Nicklas Lidstrom: Just How Big Is His Loss for the Detroit Red Wings?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 21:  Nicklas Lidstrom #5 of the Detroit Red Wings controls the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on February 21, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Red Wings 2-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The lockout has taken one major headache away from Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.

Instead of hitting his forehead with his hand on a regular basis when he watches his team's overall defensive play, he merely has to think about what his team will look like when the lockout comes to an end.

Reality of life without Nicklas Lidstrom won't confront him until the NHL and the NHL Players' Association finds a way to work out its differences and a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed.

Once that happens, Babcock is going to have a huge problem. It's one thing to conceptualize life without Lidstrom; it's quite another when it becomes reality.

Lidstrom is arguably the second-best defenseman in NHL history behind Bobby Orr. Larry Robinson, Ray Bourque, Denis Potvin and Doug Harvey could all give him a run for his money, but you would not be wrong if you slotted Lidstrom into the No. 2 spot.

His statistics and achievements are mind-boggling. Lidstrom scored 264 goals and had 878 assists for 1,142 points during regular season games. He finished his career plus-450 during his 20-year career.

Lidstrom won seven Norris Trophies in his career as the best defenseman in the NHL, he was a first- or second-team All-Star 13 times in his career and he won one Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup Playoff Most Valuable Player.

Lidstrom played on four Stanley Cup-winning teams for the Red Wings, along with one Olympic gold medal for his native Sweden and one world championship.

He has done it all and his consistency has been scintillating. Not only was his level of production quite steady from year to year, he never had to be called out by any of his coaches for any perceived weakness.

That's because he never had one.

When it came to off-ice persona, there were no arrests, no drunken episodes and no embarrassments that reflected on his team, his country or himself.

Has any athlete who was as dominant as Lidstrom ever been so clean off the ice or field as Lidstrom?

Perhaps you want to go back to Lou Gehrig in baseball or Cal Ripken. But if you listen closely, there's an undercurrent of selfishness that surrounds baseball's all-time consecutive games played leader.

Bill Russell in basketball may be close. However, Russell never projected a warm and fuzzy attitude to the public. Russell certainly had good reason, but he was not the friendliest of all the great players.

Perhaps Steve Young in football fits the bill, but he was not as dominant for anywhere close to the two decades that Lidstrom dominated his sport.

The Red Wings have lost their leader. His skill level on the ice and his ability to keep pushing the team towards greatness will be missed greatly.

They will not be able to make up for this loss.

It won't take any one player and the Red Wings won't fix the problem in a year or two.

In addition to losing Lidstrom, the Red Wings lost free-agent defenseman Brad Stuart to the San Jose Sharks.

That means Niklas Kronwall, who scored 36 points a year ago, becomes the leader. Ian White was surprisingly solid last year, but he was paired with Lidstrom the majority of the time and he will now have to show what he can do without the future Hall of Famer next to him.

Jonathan Ericsson and Kyle Quincey have much to prove. They both have talent, but they must show they can produce on a consistent basis.

The Red Wings are no longer sure of anything about their blue line.

Losing Lidstrom to retirement means that what has long been a strength of this team is now an area that is quite questionable.