Nick Lidstrom’s decision to return for another season is the highlight of the summer for the NHL.
Lidstrom is undoubtedly one of the best defensemen ever, and any true hockey fan should be thrilled that we get to watch him play for at least one more season. Now if you are a big hockey fan, and especially if you have played ice hockey as a defenseman, please do me a favor and watch at least one Red Wings game this season. While you’re watching, pay very close attention to Lidstrom and how he plays the game. Unlike a lot of elite athletes, Number 5 isn’t flashy and he doesn’t do much to grab the casual fan’s attention. He’s not the biggest guy on the ice and he’s certainly not the fastest, but he does just about everything right.
Now at this point you might be thinking that you’ve heard all of this before. And there’s a good chance that you have, especially over the last few years. My goal, though, is to show you how one single play in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs summarizes how good Nick Lidstrom has been throughout his career. This play is not a highlight; you won’t see it on any top tens and you won’t find it on YouTube. To be honest, I’m not even sure if it was in the first round series against Phoenix or in the conference semifinals against San Jose. It did, however, speak volumes about the caliber of player that Lidstrom has been for the past fifteen plus years.
This is how that play went down. In an even strength situation, with possession in the offensive zone, Nick Lidstrom received the puck at the blue line. He tried to make a D-to-D pass across the blue line to his partner (Brian Rafalski) but it was picked off by one of the opposing forwards. The forward took the puck into the neutral zone and appeared for a second that he might have a breakaway. Lidstrom caught up to the forward and took the puck back by the time he reached the other blue line.
Sounds like a pretty mundane play, right? It made a big impression on me for a couple of reasons. First of all, Nick Lidstrom made a bad pass and turned over the puck. This is the main reason I remember the play so vividly because I honestly don’t recall another time that it’s happened. Obviously he has done it more than once in his career, but it happens so rarely that I was absolutely shocked. Clearly, the fact that he turned the puck over (especially in that position) stuck with me, and it’s because Lidstrom almost never makes such glaring mistakes. His teammates call him the “Perfect Human” and when you watch him play, it’s easy to forget that it is just a nickname and not a fact. Another reason it stuck with me: while I was still in shock that he committed a turnover to begin with, he caught up to the opposing player and took the puck back before he even entered the Wings’ defensive zone. Lidstrom made a rare mistake and then completely rectified it before I could even blink.
This is what Nick Lidstrom is all about. He’s not the most exciting player in the league, although he might be the best at his position. The guy is everything a defenseman should strive to be because he simply plays the right way. You can make arguments about his stats or his plus/minus, but what strikes me is that he is so smart in his play that it almost takes talent, athleticism, and speed completely out of the equation. I, for one, am just thankful I get to watch him play another year.