s hockey IQ is often mentioned, it still seems underrated and underappreciated. His hockey sense has been the key to his success.
He seemingly knows every move that will be made on the ice. Much like a chess player, he is thinking further ahead than where the puck is in that moment or the next possible move.
His ability to shut down opposing teams while staying out of the penalty box is amazing. The most penalty minutes he ever had in a season is 50, and he averaged a paltry 32 minutes a season.
He added a Conn Smythe Trophy to his resume in 2002 and is also a member of the Triple Gold Club. Like Howe, Lidstrom has raised the Stanley Cup four times.
If it is true and Lidstrom is retiring, it will be the end of an amazing career.
His play, leadership and character will not be matched for a very long time—if ever. He has truly been a special player and one of the greatest this sport has ever seen.
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