DETROIT -- It was hard to believe, even with Nicklas Lidstrom speaking the words himself.
The guy the Detroit Red Wings nicknamed "The Perfect Human" -- their captain for the past six seasons and a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame as soon as he's eligible -- is officially hanging up his winged wheel sweater and retiring after 20 remarkable seasons in the Motor City.
Most regular season GP as Lidstrom teammate
191 different players
"Retiring today allows me to walk away from the game with pride, rather than have the game walk away from me," Lidstrom said with reddened eyes during a Thursday morning news conference at Joe Louis Arena's Olympia room.
In attendance with a large contingent of media were coach Mike Babcock, GM Ken Holland, Lidstrom's family, Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch and several current and former teammates. While Lidstrom never fully broke down at the podium, there weren't many dry eyes watching him speak.
"Looking around, you can see it's one of the most emotional days in Red Wings history," Ilitch said. "Nick has been the Rock of Gibraltar [for us]."
The rock isn't wavering on his retirement, either -- despite teammates hoping for a change of heart even as they drove to the arena.
"I'm completely comfortable with this decision," Lidstrom said. "It's not that the tank is completely empty. It's just that I don't have enough to carry through every day to play at the high level I want to play at. I can't cheat myself."
Lidstrom, who turned 42 on April 28, helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups and seven times was awarded the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman. He also played in a whopping 1,564 regular-season games in his NHL career to put him second behind only Gordie Howe on Detroit's all-time list and piled up 1,142 points -- fourth-most in franchise history -- with 264 goals and 878 assists.
His plus-450 career rating ranks eighth in League history and nearly equals the paltry 514 minutes he spent in the penalty box. And yet, his career numbers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are just as impressive. No other Red Wings player appeared in more postseason games (263), as he never missed the playoffs. He also scored 54 goals to go with 129 assists for a total of 183 career playoff points and finished with a sterling plus-61 rating.
"Seven Norris Trophies, that's not by accident," Babcock said. "He's just that good. We're going to miss having him. Someone else is going to get an opportunity, but you're not replacing Nick Lidstrom. That just doesn't happen. Scotty [Bowman] told me this morning the two guys he coached that affected the game the most were Nick Lidstrom and Doug Harvey, and said the game was way different in those days -- but they always made the right decision and made no mistakes. [They] passed the puck to the right guy."
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It wasn't all about passing with Lidstrom, either. He also decided 11 postseason games with game-winning goals and became the first European-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2002 before becoming the first European to captain his team to a Stanley Cup title in 2008.
Lidstrom, who made 12 NHL All-Star Games and was voted a First-Team All-Star 10 times, also holds the NHL record for most games played by a player who spent his entire career with one franchise.
"He's had a great career," said forward Tomas Holmstrom, who formed a close friendship with his fellow Swede during his own noteworthy Red Wings career. "It's a sad day for the Detroit Red Wings, for sure. I've been fortunate, (like) so many guys who have come through the locker room, to play with him."
This past season, Lidstrom also became just the sixth Detroit-based athlete in the four major North American professional sports to play at least 20 years all in the Motor City. Red Wings legends Alex Delvecchio (24) and Steve Yzerman (22), Detroit Tigers stars Al Kaline (21) and Alan Trammell (20) and Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson (20) are the others.
Not bad for a guy selected with the 53rd pick in the 1989 NHL Draft by former Red Wings general manager Jimmy Devellano -- who spearheaded Detroit's trend-setting European scouting push in the 1980s.
"I think he's going to go down as one of the all-time best defensemen ever to play," Yzerman told reporters in New York on Wednesday, when news first leaked out that Lidstrom would announce his retirement. "Having played with him and watched him closely from his first game -- people know about it now, but we've said it all along: you have to watch him closely to appreciate how good he is, what a great athlete he is, because he makes the position look so easy. He is a special athlete."
Lidstrom had weighed the option to retire for the past couple of seasons, but each time came to the decision to keep playing shortly before the NHL Draft in June -- giving Red Wings general manager Ken Holland time to prepare for the July 1 start of free agency.
This time, he reached his decision faster, something Holland knew was a red flag.
