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Once again, Lidstrom among Norris finalists

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Other defensemen in the league may have had better tangible statistics this season, but Niklas Kronwall knows who should win this year’s Norris Trophy.

He only has to look three stalls to his left in the Red Wings’ locker room for the answer: captain and legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.

“Other guys might have had better numbers, but I think anyone can agree on that he’s the best all-around defenseman in the league,” said Kronwall of Lidstrom. “Guys that know hockey and watch him every night, we all know. To me there’s really no question who the best defenseman is in the league.”

On Thursday, the NHL announced that Lidstrom – along with Washington’s Mike Green and Boston’s Zdeno Chara – are finalists for the Norris, which is decided via an end-of-season vote by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

“It’s fun, it’s always an honor to be nominated,” the Wings’ captain said.  “I know both Green and Chara have had solid years too, so I’m honored to be one of the three. “

According to the league, Thursday’s Norris nomination is Lidstrom’s 10th since 1998.

The Norris winner will be announced at the NHL Award Show from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas on June 18.

Goalie Chris Osgood, points to Lidstrom’s determination and drive that has made him a regular nominee for the award given annually to the league's top defenseman.

“Just his work ethic, he’s always working hard,” Osgood said. “He’s obviously talented, but I’ve seen a lot of talented guys that don’t work as hard as he does, and that’s why he’s at the level he’s been at for so many years. That’s why he’s been a finalist every year for a while now. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t work, and stay focused on what you’re doing, then you’re not going to be where he’s at.”

Lidstrom, a four-time Stanley Cup champion, has won the Norris six of the last seven seasons.  If he is to win this year, he will tie Doug Harvey, who won seven times during an illustrious 20-season career. Boston great Bobby Orr holds the all-time mark, having won the Norris eight times, consecutively, from 1968-75.

There seems to be a push for the Norris to go to Green, who became the first defenseman in 16 seasons to reach the 30-goal mark. It’s also hard to discount Green’s remarkable effort to break an NHL record for defensemen when, at one point, he scored in eight-straight games, eclipsing a 25-year-old record held by Mike O'Connell. 

While Green enjoyed a breakout campaign, Lidstrom still managed to top the 50-point plateau for the 14th time in his celebrated career, and he finished with a plus-31 rating, which was his sixth plus-30, or better, season.

The Wings’ highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history maintained his usual reliable spot among D-men scoring, finishing fifth in goals (16), sixth in assists (43), and third in total points (59).

His productivity on the power play didn’t wane, either. Lidstrom had 33 power-play points in the regular-season, which is consistent with his 33.08 average over the last 12 seasons.

Coach Mike Babcock spoke about the trust he has in Lidstrom as an on-ice leader.

“I think a big part of playoff hockey is trust, and the trust you have within your room and the trust you have between the coach and the players, because if you don’t trust people they don’t get out there,” Babcock said. “Nick is one of the best obviously in the world, as we all know, and he’s been great.” 

For a rookie like Jonathan Ericsson, who’s idolized Lidstrom, there is no better role model on or off the ice.

“His positioning play is the first thing I learned from him,” Ericsson said. “To watch him, where he is on the ice all the time in different situations; he’s not a guy that plays really physical or anything but he’s always in the right spot. From everything, having his stick on the ice all the time, you see things kind of every day just watching him play and practice.”

Lidstrom has stood the test of time, which is evident in his career plus/minus rating. Since the 1991-92 season, Lidstrom has posted an incredible NHL best plus-409 rating.

Red Wings forward Marian Hossa has made a number of defensemen look silly throughout his 11 NHL seasons. But he said that he can honestly say Lidstrom hasn’t been one of them.

“When I was playing against him, he was reading the game really well, his stick is always in the right position, and if you try to beat him one-on-one, it’s almost impossible,” Hossa said. “You just have to make a smart play behind him, and it’s hard to try to do something special against him.”

You could say that Lidstrom is at his best when he goes unnoticed. He has always contributed on offense, but the signature trademark of his career has been his smart and error-free style in his own end while shutting down some of the league’s top scorers.

Players and coaches alike talk about how well he uses his body to take away passing lanes and space in the defensive zone.

“I don’t find him difficult to play against, that’s the problem,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s not hard on you physically, he just goes and pushes you into areas that you get frustrated by. He angles you into areas that you feel at the end of the night that you’re not really drained physically, you’re more drained mentally.”

Those opponents who know Lidstrom best are quick to praise the Wings’ captain.

“I laugh at the critics that say he doesn’t play physical enough,” Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash said. “He’s obviously proven over all the years, all the Stanley Cups, that you don’t need to play too physical. He rides out his checks, he makes sure he slows you down.”

But Lidstrom acknowledged that he as some stiff competition in his path to another Norris. Green led all defensemen with 31 goals and 73 points, and Chara averaged more than 26-minutes worth of ice time a night.

“I think they both had solid years,” Lidstrom said.  “We don’t see them a whole lot, only saw them once, both guys, but just looking at their stats and what their teams have accomplished, they both had real good years.”

But many, including his Wings teammates, suggest that Lidstrom is the most deserving simply because he plays at his best when the chips are on the line.

“Nick prides himself in playing well when it counts most,” Osgood said. “I think he’s done that again this year, he’s playing really well right now for us. He was great last year in the playoffs for us, he’s just an unselfish player, doesn’t really concern himself with the points more than us just winning games.”

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