Nicklas Lidstrom retired a couple of weeks ago, the Time For Debates was raging again: where would he rank among the best of all time?
While many view Bobby Orr as either the best defenseman - or even the best player - of all time, their arguments usually center around the fact that ''he revolutionized the game'', as he could take the puck from behind his own net, skate with it the length of the ice and score by himself.
Well, guess what? So did Doug Harvey, who did so from 1947 until 1969. Many claim that his ''mere'' 7 Norris trophies show he didn't dominate his position during his era, but those folk ignore the fact that the Norris simply didn't exist for the first decade he was in action... he would likely have received close to 5 more, easily.
Another Montréal native is often cited as a Great, Ray Bourque. But Bourque was overshadowed at times by Chris Chelios, or even Denis Potvin.
In comparison, Lidstrom played at the same time as Chelios and Bourque, and Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Rob Blake, Brian Leetch and Scott Niedermayer. And during the last few seasons, Zdeno Chara, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and Duncan Keith.
Simply put, Lidstrom has played against the strongest competition, and yet has always been considered the cream of that crop. He didn't have Bourque's accuracy, nor MacInnis' power, nor Chara's size or even Weber's grit. But he had Wayne Gretzky's vision and knack for getting out of the way, Andrei Markov's wizard-like passing skills, and while his hits never broke any boards, they did what they set out to do: separate a forward from the puck and get him out of the play.
The first European-born captain to win a Stanley Cup and be named playoff MVP, the seven-time Norris champion is also an Olympic gold medalist to go with his 4 Stanley Cups and trio of World Championship medals (gold in 1991, silver in 2004, bronze in 1994).
He has finished with a +40 or better record 4 times in the dead puck era. He barely has more career penalty minutes (514) than his +/- record (+450); he has collected 1142 points, as a defenseman, in the 1990s and 2000s - numbers worth belonging in the high-scoring 1980s.
Like the Markov cards two months ago, I never thought I'd be seeing these again. I figured the best defenseman in 50 years would have better things to do than to write me back, but I see his generosity extends even outside the Detroit area. A classy guy, for sure. I had sent him these 4 cards on March 30th, 2011 and got them back 15 months later, on June 22nd, 2012, signed in black sharpie, with his soon-to-be-retired jersey number at the end (5).
Here are the cards I chose:
2005-06 Rookie Update set (card #37); there was a time when these sets only included rookies and players who had been traded during the season, but that is no longer the case, as manufacturers found that limited their ''star power''. On that card, he is seen sporting the assistant captain's ''A'' - Steve Yzerman was still playing and wearing the ''C'' - and he's wearing the team's then-away red jersey. The card on the right, from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Victory set (Stars On Ice sub-set, card #S15), sees him wearing the captain's ''C'' on the team's home (white uniform).
And these two:
Detroit Red Wings' players to have their letters on the opposite side. You'll also notice Lidstrom wearing a visor - that's the result of a 2008-09 pre-season game against my hometown Montréal Canadiens, where he broke his nose off a Christopher Higgins shot.
The card on the left, with the white uniform now being the 'away' colours, is from UD's 2010-11 Victory collection (card #69), while on the right, in the team's home (red) uniform, we have a card from Panini's 2010-11 Score set (card #196) that sees him checking a player from the Nashville Predators, Patric Hornqvist.
I haven't been having the best time ever of late, but receiving these last week sure brought some light in my darkness.