BY CHRIS ZADOROZNY,
The year was 1989. The Red Wings were picking 11th in the NHL Entry Draft after finishing with a 34-34-12 record the previous season. They were in desperate need of scoring, so they drafted Mike Sillinger in the first round, then took a defenseman by the name of Bob Boughner in the second round.
Then came the third round. The Wings had a chance to take homegrown prospect and now former Red Wing Jason Woolley with that pick, but instead, they took some guy named Nicklas Lidstrom.
Boy, did that ever turn out better than they had thought.
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Lidstrom was one of only nine players to be taken from Sweden, and the only player out of eleven to make the All-Star team from that draft. Another player taken in a later round of the draft by the Red Wings was Sergei Fedorov.
Lidstrom didn’t start playing for the Red Wings until the 1991-1992 season. He would go on to play 80 games, registering 60 points on the year. That season would just be the start of what we were going to see with him. The following year, he played 84 games. He wasn’t the big name on the roster either, he was the young gun, who was learning from the best. His mentor was Paul Coffey.
As the years went on, the Red Wings became a better team, with more leadership, more scoring, and more goaltending. Another mentor came in at the trade deadline during the 1996-1997 season. Larry Murphy, now a Red Wings analyst on Fox Sports Detroit was a well-traveled defensement that knew the game. He turned out to be the perfect fit as yet another mentor after Coffey was traded for the man we all know today as Brendan Shanahan.
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It wasn’t until June 7, 1997 that Nicklas Lidstrom really learned how the rest of his career would play out. That would be the first of four Stanley Cup Championships Lidstrom would be a part of. The following season, the Red Wings did it again, winning back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships. Lidstrom was again, a big part of that following the likes of both Larry Murphy and Slava Fetisov, another well-traveled veteran a part of the ‘97 team as well.
It was the third Stanley Cup Championship in 2001-2002 when Lidstrom had Chris Chelios to model himself after, even though he was pretty much showing that he was one of the best in the league. The year 2001 would begin his reign of seven Norris trophies, for the best defensemen in the league. This is the year Lidstrom solidified himself as the top defenseman for the Red Wings and in the NHL. He would go on to win the Norris trophy again in 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011.
Lidstrom just kept getting better, and one of the best things about Lidstrom was his ability to play nearly every game, every season for the Red Wings. He recently played 70 out of 82 games in the 2011-2012 season, his last. That was the least he had played in his career.
We also can’t forget the most important player of them all. The Captain. Once Lidstrom came in, he had a pure leader in Yzerman. In 2006, he took his spot when Stevie Y retired. No one could ever replace The Captain, but someone had to take his place. After years of experience from so many great hockey minds, Lidstrom knew what to do. It only took him two years to gather his fourth and final Stanley Cup, the first ever won under a European-born captain.
The Perfect Human, as many know him by, was indeed found mortal this past season, as mentioned, only playing in 70 of the 82 games because of a deep ankle bone bruise. This may or may not have factored into his decision to retire. What we do know is that the Red Wings will never be able to replace Nicklas Lidstrom. The Red Wings do have some options at his replacement, but that will be a different story, for another day. Today, it’s about Lidstrom and what he has done for this franchise.
We may never see another player like Lidstrom. He was very humble, not a fighter, one of the best, if not the best defensemen of all-time, and performed on and off the ice for the Red Wings. He meant a whole lot to this franchise and to this city, giving it hope in times of need.
The City of Detroit and the fans of the Red Wings can definitely not thank him enough for what he has done as a player on the ice and in the community. So Nicklas Lidstrom, thank you for everything that you have done. No. 5 will soon be in the rafters at The Joe (or to-be-named new arena). The Red Wings truly found a needle in a haystack when they picked you.