WITH HIS SEEMINGLY
EFFORTLESS approach Lidstrom can seem invisible. Even in Sweden. He scored the
gold-medal-winning goal in the 2006 Olympics, but perpetually injured Peter
Forsberg and Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin, both forwards with less
subtle on-ice skill, have higher profiles at home. Still, the sheer weight of
Lidstrom's accomplishments will eventually define his place among the greats.
In addition to finishing first or second in Norris Trophy balloting in eight of
the past nine seasons, he is a staggering +378 in his career. Potvin calls
Lidstrom the ultimate chess player on ice.
really watch a game and see all the things that he does that are so well
thought out, it's unreal," Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire says.
"If I could have one player to help us win a Cup this year, it would be
"If you could
rattle him, you might get him off his game," Dallas Stars coach Dave
Tippett says. "Except I've never seen him rattled. He anticipates
defensively the way [Wayne] Gretzky and [Mario] Lemieux anticipated
meetings we would remind our players that because he logs so much ice time, you
always want to finish your checks on him," says former St. Louis Blues
coach Mike Kitchen, now a Florida assistant. "But you couldn't start your
check on him because you couldn't even [find a way to] hit him. That's a credit
to his positioning and to his intelligence."
Lidstrom began to
develop the intricacies of his game—head up like Orr, puck on a string, mastery
of the blue line geometry, deceiving pass-shot option from the left point on
the power play, surgical passes that effectively enhance team speed—as a
teenager in his hometown of Vasteras. Over time, Lidstrom blended those
complicated elements into something disarmingly simple. As part of one of the
best drafts in any sport (Detroit not only selected Lidstrom 53rd overall in
1989 but also took center Sergei Fedorov, defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov,
forwards Dallas Drake and Mike Sillinger and recently retired defenseman Bob
Boughner), Lidstrom entered the NHL two seasons later playing that understated
style, and he surely will leave the league playing the same way. On Dec. 26 he
agreed to a two-year, $14.9 million contract extension that will pay him until
he is nearly 40; given his enthusiasm and sensational good health, Lidstrom
could sign another deal. "I always tell people," Holland says,
"you'll only miss Nick after he's gone."
IF THERE IS A
VALID CRITICISM of Lidstrom, it is this: Despite his Conn Smythe, Lidstrom
hasn't noticeably raised his game in the playoffs. A typical Lidstrom match on
May 10 looks like a typical Lidstrom match on Jan. 10; flatlining at an elite
level is fine, but the caveat is that almost everyone on the other team has
lifted his game.
"You have to
be a little meaner, a little tougher, a little more disciplined in the
playoffs," Potvin says. "It could be a fact of his character that
Lidstrom plays at one level, and it's been great. But whether that's enough to
lead a team in a critical game or a critical moment, well, we haven't seen him
win his Cup yet the way we saw [Mark] Messier win a Cup without Gretzky [in
Edmonton in 1990]. His other Cups were on Steve Yzerman's teams."
So the defining
issue for Detroit is whether Mr. (Almost) Perfect can take a Swede-heavy roster
to the Red Wings' 11th championship and become the first player born and
trained in Europe to captain a Stanley Cup winner. It would go down in history
as the bland leading the blonds.