The Detroit Red Wings have been blessed by not only having two of the greatest captains in NHL history but also having them back to back. A recent article by John Kreiser ranks Steve Yzerman second and Nick Lidstrom the fifth best all time.
Make no mistake; it was a loss for the team when Steve Yzerman retired. However, Lidstrom’s retirement will be a more painful one for the team.
When Yzerman retired, he was still the emotional and locker-room leader of the team. But his on-ice play had fallen off considerably in his last couple of seasons.
After scoring 35 goals in 1999-2000, he would not top 18 in his final five seasons. Now, he was hit by some major injuries during that time which not only led to his decline but also caused him to miss a tremendous amount of games.
In Yzerman’s final season he missed over 20 games. He still managed to finish tenth in team scoring. Eight of the nine players above him would return the next season to help fill the void.
In Lidstrom’s last season, he was still the leader in the locker room and on the ice.
Before a late season injury, he was considered to be a finalist for yet another Norris Trophy. He was among the defensive scoring leaders and was still logging heavy minutes for the team.
When Steve Yzerman retired, there were some amazing players waiting to take over the team. It is assumed the Henrik Zetterberg will take over the “C” this season. While he is a very good player, he is no Nick Lidstrom. To be able to transition from one all-time great to another was a tremendous benefit to the team when Yzerman retired.
While Zetterberg will do a good job, it is difficult to imagine him entering the top five all time captains as Lidstrom did.
Beyond the captain title, the team was better suited to replace the on-ice contributions of Yzerman.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were young players waiting to take over the team. They led the team in scoring in Yzerman’s last season and were in prime position to completely fill the on ice void from his retirement.
With Lidstrom, we are looking at Niklas Kronwall and Brendan Smith as the replacements. Now, Kronwall is one of the hardest hitters in the game and has turned into one of the better defenders in the league, but he has yet to be in the argument as best at his position. Pavel Datsyuk has been in the discussion a few times, including here and here.
Brendan Smith may turn out to be the next great Red Wing defender but right now he is an unknown rookie. Zetterberg on the other hand was coming off a 39-goal, 85-point season when Yzerman retired.
In both cases, the supporting casts were good, but following Yzerman, they were better and a proven commodity. They would return to the Stanley Cup finals two times in the next three seasons, winning once.
Their importance to the team, careers, longetivity and leadership parallel each other, and their presence off the ice was equally difficult to replace. The only real difference was their play and contribution over their last season.
Lidstrom’s on-ice play far surpasses Yzerman’s in their final seasons. He was still an intregal part of the on-ice production for the team. With his departure, the team needs to not only fill the leadership role but also his production numbers.
Of course, all of this assumes that there is a season this year.
PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings as well as many other sports.
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