Nicklas Lidstrom, a two-way superstar for the Detroit Red Wings for 20 seasons and one of the best defencemen in NHL history, has retired, leaving the game as a four-time Stanley Cup champion and seven-time Norris Trophy winner as the league's best blueliner.
Only the great Bobby Orr claimed more Norris Trophies, with eight. And certainly the case can be made that only Orr, who redefined the defence position, ranks ahead of Lidstrom on the all-time D-men ratings.
But despite Lidstrom's brilliance, he was overlooked and underrated early in his career. He was a three-time Norris runner-up before finally being named the NHL's best defender.
He performed at the highest level, game after game, season after season. He was a mistake-free player in a sport where turnovers and errors occur on every shift. His vision and anticipation allowed him to create plays rather than chase the action; he knew where the puck was going and got there ahead of time.
He was an on-ice director whose hockey smarts and sportsman-like demeanour separated him not only from the pluggers and grinders, but from star-calibre players as well. Understated and soft-spoken, Lidstrom always led with his actions, with his impeccable playmaking and flawless execution accomplishing much more than showy bravado.
Lidstrom's teammates in Detroit called him "The Perfect Human" and the nickname worked. As a defender, he was mobile and always in the right place to break up a play. His incredible hand-eye coordination enabled him to use his stick to swat away passes and bat down pucks with amazing frequency.
He was not overly physical - he rarely delivered a crushing body-check - but mostly because he diffused dangerous situations before physicality ever became necessary.
He was much more apt to reclaim the puck and send the action the other way, turning a two-on-one against Detroit into a three-on-two scoring chance at the other end.
When the Wings had the puck, Lidstrom was the quarterback with pristine passes finding their mark or bombs from the blueline finding the net.
He was not flashy, simply relentlessly efficient and always doing the right thing. He played the game of ice hockey as it should be played, and made it look effortless and beautiful all at once.
At the age of 42, his skill level had barely deteriorated. He surely could have continued for several more seasons. But that was not Lidstrom's wish. He wanted to go out on top, and not betray his legacy by hanging on too long. It is a huge loss for the Red Wings and for hockey fans everywhere.
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