It can’t be easy, once you’re tagged with the nickname as The Perfect Human. It comes with, you know, expectations.
But all Nick Lidstrom had to do was be himself.
Hockey and Hockeytown mourns the passing of his career today with wistful recollections of supremely sublime play and Cups raised and Norris Trophies won and impeccably perfect position.
Yet to those of us who have had the privilege of knowing him, at least on a professional level, the head-shaking today has little to do with hockey.
In a world where sports figures are all about “Not right now … Can’t … Won’t … Nope … Can’t you see I’m busy?” Nick Lidstrom was all about “Sure.”
There was always time for another autograph, another interview, another gentle needle. Assists were not just a hockey stat for him. They were a way of life.
To be honest, those interviews in the beginning had the potential to be painful. You’d need a quiver full of questions because the answers would often be brief. It was more extraction than interaction on some days.
Then Steve Yzerman, who had often referred to Lidstorm as “the best player on our team” retired. Lidstorm was the slam-dunk, no-brainer pick as the next captain. And the media corps said as one, “Oy.”
But the “C” for Captain also seemed to stand for change. Lidstrom realized quickly that this was now his team. He was their standard. He was their face. And he evolved quickly into their spokesman.
There are Real Housewives who don’t become that media savvy that quickly.
After a tough loss, he turned at his locker and welcomed the horde. After an injury. After a prank pulled. After ANOTHER question that had something to do with his friend and longtime comrade, Tomas Holmstrom. There always seemed to be time. Which is especially noble for a guy well aware that time was a fading commodity.
After the season ended, I was asked many times whether I thought that Lidstrom would come back. My gut feeling was no.
There was this understanding that Nick Lidstrom’s greatest fear was not that he couldn’t play. It was that he couldn’t play GREAT. That’s a tough admission for some. For Lidstrom, it was easier.
He won his seventh Norris Trophy, the season before last. He was still the Wings’ best defenseman. But he was moving away from his days as hockey’s best defenseman.
He answered questions for the last time as a Red Wing today, but the one that won’t have to be asked and pondered any further is “When?”
The answer is now. On his terms.
Timing was always Nick Lidstrom’s most heaven-sent gift. Even when skating away.