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Lidstrom is the best, wins Norris

by Shawn P. Roarke / Detroit Red Wings
Lidstrom led all defensemen with a plus-40 rating, and was fifth among defensemen in scoring with 62 points.
TORONTO -- There is little doubt that Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom is the best defenseman of his generation and, perhaps, on his way to becoming the best ever.

The 37-year-old won his fifth Norris Trophy, awarded by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association to the League's best defenseman, at the 2007 NHL Award Show here at the Elgin Theater on Thursday night.

This time, Lidstrom beat out a pair of Stanley Cup champions in the Anaheim duo of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Niedermayer, who finished second to Lidstrom this year, won the 2004 Norris Trophy to break Lidstrom's three-year stranglehold on the award. Pronger, meanwhile, has the 2000 Norris Trophy on his resume. That year, Pronger edged out Lidstrom, who was the runner-up.

But, beating quality opposition is nothing new to Lidstrom, who ranked third among all players in ice time this year (27:29), led all defensemen with a plus-40 rating and was fifth among defensemen in scoring with 62 points, including a whopping 49 assists.

Those gaudy numbers leave even his stiffest competitors doffing their helmets to Lidstrom.

"You look right now and it's tough to see anyone better, that's for sure," said Niedermayer, who finished 197 points behind Lidstrom in this year's voting. "I don't know what more you can say. He has been recognized a number of times for good reason, because he's a very, very good defenseman. He's a smart player, has great skills, and is a good leader. He is everything that you need to be to be in his situation."

Pronger was even more laudatory in his assessment of one of his biggest individual rivals.

"You look at what he has been able to accomplish there from Day 1 when he got there," Pronger said. "All those years -- '97, '98, 2002 -- winning (Stanley) Cups. Four, five Norris Trophies, I don't know how many exactly. He's got a lot and he is here every year.

"Every year, he's top-5 in scoring, every year he is up for the Norris Trophy, he doesn't miss a lot of games. He's got a pretty impressive resume."

How impressive? In 1,176 games, Lidstrom has 868 points. He is also a mind-boggling plus-338. So, how does he fly under the radar of so many fans?

Well, Lidstrom is exceedingly modest. He will never pump his own chest and blocks praise as easily as he blocks shots from opposing players. He rarely makes the flashy play, but he almost always makes the right play. His lack of flash often leaves him unnoticed for long stretches, unless you are studying the game and what the players are doing.

Just ask Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, who won the Jack Adams Trophy on Thursday as the NHL's best coach this season.

"The number of minutes that he plays, hard both ends of the rink," said Vigneault, shaking his head in amazement. "He's probably one of the most complete to ever play the game."

Pronger insists that Lidstrom is so complete that it is virtually impossible to point out his best asset.

Nicklas Lidstrom took time to sign a few autographs on the red carpet outside of Toronto's Elgin Theater on Thursday.
"I don't think it would be one thing, because he does a number of things great," he said. "He sees the ice extremely well. That first pass, patience, there is a number of things that make him the player that he is. To say one thing would probably do a disservice."

Strong praise indeed, but praise shared by some of his contemporaries. So, is it fair to ask if Lidstrom is possibly the best defenseman to ever lace on a pair of skates? Yes.

"Compared to everybody that played?" Vigneault asks. "He has got to be up there. He has to be one of the top ones to ever play the game. Not as offensive, maybe, as some of the other guys. But, he's up there as one of the most complete defenseman to play the game."

Agreed, says Pronger.

"To put that kind of resume together, he certainly has to rank in the top five all time," Pronger says. "Certainly Bobby Orr would be No. 1 and you might look back at some of the older players of a different generation; but (Lidstrom) certainly would have to be at the top of this generation."

Those credentials as an all-time great were certainly bolstered by Thursday night's award.

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