By Jeff Moss
May 18, 2011
Since it is now occurring on a yearly basis, I think we should create a local holiday to commemorate the Detroit Media’s obsession with Nicklas Lidstrom’s potential retirement.
Not unlike a Jewish Holiday, from year to year you have no clue when the St. Nicklas Lidstrom Hand-Wringing Holiday is going to start, but damn if you don’t know it is coming.
This year SNLHWH began on May 12th when the Red Wings were ousted by the San Jose Sharks. And within minutes of elimination, everyone in the local sports media had to get their two-cents in regarding the potential apocalypse if #5 decides to call it quits and return to his native Sweden.
Now, before I write this article, I want to make one thing clear. I am a huge fan of Lidstrom. Shit, I even know there isn’t an “N” in his last name.
In my opinion he is the greatest Red Wing to ever live. Sorry, Gordie Howe, but anyone who faced goaltenders who didn’t wear masks isn’t going to get any consideration from me.
Steve Yzerman was great, but the guy had to be threatened with a potential trade from Detroit by Scotty Bowman before he realized there were three zones on an NHL rink.
And while my love for Sergei Fedorov runs very deep (to the point where I can’t come within 250 feet of the man in a public setting), I can’t even make the case that he was more valuable to the Wings than Lidstrom.
Nope, Nick is the best Red Wing of all-time and furthermore he is in the conversation for the greatest defenseman to ever play the game without the last name of “Orr.”
But if he decides to retire this offseason, it will not be the end of the world. It won’t be the end of the Wings’ 20-year playoff run and it won’t preclude the team from competing for a Stanley Cup.
If you read and listen to well renown hockey experts like Bob Wojnowski and Jamie Samuelsen, ya probably think I’ve lost my mind at this point. But here is the thing, I am not just a Red Wings fan, I am a fan of the entire NHL. Like, I actually watch teams other than the Wings all year long and keep track of the rest of the league.
I’d be willing to wager that most of the Detroit sports columnists and commentators who believe the Wings will be lost with Lidstrom couldn’t name a player on the Minnesota Wild or Atlanta Thrashers. I mean, how many Columbus-Edmonton tilts do you think Drew Sharp watches a year? Fuck, he doesn’t even watch Tigers games that he WRITES about!
And I am sure 95 percent of you are screaming at your monitor right now, “Hey, asshole, the dude was nominated for the Norris Trophy this year, you are fucking nuts!”
Well, let’s get that out of the way right now. If Lidstrom was one of the best three defenseman in the NHL the past year than you believe that Karen Davidson is keeping a minority interest in the Pistons because she loves the team.
Here are Nick Lidstrom’s Plus/Minus ratings over thelast five seasons:
Ummm, you see something odd in that chart? Lidstrom has played 19 seasons in the NHL and his worse +/- going into this last season was +7.
In his career Lidstrom has averaged an incredible +22.5 so there can be no question that he isn’t the same player as he was in 5-on-5 situations.
(And I don’t want to hear any bullshit that Plus/Minus is an overrated stat or not indicative of a player’s worth. While it isn’t perfect, it is still a valuable grading tool and has been rightfully used to support Lidstrom’s Norris Trophy chances in past year’s by Wings’ fans.)
The real reason that Lidstrom was nominated for the Norris Trophy AGAIN was two things:
1) He had gaudy offensive numbers (16 goals and 46 assists.)
2) He’s Nick Fucking Lidstrom.
Now, I have never thought that voters for postseason awards put a lot of thought into their ballot. It is the reason that Rafael Palmeiro won a Gold Glove in baseball the year he played TWENTY-EIGHT games in the field, the reason Jeff Johnson was elected to Congress in “The Distinguished Gentleman” and it is the reason that Lidstrom was nominated for the Norris this year.
Nick Lidstrom …… The name you know.
And if you look at Lidstrom’s offensive stats, you will find something a little disturbing. Of Nick’s 46 assists, 32 of them came on the Power Play.
Because Nick had one short-handed playmaker, he assisted in 13 goals at even-strength. In 82 games. That MIGHT explain why a guy with a career +/- of 429 put up the first minus of his career.
I am sorry, but at this point of his career, offensively Lidstrom is becoming a Power Play specialist and not the overall defenseman that he used to be in years past.
Of course, all of this is understandable since, ya know, he is FORTY-ONE YEARS OLD!
Which leads me to my biggest issue with the Lidstrom must return or very, very bad things will happen narrative.
I am not sure if you heard, but the NHL now has a hard-salary cap. And the salary cap in the NHL isn’t a suggestion like it is in the NBA or NFL. There is no Cam Neely Exception or any other loophole that can be exposed by owners with huge wallets. You go over the cap and you can’t play.
Lidstrom made $6.2 million dollars last year and it doesn’t sound like he has any interest in playing for a dollar less in 2011-2. A season in which he will turn 42-years old when the playoffs get going.
If Lidstrom really cared if the Wings could get out of the second round, he’d take a slight pay cut so the team could sign an extra player that might be the difference against a San Jose team in the second round.
I mean, WHAT 42-YEAR OLD IS MAKING $6.2 MILLION A YEAR?!?!??
If this was 2003 I wouldn’t give two shits how much Mike Ilitch paid Lidstrom. He could give him $10 million, the rights to all Little Caesars franchises in Stockholm and a marker at the Motor City Casino that didn’t have to be repaid.
But we are living in a salary cap world and the team already has $23 million tied up in Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Brian Rafalski for 2011-2.
If you re-sign Lidstrom for his mandated ransom, you’ve got half of the salary cap tied up in basically one line.
If Lidstrom continues to demand that kind of salary at HIS AGE, I’d prefer to spend that $6.2 million elsewhere.
The Vancouver Canucks (you know, a team still playing) have two unrestricted free-agent defenseman in Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff. I can’t possibly foresee a scenario where the Canucks will be able to keep both of them.
I am guessing they will choose to sign the more offensive minded of the two (Ehrhoff) which could leave Bieksa available to partially replace Lidstrom. The Wings would then have salary cap space to add another forward who can put the puck in the net. (Anyone ever hear of this Ville Leino character?)
It is a big leap of faith to give Nicklas Kronwall the #1 gig and break-in Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith at the same time, but sooner or later this team is going to have to get younger on the blueline.
The Wings were fine when #91 left for California and when #19’s knee couldn’t take any more punishment.
And with Datsyuk and Zetterberg in the prime of their careers they will be fine if Lidstrom decides to go back home.
And you know what, maybe Lidstrom retires and the $6.2 million is spent elsewhere and the Wings still won’t win the Stanley Cup.
But tell me, how would that be different than the last three seasons?