DETROIT — Even a conversation on a paddleboard with Chris Chelios couldn’t change Nicklas Lidstrom’s mind — it was time to call it a career.
Two of the greatest defensemen in NHL history took some time Wednesday to paddleboard on Orchard Lake. It didn’t take long for Chelios, who retired in 2010, to realize his former Detroit Red Wings teammate was resolute.
“After 30 seconds and looking into Nick’s eyes and how kind of distraught (he looked) — it looked like he went through a game, I’m sure because of all the thinking he’s had to do over the past two weeks and what a tough decision he had to make — so I didn’t even have the heart to try to convince him otherwise,” Chelios said.
“I know Homer (current Detroit wing Tomas Holmstrom) had talked to him. They’re best friends. If Homer can’t convince him, I’m sure not going to.
“Nick’s done everything right his whole career, I’m sure he’s content and happy with his decision now. It’s just a really tough decision, especially when you can play at the level he can still.”
But Lidstrom, the man called the Perfect Human by many of his teammates, didn’t believe he was ready to put in the work required to stay so perfect. Still, that didn’t mean it was an easy decision to make.
“With my age (42), just being a little bit older and not having that motivation I’ve had in the past and not having the drive and fire that I’ve had in the past not being there for me, made it a harder decision — especially saying goodbye to something I’ve done for 20 years,” Lidstrom said Thursday after a news conference to announce his retirement.
“It’s become a lifestyle. You’re used to getting up in the morning, working out, coming down here (Joe Louis Arena), skating, traveling with the team and just the competitiveness of playing games.
“I’m going to miss all that, too, but if I don’t have that fire I can’t be to the level I want to be at.”
Most people believe that, even at 42, Lidstrom could still play at a level where he could contend for a Norris Trophy.
But in reality, there’s nothing left for Nick Lidstrom to accomplish.
The Red Wings captain’s resume looks like something 10 players combined might achieve in their careers: four Stanley Cups, seven Norris trophies, Conn Smythe winner (the first European to do so), Olympic gold and a world championship.
When former longtime captain Steve Yzerman, one of the best players to ever don the winged wheel, calls you the best player on a team he’s on, you have to be the best.
“I think he’s going to go down as one of the all-time best defensemen ever to play,” Yzerman told NHL.com at the general managers meeting in New York.
“Having played with him and watched him closely from his first game, people know about it now, but we’ve said it all along — you have to watch him closely to appreciate how good he is, what a great athlete he is, because he makes the position look so easy. He is a special athlete.”
In 20 years, that special athlete missed only 44 regular-season games.
What is just as amazing as his longevity is his consistency.
“He played 28 minutes against the opposition’s best players, (would) not make a mistake,” former Wings assistant coach Barry Smith said. “Next day in practice, he’d make every single pass and do every single drill right to the absolute perfection, never said boo about anything being too hard, too long, too difficult.
“He always had a smile on his face, was the most even-going personality I’ve ever met, and that goes for the whole family. If you can’t love this guy, there’s something wrong with you.”
Coach Mike Babcock said he spoke with former Wings coach Scotty Bowman before the news conference.
“Scotty coached him 10 (years) and the word he used was ‘perfect.’ That’s how I feel about him, too,” Babcock said. “I’ve coached him for seven years, or maybe been coached by him for seven years. What he meant to the organization, just the way he spoke today, he just does things right.
“He’s been a great great player, an even better person. It wasn’t about what he said, it was what he did. He set a benchmark for all of us.
“To be around him is humbling because he does so many good things and does it without ego. He makes players want to be better players and he makes you want to be a better person.”
Those who played with Lidstrom say the same thing as his coaches.
“He is the best defenseman I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with, and I’ve played with a few good ones,” current Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. “I don’t know if I ever left the rink after a game thinking to myself, ‘Nick just didn’t have it today.’ He was almost the same every day, the same every day. That is what a great player is.
“When you’re around that and that’s the kind of guy you have leading your team, it rubs off on you. I think it makes you better.”
Larry Murphy, who was paired with Lidstrom before becoming a broadcaster for FOX Sports Detroit, said you always knew what you would get from him.
“The level of consistency, bangs and bruises, he didn’t miss a lot of games but I assure you he wasn’t feeling 100 percent every time he went out there but he had the ability to work though that and get his level of play,” said Murphy, a former defenseman.
“That consistency, to me, being an ex-player, is what really stands out. Being so great so often, I’ve never seen that from any other player.”