"I was little concerned the decision was a lot quicker this year than it was last year, which kind of set off some alarms for me," said Holland, who tried unsuccessfully to sell the legendary defenseman on playing one more season. "We visited for a few minutes and he told me he'd made a decision to retire and I listened to him. All the things he said up on the podium today were all the things he told me and that he didn't feel he had everything he needed, the energy he needed, to play at the level he wanted to play at and he'd made a decision to retire."
NHL Players' Nicklas Lidstrom Tweets
Viktor Stalberg (@VStalberg)
Seems like it will be a bit easier to play vs the wings next year. What a career he's had! One of the all time greats #5
I want to wish a happy retirement to Nick Lidstrom, my idol growing up and the classiest act in the game. What a great career
Michael Del Zotto(@MichaelDelZotto)
What a career for Lidstrom. Bobby Orr and him top 2 defenseman to play. #classact #morepatiencethanahospital
Sad to see Nick Lidstrom retire. One of the games all time greats on and off the ice. A guy that everyone can learn from.
Hard to imagine watching the Red Wings without Lidstrom. Guy was my idol and still is as a player and person. #playedthegamethebestway
Holland even put the Chris Chelios option into play by sending the legendary former defenseman who now works in Detroit's front office out to speak with Lidstrom this past Tuesday. In fact, the star blueliners went out paddleboarding to chat and then headed out to grab a hamburger for lunch -- after Lidstrom told Chelios he was 100 percent certain retirement was the best option.
Chelios then called Holland, who was at the general managers' meetings in New York and informed him that a news conference to announce the end of Lidstrom's career was indeed in order.
"If I think back to the retirements that I've been to -- [Michael Jordan's], [Wayne Gretzky's], there's been guys who are great players, but no one's better than Nick. As good? Yes. But this is as big as it gets," Chelios said. "He's one of the best athletes ever and like [Ilitch] said, if you're going to talk about someone who's perfect, Nick's pretty darn close to being perfect. He's just a great guy."
He was even greater on the ice, where the puck-moving defenseman was always seemingly a move or two ahead of everybody else and was always in the right position -- whether it was defensively or offensively.
The end of this past season, however, was arguably the most frustrating of his career. Lidstrom missed a career-high 12 games, 11 with a painful, nagging ankle injury that turned out to be a hairline fracture. The injury never fully healed before his eventual return for the end of the regular season and Western Conference Quarterfinals -- which turned out to be a five-game loss to the Nashville Predators.
Lidstrom was hampered quite a bit by the aching bone and failed to log at least one postseason point for the only time in his illustrious career. On Thursday, Lidstrom said the injury has fully healed and wasn't the reason that kept him from returning.
"With my age, just being a little bit older and not having that motivation I've had in the past and having the drive and fire that I've had in the past not be there for me, made it a harder decision -- especially saying goodbye to something I've done for 20 years," Lidstrom said. "It's become a lifestyle. You're used to getting up in the morning, working out, coming down here, skating, traveling with the team and just the competitiveness of playing games. I'm going to miss all that, too, but if I don't have that fire, I can't be to the level I want to be at."
The fire burned long and hot for 20 seasons. As for career accomplishments, they are many in number and impressive. His seven Norris Trophy wins tied him with Harvey, the Montreal Canadiens great, and put him second only to Bobby Orr's eight. He also trails only Howe, Mr. Hockey himself, in the number of games spent wearing a Red Wings uniform.
Those seven Norris Trophies all came within the past 11 seasons -- his first was won in 2001 at age 31 and his most recent in 2011, not long after he turned 41. Lidstrom also starred internationally for Sweden, playing in four Olympics, including 2006 -- when he led all defensemen in scoring and fired home the game-winning goal of the gold medal game.
He talked openly about many of those accolades on Thursday and the great feelings that came with them, but said they were never at the top of his list of goals each season. His goal each season in the NHL was simple -- and he accomplished it four times.
"[I'm] going to leave that up to other people to decide," he said of the legacy he leaves behind. "I didn't set out to play 20 years, first of all. I had no other ambitions about how long I was going to be doing this, but once you experience this you want more. Once you reach that goal, you want to get back there again. That's been one of the things that's been driving me all these years. I never set goals of winning the Norris Trophy. The goal has been to play my best, but to win at the end and hoist that Cup one more time."