Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Nick Lidstrom: The Red Wings' Mechanical Man

I was watching the cute little Versus Network broadcast the Red Wings game last week, when they subdued Montreal, and Keith Jones, another of the jock-turned-talking heads on TV, raved after the game about defenseman Nick Lidstrom.

"Look at Nick Lidstrom," Jones pointed out as the screen was showing us nifty effects that flashed Lidstrom's image amongs the others in the freeze frame. "Watch him make this play perfectly, effortlessly."

The screen then showed another play, and again Lidstrom was highlighted via the fancy shmancy, flashing locator.

"Here's Lidstrom again. Watch how he breaks up the play and works the puck up ice, in one motion," Jones gushed.

Then another play, this one showing us Lidstrom's penchant for joining a rush.

Then it dawned on me. We're so used to seeing Nicklas Lidstrom do his thing, do it "effortlessly," as Jones correctly pointed out, that his greatness is accepted casually, and almost with some sort of entitlement.

Lidstrom's greatness lies in the fact that we don't even appreciate how great it is. How often have you seen Nick Lidstrom cough up a puck in his own zone? In his career.

He plays such perfect defense, so fundamentally sound, that he could very well be this city's second Mechanical Man. That's what they called second baseman Charlie Gehringer back in the day, because his infield play was so perfect as to be robotic.

Lidstrom doesn't have Steve Yzerman greatness -- the kind that thrilled and chilled and oohed and ahhed. He doesn't have Gordie Howe greatness -- the kind that was filled with legendary stories and a wink at the rule book.

But he has Nick Lidstrom greatness, which is a greatness category unto its own. I'll spot you the five best defensemen you've seen in NHL history -- and even those you haven't seen -- and I'll take Lidstrom over any of them.

An annual event, almost: Lidstrom gets the Norris Trophy

Sorry, Orr, Harvey, and Pronovost. Move down a notch, Bourque, Pronger, and Coffey. Lidstrom is the standard bearer for those who patrol the blueline. How can he not be, when he is, at once, the best offensive and defensive defenseman on the ice, at any given moment? How can he not be, when kids are told to watch how he defends in his own zone, and also how he mans the power play? How can he not be, when he is able to deny great players scoring chances, without so much as laying a glove on them?

"I don't know how he does it," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was quoted as saying a week or so ago. "He just goes and goes. He just plays perfectly, every night. It's weird."

Tonight, Lidstrom will take the ice as a starter in the All-Star game, his ninth. Typical of the great hockey player, he deflects the praise.

"It's always fun to play with all the great players in the league," he said the other day. Umm, and vice versa too, you can bet.

Nick Lidstrom is a perfect defenseman in an imperfect league, playing an imperfect game with perfection. The Mechanical Man, Part Deux.

And we shouldn't need Keith Jones, bless his heart, to tell us that. But the fans in other cities should know, so Jonesy has my approval.

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