-- After a two-year hiatus, Nick Lidstrom is once again on top.
The illustrious defenseman won the Norris Trophy on Wednesday night at the NHL Awards show at the Pearl Theater in the Palms Casino. It is his seventh Norris Trophy, but his first in three years -- and perhaps the most unlikely of his Hall of Fame-worthy career.
"I was a little bit surprised," Lidstrom told NHL.com. "I thought it was going to be a tight race. I thought both (Shea) Weber and (Zdeno) Chara had great seasons too. Coming here, I wasn't sure at all that I was going to win it.
But Lidstrom did win it – even if it was by the closest of margins.
Lidstrom's 736 points were just nine better than Weber's total, making this year's race the tightest for first place since 1996, when Chicago's Chris Chelios
finished five points ahead of Boston's Ray Bourque
. Chara was just 48 points back, making this the tightest three-way race for the Norris Trophy since its introduction in 1954.
The first-place votes were even closer. Lidstrom received 35, Chara earned 33 and Weber had 32.
Yet the slim margin did little to damper what the 41-year-old Lidstrom accomplished by winning the award. He joins the most legendary of the game's defenseman -- Hall of Famer Doug Harvey
also has seven Norris Trophy awards and Bobby Orr
is on top with eight.
"It is very humbling, especially reaching those two players that are up there in the tops of getting the Norris," Lidstrom said. "I'm very honored and very proud to reach that level."
Earlier this week, Lidstrom signed a one-year deal to return to the Red Wings for a 20th season. He says the Norris Trophy he won Wednesday night helps give legitimacy to the decision, one he has said he wrestled with for several weeks.
"It sure helps going through all the off-ice workouts over the summer knowing that you just won a Norris Trophy and are one of the top defenseman in the League," he said Wednesday. "That's something you can spin off once you start working out again."
Plus, the numbers are still there for Lidstrom. The 2010-11 season was one of Lidstrom's most productive. He ranked second among NHL defensemen in scoring with 62 points (16 goals, 46 assists) in 82 games. He tied for fourth place among defensemen in goals, was third in assists and tied for sixth in power-play goals (6). He also led Detroit in ice time at 23:28 per contest.
Those are numbers that still leave his contemporaries in awe.
Chara, the captain of the Cup-winning Bruins, believed in his heart that he had done enough to win the award for a second time, repeating the 2009 victory that had seen Lidstrom win in six of the previous seven seasons. Chara's plus-33 rating led the League and matched his career high and he played almost two more minutes per game than Lidstrom.
Yet even he couldn't argue with the will of the voters.
"Obviously, he deserves it," Chara said. "Nicky is such an icon – one of the greatest, if not the greatest, defenseman to play the game.
"There's not many times I watch NHL games during the season, but when it is Detroit, I watch it just because of him. I look up to him so much, and he has done so much for the game. It's just the way he acts and plays the game that makes you want to be like him. Obviously, my style of game is different, but (he's) such an inspirational player."