OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 9 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:
2008-2009 Regular Season: 78 GP, 16-43-59, +/- 31, 30 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 21 GP, 4-12-16, +/- 11, 6 PIM
Season Highlight: Being The Perfect Human.
Season Lowlight: If I were a guy, I’d probably have to go with his traumatic spearing injury, but I’m not, so I’m choosing that last-second shot in Game 7 (Warning: watching this may make you nauseous).
Last year, Nick Lidstrom was awful. He lost not one, but six steps. It was embarrassing. It was the start of a long and miserable decline into mediocrity. Or so the media would have you believe.
All of this talk of his “off” season is kind of amusing to Wings fans because he still managed to post 59 points and be a finalist for the Norris Trophy. Most defensemen would kill to have a season like that, let alone have it considered to be an “off” year. Let’s not kid ourselves. There still isn’t a single defenseman in the world who you would swap for Nick Lidstrom. If you need further confirmation of his continued excellence, think back to the Western Conference Finals and the nauseous, light-headed, self-destructive feelings that you were afflicted with when it was announced that he would be missing the game. I know, I know. It’s not something I wanted to relive either, but it had to be done.
That being said, I did notice that he wasn’t quite as perfect as he normally is. I choose to believe that that was another symptom of the generally lax defense the entire team played for the majority of the season. Thanks to the goal scorers that they lost this summer, they’re not going to be able to get by with the “offense, offense, offense!” mentality that they seemed to adopt last season. The Wings need to find a way to lock things down defensively. More than anything else, they need Lidstrom to be the captain of the defence (that’s a nod to my Canadian readers, not a typo) more than anything else.
As I’ve said before, I don’t buy into the argument that he’s at the end of the road. There’s absolutely no reason in my mind that Lidstrom can’t have several more good years and continue to challenge for (and win) the Norris. Of course he’s not going to be quite as dominant as he was in his prime, but the beauty of his style of play is that not only is it stunningly effective, but its emphasis on good positioning and stickwork eliminates a lot of the wear and tear that comes with aging. Because of the way he plays the game (with his head, not crushing checks), getting older isn’t as much of a handicap as it would be for a more physically punishing defenseman.
I really do think that this season will be a statement from Lidstrom. There’s no way he’s okay with playing through his traumatic testicle injury only to have Marc-Andre Fleury make that last-second save in Game 7. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally see Nick lose his cool this season. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
What he needs to do to make me happy: Make all of those naysayers writing about his decline look like fools.