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PITTSBURGH He doesn’t hit like Scott Stevens, he doesn’t shoot like Al MacInnis and he doesn’t score like Bobby Orr.
When it comes to pinpointing specific tools for a defenseman, Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom might not be the best ever at any one thing. Still, Lidstrom is the complete package at the position. When a discussion of the greatest defensemen in the history of the sport breaks out, Lidstrom’s name should be in it.
“He’s not the fastest. He doesn’t have an overpowering shot. He’s not the most physical,” said Bill Clement, a former player and longtime analyst who is covering the Stanley Cup Finals for NHL Radio. “But he is a composite of everything you need to be an incredible player. His hockey IQ is off the charts. His anticipation of what is happening on the ice is flawless. His execution is without a mistake almost always.
“When you put all of the components together, I consider him the greatest defensive defenseman of all time.”
Lidstrom has his team two wins from another Stanley Cup with Game 4 here tonight at Mellon Arena. It would be the fourth title for the 38-year-old Lidstrom, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy awarded to the MVP of the playoffs the last time Detroit won in 2002.
Despite missing six games in February with a knee injury, Lidstrom still paced all defensemen with 70 points this season. He has won the Norris Trophy given to the league’s top defenseman five times in the past six years and is the favorite to collect his sixth in less than two weeks.
That would give him more than all but two players - Orr and Doug Harvey - in the 53-year history of the award. He was the first European player to win both the Norris and Conn Smythe trophies. Add all of it up and Lidstrom is clearly in some exclusive company.
“From what I’ve seen and played with and against, if I were to rank them it would be Ray Bourque, Scott Stevens and [Lidstrom] as the top three,” former Caps defenseman Calle Johansson said. “I never played against Bobby Orr or even really saw him, so I can’t really comment on him. But of all the guys I’ve seen, he is definitely in the top three.”
Still, Lidstrom’s name doesn’t invoke reverence with the casual fan the way guys like Orr and Bourque - or even his own teammate Chris Chelios - does. Some of that may be his European background, but it is more to do with the way he plays the game.
“I will say this - because he is not overpowering, he isn’t the biggest, the fastest or have the hardest shot - he is an acquired taste,” Clement said. “You have to watch him to appreciate him. But if you watch him enough, you become addicted to him. He is understatedly brilliant in everything that he does.
“I’ve watched him for stretches of hours at a time waiting for him to make a mistake and not seen him make one.”
Lidstrom is often fundamentally perfect, and even if it doesn’t say so on the scoresheet, he is always the Red Wings’ most indispensable player. There is also not a lot of flamboyance or self-promotion.
Lidstrom is not the fastest skater, but he is as smooth and graceful as they come. He is also without question one of the best passers at his position.
This Cup probably would possess a little extra meaning for Lidstrom. It would be his first as the team’s captain - not to mention the first won by any team with a European-born and trained captain - and the first for the franchise since the departures of stars like Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov.
“Nick is a tremendous captain,” said Kris Draper, another one of the five current Red Wings players who have won three cups with the franchise. “When Stevie decided to retire, it was a no-brainer who was going to be the next captain of this hockey club. And [Lidstrom’s] very similar to Stevie about how he carries himself on and off the ice.
“He doesn’t say a lot. He’s not a rah-rah kind of guy. But just like Stevie and a lot of the great leaders, when they speak, everyone listens.”
Added Lidstrom: “I think I’m more vocal, especially in the room, maybe than I was in the past as assistant captain. I try to talk to some of the younger players a little bit more, encourage them and try to help them out a little bit. The same thing on the back end, too, with my defensive partners that you want to be a little bit more vocal and try and help them out.”
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