– The giant breeze that rolled up the freeway arteries leading out of downtown was the collective exhalation of a Red Wings’ organization relieved to know that one of the best players of this generation will be back.
, who is widely considered the world’s best defenseman in hockey, will return for a 19th season, signing a one-year contract, the Red Wings announced Tuesday.
“I get to watch him every day,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “I still think that Nick is the premier two-way defenseman in the world. There might be some player that maybe a little bit more productive, offensively, but I think when you factor in how good Nick is defensively, how he played the last half of the year, certainly the last 30 games … I still think we have one – if not the – best defensemen in the world. It’s a great day for Red Wings’ fans.”
Lidstrom was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next month. After the Red Wings were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Lidstrom said that he would discuss the future with his wife and family.
Despite turning 40 last April, and not being named a Norris Trophy finalist for just the second time in the last 12 seasons, Lidstrom is still regarded by his peers as the best at his craft. In early May, Sports Illustrated polled 272 NHL players, asking them: Who is the best shutdown defenseman? Lidstrom finished on top with 25 percent of the vote, followed by Boston’s Zdeno Chara (23 percent), Nashville’s Shea Weber (10 percent), Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger (9 percent), and Anaheim’s Scott Niedermayer (7 percent).
“Obviously, the players on the ice know best,” Holland said. “They have to play against him. When we go into a playoff series or big games, our match-ups are always Nick Lidstrom against the opponent’s best offensive player.
“I really think, with all of the key injuries that we had in the first 60 games last year, there were three or four key reasons we were able to stay in the race. One was the structure that Mike Babcock put in place, one was the job that Jimmy Howard
did, and I certainly think another was the job that Nick Lidstrom did as a leader off the ice and as a player on the ice.”
Lidstrom’s leadership qualities also make him a tremendous commodity for the Red Wings, who have qualified for the playoffs every year of his career. The 2010-11 season will be Lidstrom’s fifth as team captain. Only Yzerman (20 seasons), Alex Delvecchio (12) and Sid Abel (9) captained the club longer.
Lidstrom’s durability was also evident again last season, as he was one of three Wings to play in all 82 regular-season games. Remarkably, he has avoided serious injuries throughout his career. He’s played in 80-plus games in 13 seasons, and missed only 34 games – regular-season and playoffs combined – since joining the Red Wings in the 1991-92 campaign.
“He plays so much of the game in his head,” Holland said. “It’s his positioning. When he goes into the corner, it’s his quick stick, and he knows how to poke and how to angle. He’s physical when he needs to be physical, but for the most part, he doesn’t play a physical game, because he’s too smart.”
Everyone in the organization believes that Lidstrom has enough left in the tank to soon be considered among the greats who not only played into their 40s, but made significant contributions in their 40s, like hall-of-famers Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Mark Messier and Jacques Plante.
“We’ve obviously been spoiled here for the last 18 years,” Holland said. “We’re watching what I think, is the greatest defenseman of his era, and I think when he’s done he will go down as one of the top defensemen in the history of the game.
“I think part of me saying that is because it’s his longevity. The ability to win the Norris Trophy at the age of 38. And be recognized at the age of 39 by your peers as the best shutdown defenseman. Not only was he a great player in his time, he’s been a great player for a long time.”
When the Wings were cleaning out their lockers on May 10, many predicted Lidstrom’s return, including coach Mike Babcock, who said that he wasn’t a “bit concerned”.
“He’s got too much good hockey left in him,” Babcock said. “I believe he’s like the rest of us, we think we’re going to be right back knocking on the door.”
Lidstrom averaged more than 25-minutes of ice time again, playing in every situation and against the opposition’s top lines. He finished tied for eighth among league defensemen in total points (49), tied for seventh in plus-minus (22), and seventh in shots (194).
He holds the league’s highest plus-minus rating (+432) since the NHL began tracking the statistic in 1991-92 – Lidstrom’s rookie season.