The Detroit Red Wings captain and identity is retiring today. He’s been a loyal soldier. He’s been a great defensemen. He’s been the fulcrum by which the Illitch family and their staff have moved the hockey world. In short he’s been the best thing to happen to the Detroit Red Wings in the past three decades.
The smooth skating Swede is rightly lionized for what he did and was. He piled up points every season with ease. His positioning was impeccable. Lidstrom personified the immutable, and unflappable anchor so many teams have spent years chasing. Cool, calm and competent even in the face of oncoming power forwards like Jarome Iginla. Quietly able to quench the talents of Crosby and Malkin in their first Stanley Cup meeting even in the face of advancing age. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do.
But was is he the greatest defensemen of all time? No top five? Also no. He played the bulk of his career against and with some of the players who belong in that discussion and never won a single Norris trophy until he was along in an era of unusual scarcity of great defensemen. He played against Brian Leetch, Raymond Bourque, Al MacGinnis and Paul Coffey and never won a single trophy until after they were long past their primes or retired. He played against some good defensemen, but as soon as the neighborhood got crowded again, Duncan Keith and Zdeno Chara claimed the trophy rightfully, and Shea Weber was robbed of at least one as well.
Should Red Wing fans, indeed all hockey fans respect the career of Lidstrom? Absolutely. But the competition he played against at the height of his physical and mental prowess was not the crucible that the legendary defensemen faced. He didn’t innovate the position as Orr did, he didn’t have to carry the team himself as others on the list of all time greats have. I can’t imagine any circumstance in which he isn’t a first ballot hall of inductee, which he certainly deserves.