NEWARK, N.J. -- The only thing that would make the Detroit Red Wings happier than seeing Nicklas Lidstrom's No. 5 go up to the rafters in Joe Louis Arena on Thursday is if the former captain came out of retirement to play against the Colorado Avalanche after the ceremony.
Jonathan Ericsson thinks he could do it too.
"He could probably come in and play today without even practicing, that's how good he is," Ericsson told NHL.com. "Well, to be realistic, maybe he'll need a few practices. But if he practiced for a week you wouldn't even know he was gone for a year and a half."
Unfortunately the Red Wings know all too well that Lidstrom has been gone since announcing his retirement on May 31, 2012. They'll honor him Thursday by retiring his jersey, but seeing No. 5 up in the rafters will only remind the Red Wings players what they're missing.
The Detroit Red Wings wish they still had Nicklas Lidstrom on their blue line. Instead, they'll retire his No. 5 Thursday night before their game against the Colorado Avalanche. (Photo: Getty Images)
Lidstrom was their leader and best player until the day he retired. Goalie Jimmy Howard said it's still weird that he isn't around.
"You look in the middle of the dressing room and you're expecting to see No. 5, Lidstrom's nameplate sitting there," Howard said. "But playing with Nick and just learning so much of how to be a pro on and off the ice, he's just a great human being. When they say he's a perfect human being, it's actually true."
Lidstrom earned the reputation as being the perfect human because if he had any warts on his game or his personality, he never let them show.
* He won the Stanley Cup four times and in 2008 he became the first European to captain a Cup-winning team.
* He won the Norris Trophy seven times, a mark surpassed only by Bobby Orr's eight.
* He finished his career with 1,142 points and a plus-450 rating in 1,564 games.
* He had 183 points in 263 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
* The Red Wings never missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Lidstrom's 20 seasons, winning at least one round 14 times.
Those who played with Lidstrom still say he's the best defensemen they ever played with. Those who played against him say he's the best defensemen they ever played against. Coaches admired him for his perfection and how he never seemed to sweat in the big moment; they feared him because of how good he was. General managers would dream that one day he'd play for them, even if they knew that day would never come.
"I mean, just beyond perfect," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He was that good. He was a lesson for young players because he didn't force anything. He just was simple. He was smarter than everyone else and skated better than everyone else and was more professional than everybody else. He taped his stick better. He put away his hot pack better. He cleaned his stall better. He treated his family better. He talked to the media better. He was more respectful. When you asked him a question, he had an opinion."
Babcock appreciated Lidstrom so much he remembers his stats like a kid who used to memorize the backs of baseball cards.
"I arrived [in Detroit] when he was 35 and most guys are done at 35," Babcock said. "He won the Norris Trophy four times [from 2005-12]. He averaged 59.4 points per season over seven years, was plus-271, and we got 100 points every single year and made the playoffs. He was the first European [captain of a] Stanley Cup champion. He was OK."
Lidstrom was also a mentor to his teammates, especially to fellow Swedes such as Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall, who still struggles to describe what the former captain meant to him for the seven years they were together in Detroit.
"I don't think it's really until he's not there anymore that you really realize how much he meant," Kronwall said. "You get so spoiled just having him around every day. Being around a guy like that and seeing not only how good of a player he was and how he made it look so simple, but how he carried himself as a person in all kinds of different situations, whether that was with media, fans, just in the locker room, the gym with how hard he worked, it's tough to put into words."
Ericsson stressed how he feels lucky to have played with Lidstrom. He said it's something he'll talk about for as long as he's alive.
"Just watching him, learning from him on and off the ice, how professional he was about everything -- I think him and Stevie [Yzerman] put the standards of what leadership is in the Detroit organization and everyone has to live up to that," Ericsson said. "The whole group has been so involved with each other, a great group of guys, and they were the cornerstones of that."
Lidstrom didn't become captain of the Red Wings until Yzerman retired following the 2005-06 season. The transition was seamless, and the Red Wings never skipped a beat. Detroit finished with 113 points in 2006-07. It won the Stanley Cup in 2008, after winning the Presidents' Trophy with 115 points. The Red Wings got to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2009 before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Detroit had 102 points in 2009-10; 104 in 2010-11; and 102 in 2011-12.
Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy three straight times from 2006-08 and again in 2011.
"It's pretty hard to be better in your position than Nick Lidstrom was," Babcock said.