|Niklas Lidstrom won his fifth Norris Trophy last season, and he's showing no signs of slowing down.
Lidstrom won his fifth Norris Trophy last season as the NHL’s best defenseman, and he’s in the final season of his contract with the Red Wings. But if General Manager Ken Holland has his way, Lidstrom will be back for another decade in Hockeytown, perhaps long enough to equal Bobby Orr’s record of eight Norris Trophies.
“I hope about another 10 years,” Holland said when asked how long he hopes Lidstrom will play. “I think Nick, he's 37, 38 years of age. Certainly the superstars, it appears to me, can play into their early 40s. Steve Yzerman was a real good player for us in his late 30s; unfortunately, injury caught up to him. Chris Chelios at the age of 45 is still going strong.
“You look around the League: Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, they were able to be real good players into their early 40s. There's no reason to think that Nick can't continue to play at the level he's at for the next two or three years, if he continues to stay healthy. Nick plays such a smart game – it's all about positioning, the ability to move the puck. He rarely puts himself in a position where the other team can finish a check on him. He really reads the ice and reads the game well.
“Beyond that I think, again, it depends on health and I also think probably depends on passion. Sometimes as players get older their priorities change and they don't want to play. As long as Nick loves going to the rink, loves to play hockey … I think he can remain one of the top defensemen here for a few years.”
Lidstrom’s deal may be up at the end of 2007-08, but Holland doesn’t have to worry about his best defenseman losing his love or passion for the game.
“I don’t feel like I’m going to quit after this season,” Lidstrom told NHL.com. “I want to continue to play past this year, even though this is the last year of my deal.”
After winning three Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal, world championships and just about every individual honor there is for a defenseman to collect, Lidstrom’s pretty much done everything there is to do. He can walk away at any time and his name will be in the debate when the subject of the best defenseman of all time comes up.
But that’s not what keeps him going. It’s all about the passion for Lidstrom.
“I love what I do every day,” he said. “I still say it’s the best job in the world. And winning it a few times, you get the feeling of what it’s like, the feeling of winning. I think that’s the feeling you want to get back again. You want to finish on top again and be Stanley Cup champions. That’s what drives me. And the love of the game. I still enjoy playing the game.”
The last time Lidstrom was up for a new deal, he chose to stay in Detroit for less money than he might have been able to get on the open market. After all, how much would an NHL team pay for the best defenseman on the planet? Instead of following the cash, Lidstrom followed his heart and stayed with the Red Wings -- just like so many of their battle-tested veterans have done over the years.
When Lidstrom looks around the room, he sees guys like Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom and even a relative newcomer like Chelios, who make up a veteran core that’s been in place for more than a decade in some cases. In that sense, the Red Wings are a little like family.
“I guess I would say that I think it's been very important to the success of our team, and probably has been the reason why we have felt it's important to try to keep as many players as possible,” Holland says. “I think really the success for us goes back to the mid-'90s when Scotty Bowman came to Detroit and put together the Russian Five with Steve Yzerman. We started to play a style of hockey that we still play today. We draft that way. We try to sign free agents and make moves to a style of play that fits into really our team philosophy.
“Ultimately having a number of players that are constant year after year after year like Lidstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Tomas Holmstrom, Chris Chelios have now been here since 1999,” he said. “They really pass on to the newcomers. They're sort of like coaches for us.”
|“I think that’s been the key to our success – to have the same group of guys over the years.” -- Niklas Lidstrom
The old guys can still get it done.
“We thought that we had a great opportunity to be in the Final and fight for the Stanley Cup,” Lidstrom said. “I thought we had some unlucky breaks in that Anaheim series. Being without Mathieu Schneider and Nik Kronwall didn't help us. Having two top-four defensemen not playing in that series hurt us a bit. Even though we were missing some players, we were real close to taking the next step.
“It's disappointing, but on the other hand we have some young players that really got a great experience out of playing in the playoffs and going deep in the playoffs and realizing what it takes to win,” he added. “It's a completely different mentality once you reach the playoffs. Hopefully our younger players learned a lot from last year's experience.”
In Detroit this season, there figures to be a bit of a changing of the guard with the influx of a group of exciting young players, guys like 23-year-old Valtteri Filppula, 23-year-old Jiri Hudler and 24-year-old Igor Grigorenko.
“We feel great about our team,” said Lidstrom, who’s going into his second year as the captain after succeeding Yzerman. “We've lost some veteran players in Mathieu Schneider, (Todd) Bertuzzi, Robert Lang. But the guys that are going to get an opportunity to play more are (Johan) Franzen, Filppula is going to get a bigger role, Hudler is going to get a chance to play on the top two lines. We've seen just the younger players get a bigger role on our teams.
“I think from what they went through last year in the playoffs, I think that's going to help us going into this year with the experience or just being around the team,” he said. “Even though you didn't play, being around the team, seeing what it takes to prepare for a long playoff run. The younger players will get a bigger role in our team, are going to get a bigger opportunity to contribute, too.”
While the younger players will get an opportunity this season, Detroit is a team that continues to get life from the older legs in the dressing room.
“I think that’s been the key to our success – to have the same group of guys over the years,” Lidstrom says. “We’ve been part of winning, and we still bring a lot to the table for our team. You can add good players like Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Filppula, some of the younger players that are getting a chance. I still feel like we have a good mix of young and veteran players. But having that core group of players has helped the team tremendously.”