Even Holmstrom, who is likely to call his own retirement news conference soon, did not want to see his best friend’s career come to an end.
“It’s been so much fun,” Holmstrom said. “It’s a sad day. He’s had a great career. He’s played against all the best players for 20 years.
“Detroit’s been fortunate enough to have him. Everybody is fortunate to have him here.”
Fellow defenseman Niklas Kronwall didn’t talk with Lidstrom before the news conference and still hoped he would hear a different decision.
“We’ve been getting so spoiled having a guy like that around, being on a team with a guy like that, being on the ice with a guy like that,” Kronwall said. “I think the fans have been getting very spoiled, as well.
“We’ve been taking it for granted, I think, when he’s on the ice, because everything, it’s supposed to be that way. Now he’s not going to be there next year and I think it’s going to take some time for that to really sink in.”
When he was an opponent, Todd Bertuzzi said he gave up trying to hit Lidstrom on the ice, because he knew it was not possible and out of respect. That respect grew while they were teammates.
“My first feeling was a little upset that the NHL is losing a legend,” Bertuzzi said. “For me, I’m very fortunate to have been able to put on a jersey in the same locker room.
“I’ve always looked up to him and respected him and held him in high regard. I’ll take (away that) I got to play with the great Nick Lidstrom.”
Lidstrom said he’d let others discuss the significance of his legacy. And those who did made a great case for him.
“Who’s better, that’s my question,” former Red Wings coach Dave Lewis said. “Who’s better than Nick Lidstrom?
“If I had to guess, and I played against Bobby Orr, the two of them would be side by side. They would be on the same blue line together and good luck to whoever’s attacking.”
Chelios also played with and against some of the top defensemen of all time.
“There were great defensemen during my time, great defensemen before my time and there are going to great defensemen after my time, but he’s going to go down as one of the greats obviously,” Chelios said. “You can’t say there was anyone better.
“I played with Larry Robinson. I played against (Ray) Bourque. You go even further and Doug Harvey, but it’s just different eras. But in my opinion there couldn’t have been anyone better than Nicklas Lidstrom.
“Different eras, different types of players, but there was no one any better than Nick as far as I’m concerned.”
Even the “Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, weighed in on Lidstrom on NHL Live on Wednesday.
“He’s going to go down as one of the great defensemen ever to play the game,” Gretzky said. “He’s right up there with guys like Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Larry Robinson and Paul Coffey. This is a very special individual.”
General manager Ken Holland, who heard Lidstrom’s decision a week ago but asked him to think about it a while longer, often joked that when Lidstrom retired it would be his retirement day, as well.
Holland isn’t leaving, but he now has to deal with the fact Lidstrom is.
“It’s hard to have contingency plans when you’re talking Nick Lidstrom,” Holland said. “We’ve had a lot of great players here, but he’s one of the two or three very special ones at a position on defense that really controls the game. We’ve had a lot of great defensemen over time, and he’s the greatest of them all.
“He gave us 20 incredible years and you have to feel good for Nick that he gets to walk away from the game on his own terms.”
Unlike Red Wings retirees Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, Lidstrom didn’t cry at the podium. The only time he got a little emotional was while talking about his family — wife Annika and sons Kevin, Adam, Samuel and Lukas. All except Kevin, who is still in Sweden, attended the news conference.
Lidstrom said he and his family would move back to Sweden this summer as soon as the boys are done with the school year.
Kevin, 18, has been playing in Sweden for Vasteras, his father’s original team, the past two years, and Adam, 16, is planning to join him. And that might have factored into Lidstrom’s decision.
“He was thinking maybe we would stay here so he was prepared to move there without us,” Annika Lidstrom said. “But I think it’s hard for Nicklas to see the family splitting so I think it has a little bit part of it, too.
“But I think mostly it’s that he didn’t have the motivation to play, that’s the biggest thing.”
Adam is looking forward to having a full-time dad.
“It’s going to be good having him come to all our games now,” Adam Lidstrom said. “It’s going to be better, him telling us what to do more and what not to do, things like that.
“I’ll always remember all this over here, him being a hockey player and things like that.”
Lidstrom will go down as one of the best and most perfect hockey players to play in the NHL.
The final example of his perfection came Wednesday when he and Chelios returned to shore on their paddleboards.
“I’ll show you how lucky Nick is: When we came back, we had (left) some flip-flops on the shore, and only mine were stolen. Nick’s were still sitting there,” Chelios said. “And his were way better flip-flops than mine. That just shows you the difference between me and Nick.”