Saying so long to one of the best ever

Not to be too big a downer, but in just three weeks the days start getting shorter already.

Not to be too big a downer, but in just three weeks the days start getting shorter already.

And the NHL season grinds on. By the time the excruciating end comes the Smokies may be into official pre-season work, scouting prospects at an event in Kamloops.

And, Niklas Lidstrom won’t be around to invigorate the NHL anymore.

There may never be a player that good again who was almost anonymous to hockey fans around North America, including yours truly for most of the first half of what has been an amazing career.

When he won his third Norris Trophy, I finally began to pay attention, but, the only way to assess his play was to ignore, almost, the game around him. I settled for watching just Lidstrom, trying to figure out what all the respect was about.

Here’s what I saw. The guy was virtually never out of position and had an almost Gretzky-like ability to read the play.

He sometimes seemed as invisible to opponents as to fans in the offensive zone – how else to explain the quantity of space and time he achieved when one would think those opponents would have their eye on a guy that productive at all times.

All the stats are impressive, but the plus/minus numbers are outright astonishing. Lidstrom never in 20 years had a minus season, not even through two extensive rebuilding periods in Detroit.

He averaged, in fact, plus 23 for his career, while also averaging probably 25 minutes per game of playing time.

He looked bigger, but was just 6’ 1” and 195. And yet, he missed relatively few games in 20 long seasons, which in his case included the equivalent of three-plus more seasons full of games in the playoffs, while logging a lot of time against the other team’s top players, including on first unit penalty kills.

He was so durable that he played in 95 per cent of the Red Wings’ scheduled games over his career, only once suiting up for fewer than 76 in a season.

During all of that time his presence, on and off the ice, improved the franchise and the play of his teammates by including everybody in the team’s success.

Only former teammate Steve Yzerman has another credible claim on the Best Red Wing player, all time, that isn’t Gordie Howe. Lidstrom also has a claim on the best player of his generation barring Mario Lemieux. Pretty rare company for a guy that got so little fan attention.

Great player, great captain, class all the way, that’s greatest-team-captain-of-all-time, Jean Beliveau, territory. Fabulous legacy.

And he topped it all off by choosing to announce the end of the building of that legacy so it would not interfere with the Red Wings going forward into the draft and was early enough into the Stanley Cup finals round that it will not detract from the hype around that.

Well done, Nicklas, you will be missed, even if not by as many as it should be.