Since Mike Babcock took the reigns as head coach for the Detroit Red Wings in 2005, he has had the privilege of skating out a Hall of Famer in his first defensive pair.
For nearly 15 years before Babcock came to Detroit, head coach Scotty Bowman had that same luxury.
Now, Babcock and the Red Wings have the unthinkable task of finding a replacement for one of the greatest defensemen to ever don the winged wheel.
Nicklas Lidstrom is a shoe-in Hall of Famer, a tremendous hockey player, and an even better man. Since Lidstrom announced retirement on Thursday, prior coaches and teammates have released countless statements of support and adoration. The statements are numerous, but all boil down to a single thing: Nick Lidstrom was an incredible teammate and hockey player.
Lidstrom’s exit from the game of hockey leaves a hole in Detroit’s defense, but even more so leaves a hole in the hearts’ of Detroit fans. Lidstrom, deemed the “SuperSwede” by many, will go down as one of the most beloved sports figures in Detroit history. In my opinion, he rivals Steve Yzerman as the most beloved Wing ever.
Lidstrom’s 20 seasons with Detroit were some of the greatest in hockey, and few can come close to the numbers amassed by the now 42 year-old from Krylbo, Sweden. Lidstrom laced up the skates 1,564 times for the Red Wings, not counting the playoffs, which Lidstrom went to every single year he played in the NHL.
Lidstrom played in more games for a single team than anyone, took Detroit to the playoffs 20 straight seasons, and won four Stanley Cups in his time with the Wings. He won the Norris Trophy (Best defenseman) seven times, been an All-Star twelve times, won a gold medal, a Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP), and is the all-time leader in NHL regular season wins (900).
Lidstom holds ten Red Wings records, with my favorite being career plus/minus. Since his rookie year in 1992, Nicklas Lidstrom has a rating of +450.
Ken Holland and the Red Wings will not be able to replace Lidstrom. Plain and simple, there will never be another Lids. But the Wings must do their best to go out and find someone who can anchor their defense for the next 20 years. Ok, 20 is a bit unrealistic, so how about five?
Detroit’s defense showed signs of being really talented this past season, while also showing signs of inconsistency. Without Lidstrom, the Red Wings’ top defenseman is now Ian White. It is possible Detroit will go after a free agent defenseman this offseason, and Ryan Suter sure would look good wearing the winged wheel. However, the Wings have expressed a need for a goal scorer, and New Jersey’s Zach Parise is also a free agent after this year.
But if New Jersey wins the Stanley Cup, it seems unlikely that their captain Parise would leave for Detroit.
This could mean Suter becomes Holland’s number one target.
While a Suter/White first defensive pair would be great, a White/Kronwall pair doesn’t look bad either. Even without a big free agent signing, the Wings have a group of defensemen that has talent. Jonathan Ericsson showed improvement this season, and will likely move up to the second defensive pairing alongside Brad Stuart, who had both great and terrible moments this year. The third pairing would then be young Brendan Smith and grinder Kyle Quincey, a solid third pair by my standards as long as Smith continues to improve.
The task at hand is a massive one, but if Detroit takes the right steps, they can improve their squad and make it deep into the playoffs in the 2012-2013 season. Lidstrom will always be one of the greatest Red Wings, and as a player I grew up watching, he will have a place in my heart forever.