While the Devils and Kings prepared for Game 2 in their battle for NHL supremacy in New Jersey, one of hockey’s all-time greats finally called it a career in Detroit.
Nicklas Lidstrom finally hung up the skates Thursday morning, retiring after 20 seasons, all with the Red Wings.
The 42-year-old Lidstrom played a record 1,564 games with Detroit, and over his two decades of service to the team that drafted him in the third round back in 1989, Lidstrom became known as one of the best defensemen in league history, leading the Red Wings to four Stanley Cups in the process.
Lidstrom won seven Norris Trophies as the league’s top defender during his career and was a finalist 11 times. He also scored 264 career goals and had 878 assists, and over the last two decades more goals have been scored with Lidstrom on the ice (2,580) than any other active NHL player.
"My drive and motivation are not where they to need to be to play at this level," Lidstrom told reporters gathered in Detroit for the announcement. "Retiring today allows me to walk away with pride, rather than have the game walk away from me."
A native of Vasteras, Sweden, Lidstrom is regarded by many to be the best Swede to ever play in the NHL, and back in Newark, three fellow Swedes — Devils backup goaltender Johan Hedberg, and defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Adam Larsson — weighed in on what Lidstrom’s retirement meant to them, their country and the sport.
"You could say it’s a sad day for hockey, but maybe it’s a little bit expected," the 33-year-old Stockholm native Tallinder said. “In my eyes, he’s the best Swedish player we’ve had over here. No offense to (Peter) Forsberg and (Mats) Sundin. Just with four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies, that says it all, I think."
In addition to his NHL accomplishments, Lidstrom has also represented Sweden in four Olympics, scoring four goals — including the gold medal-winning goal in 2006 — to go with 10 assists in 20 games. And he’s been a bastion for good health, doing it all while escaping serious injury.
“In my mind, how he’s been consistently great for 20 years, helped the franchise to four Stanley Cups, he’s never really been hurt,” Hedberg said. “He’s been a mainstay and the backbone of that team for two decades. That’s very impressive to me. I think that’s what sets him apart from a lot of other guys."
Off the ice, Lidstrom is also widely regarded as a great human being and role model for young players in his native country.
"He’s a great person, very, very professional," Tallinder said. "I think it’s someone that probably doesn’t get the respect that he deserves in Sweden. He’s a low-key guy that gets overshadowed by some more marquee personalities. If there’s anyone that people should want to model themselves after, it would be him."
Lidstrom already had 80 regular-season games and 11 playoff contests under his belt by the time the 19-year-old rookie Larsson was born, who literally grew up watching him play, as did many countless other young Swedes in the NHL.
“I think all the young players in Sweden look up to him, try to play similar (to him),” Larsson said. “What he has done so far is unique. Hopefully I can look back after my career and see that I’ve done something good like he has.”
Said Tallinder: "He’s an icon — everybody wants to be like him, play like him. Offensively, defensively, you name it; he does it all. … Just watching him play, you would describe it once, it’s like a symphony."