The gloomy skies over metro-Detroit today were pretty fitting for the mood that anyone who loves hockey was in today. We all knew that it was going to happen eventually, but nobody was ready for it to be so soon. I'm young enough that I don't remember a time when Lidstrom wasn't a Wing. I was just starting kindergarten when he first donned the Winged Wheel. He and Homer were the last two players remaining from what I refer to as the “glory days” – those great late '90s and early '00s years when the Wings were truly a dynasty – and I have a strong suspicion that Homer's on his way out too. I think this is what it feels like to be old.
As depressing as Lidstrom's retirement is, mostly I'm filled with a sense of gratitude. It's hard to put into words how lucky we were to get to watch him play night in and night out for all of these years. The odds of the league seeing another defenseman who is as far above everyone else as Lidstrom was are slim to none in our lifetimes. And we got to watch him play almost every single game. (Seriously, his lack of injuries is incredible in and of itself.) I was lucky that I got to be in the stands at the Joe when he scored his first career hat trick a couple of years ago. I was even luckier that I got to be there this April when he played his last ever game on home ice. When I headed to the rink with my friend that night, my biggest fear (for the first time ever) wasn't that the Wings would lose the game. It was that that would be the last time I ever got to see Lidstrom play at the Joe. Both fears came true in the end, but at least we got a chance to say goodbye.
His last moments on the ice at the Joe.
Lidstrom was a hockey fan's kind of player. New fans who have just been introduced to the game tend not to appreciate his talent. Casual fans are drawn to the flashy offensive plays or big hits or dramatic saves at first glance. It takes a certain hockey savvy to really get how good Nick Lidstrom was. A couple of years ago, someone recommended that the next time I went to the Joe, I should spend one shift not watching the puck, but watching just him in order to fully appreciate how he played the game.
There's a huge, gaping hole in the Wings' lineup now, and no matter who Ken Holland signs, it won't fill it. You don't replace Nick Lidstrom; you just try to compensate as well as you can. On the bright side, it should be an interesting summer since the Wings have more cap space to play around with than they've ever had. All the free agents in the world won't make losing Lidstrom any easier, though. Here's to #5, the best we'll ever see. Thanks for being perfect.