|Nicklas Lidstrom has a reputation for being one of the most durable players in the league, he has only missed 22 games throughout his entire career.
“He is so professional that he tapes his stick better than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Mike Babcock, who is in his third season behind the Detroit Red Wings’ bench, told NHL.com. “He does everything better, and it’s without effort.”
For 15½ NHL seasons, the rest of the League has marveled at the specimen that is Nicklas Lidstrom.
He’s a three-time Stanley Cup champion, an Olympic gold medal winner, the only European to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy, and a five-time Norris Trophy winner. He even was given the nickname “Norris” by a member of the Red Wings’ training staff.
Later this month, Lidstrom will start in his eighth All-Star Game. It will be his 10th All-Star appearance. At 37-years-old, he’s already played in more than 1,200 games, and he could finish with over 1,000 points if he plays just another two seasons.
Lidstrom, the once unheralded defenseman out of Sweden whom the Red Wings nabbed in the third round, with the 53rd overall pick, in the 1989 Entry Draft, is, for all intents and purposes, the National Hockey League’s vision of perfection.
“He’s the best player,” Babcock said. “No one is as good as him.”
For good reason, too.
No one in the last 20 years of the NHL has been as durable as Lidstrom, who has missed only 22 games throughout his entire career. Lidstrom has fortunately avoided the injury bug that stings even the best in the League.
“My off-season conditioning, the way I take care of myself and prepare, is a big part of it,” Lidstrom told NHL.com. “And, my style. I’m not the physical defenseman looking for the big hit. I’m staying in my position. I know I can take my guy into the boards and neutralize him that way instead of going for the big hit.”
Lidstrom is as good of a positional player as there ever has been in the NHL.
“He doesn’t make mistakes,” Babcock said. “He just doesn’t make any mistakes.”
Not only that, Lidstrom is one of the best skaters in the League.
“I don’t ever remember him getting trapped up the ice,” Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman told NHL.com. “His stats are not as a result of him taking chances, and he’s always playing against the best players. That’s probably what the most unique thing is, he’s had this career playing against the other teams’ best.”
Even while playing against the best, Lidstrom is a marvelous plus-372 for his career, including a plus-43 in the 1993-94 season. He was a plus-40 last season when he scored 13 goals and dished out 49 assists. This season he’s plus-34 with 40 points.
“That’s a great stat for him,” Bowman said of Lidstrom’s plus-minus rating, “because he plays half the game, and both ends of the rink.”
Both are almost true.
Lidstrom, who most certainly does play on both ends of the ice, is averaging roughly to 27 minutes of ice time per game this season, the same way he did last season and the season before that and the season before that.
In 2002-03 Lidstrom averaged more than 29:20 per game. He was near 29 minutes in each of the previous two seasons, as well.
“It’s the consistency that stands out,” Bowman said. “He doesn’t get flustered and he’s in so many key situations.”
That’s because Lidstrom thinks the game better than most, and his instincts are impeccable. He says they come from experience. Intelligence has a lot to do with it, too.
“He’s smart, I tell ya,” Babcock said. “He’s the same every day. That’s what puts him in a league separate from everyone else.”
Lidstrom, though, will have you believe he actually does pull his hockey pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else. Despite all of his accolades Lidstrom is as humble as can be. He doesn’t think he pays as much attention to detail as everyone believes he does.
“I don’t even pay attention to how I tape my stick now,” Lidstrom said. “It’s just part of my routine.”
Despite winning five of the last six Norris trophies, Lidstrom said he, too, went through a rough adjustment period getting used to the new rules once the League returned from the lockout in 2005.
Only Lidstrom’s struggles barely showed because of his rare style.
He finished with a career high 80 points in 80 games during the 2005-06 season, but also rang up a career high 50 penalty minutes. In 80 games last season he was boxed for 46 minutes.
Fifty and 46, though, hardly are alarming numbers when it comes to penalty minutes.
“I try to play my position right all the time. That helped me adjust to the new rules, where you have to be skating all the time,” he said. “We work on it daily. It’s not just trying to get better and better, but keep where you’re at right now. You don’t want to lose that feeling, that timing, and the quickness.”
He hasn’t even come close, leading some to speculate Lidstrom could play another 10 years.
If he remains healthy, why not?
“He’s got the best stick in the NHL. He slides on the offensive blue line as good as anybody. He skates effortlessly,” Babcock said. “He’s great. He’s just great.”
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