Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ageless Lidstrom Still NHL's Best

The best hockey defenseman in the world is 40 years old, but that's by birth certificate only. He has the shell of a 40-year-old but the insides of someone 20 years his junior.

Nick Lidstrom isn't a human being. I've come to that conclusion. He's a robot, the result of some mad scientist's secret project. Mike Babcock doesn't coach Lidstrom, he just makes sure Nick's battery pack gets plugged in after every game.

The paperwork will tell you that Lidstrom was drafted in 1989. Don't believe it; that's when he was animated.

The Red Wings keep Lidstrom in storage all summer and then break him out in October for another 82-game sojourn through the NHL. Babcock sends him over the boards to the tune of 25-30 minutes a night and that's the end of the coach's worries about Lidstrom's performance.

Lidstrom has played in the league for about 20 years and there isn't a scratch on him. In a game of ramrodding and elbows to the mouth and crosschecks to the back, Lidstrom has emerged virtually unscathed after two decades. He's not human.

It may be among the most unbelievable feats in all of sports that Nicky Lidstrom can be the best defenseman in the league on an annual basis yet not hit anyone, not even by accident. You'll get jostled more at the mall during the holiday season than the physical damage Lidstrom has doled out in 20 years.

In a game of speed and collisions, Lidstrom sees the hockey rink as a giant chess board surrounded by billiard cushions. He doesn't have to hit you because he plays the angles; he knows where the puck is going because he sees where it's coming from. He doesn't bother with bodychecking because why check someone after you've stripped him of the puck?

Lidstrom is 40 and is playing this season fresh as a daisy. In 13 games so far, he has two goals and 13 assists for 15 points. He's been whistled for all of six penalty minutes. Lidstrom is the only player in the league who the refs apologize to on his way to the penalty box, because surely there must have been some kind of mistake.

Lidstrom plays hockey with the efficiency of a coffee filter, and with about as much effort. He plays 30 minutes a game but he doesn't actually play them, he conducts them, like clinics. Have you ever seen him sweat?

Lidstrom isn't human, I'm telling you.

This is a man who ends opponents' rushes into the Detroit zone like an altar boy with a candle snuffer. Some Fancy Dans have tried stickhandling past him, but that's like trying to beat a frog in a staring contest, or a man trying to win a fight with his wife.

Others have tried sucking Lidstrom into them and then passing the puck, but Nick's hockey stick is more precise than a surgeon's scalpel. He's ruined more passes than a girl in a bar full of drunks.

Lidstrom isn't human; how else to explain why he's playing at the highest of levels, still, at age "40" (snicker, snicker)? How else to explain why he doesn't lose the Norris Trophy, he only lends it out?

Lidstrom isn't slowing down because neither do rechargeable batteries.

It's not just the defending that makes Lidstrom unworldly.

On Monday night in Detroit, the Red Wings were trailing 2-1 in the third period with about seven minutes left in the third period. They were tired and worn from having jetted from Vancouver the previous day. When the players woke up to drive to the arena, their bodies said, "Are you kidding me?"

Except for Lidstrom, of course.

His team needing a goal, Lidstrom teed up one of his signature slap shots from the point and blasted it where Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov wasn't---in the lower right corner of the net.

That's the other thing---Lidstrom is the Wee Willie Keeler of defensemen; he hits them where they ain't.

Lidstrom tied the game and the weary Red Wings managed a winning goal in overtime, after which Lidstrom skated off the ice and back into his charger.

Lidstrom is 40 and they've been asking him for several years now how much longer he's going to play. He's long been accused of wanting to return to his native Sweden and enjoy his golden years there.

They started this kind of talk four or five years ago and look who's still in Detroit, still in the NHL, deflecting passes and getting in the way of shots and popping in about 12-15 goals a year.

Not that they're going to stop asking. Lidstrom isn't getting any younger, you know.

But he's not getting any older, either.

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