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Book excerpt: How Brad McCrimmon influenced Nicklas Lidstrom

This excerpt from Nicklas Lidstrom: The Pursuit of Perfection by Nicklas Lidstrom with Gunnar Nordstrom and Bob Duff is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.  For more information and to order a copy, please visit Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bookshop.org, or www.triumphbooks.com/NicklasLidstrom.

***

For Lidstrom, life was surrounded by hockey, including all the rituals that come with playing in the NHL. Dressing up for the games and life on the road soon became part of his everyday routine. 

“I had learned to get the knot on my tie right back home in Sweden, so that wasn’t a problem,” Lidstrom said. “A bigger issue was to be able to sleep a couple of hours in the afternoon on game days. That was hard in the beginning. I was used to laying down and reading the newspaper for a little while after lunch on game days, but never actually sleeping for two hours. I had never done that before.” 

As a rookie, he was sharing a room with a veteran player on the road. For Lidstrom that meant having McCrimmon as his roommate and instructor on the ways of the NHL. “‘Listen, kid, this is how it works,’ he told me,” Lidstrom remembered. 

Lessons in napping weren’t the only part of the learning curve, as Lidstrom would soon discover. McCrimmon liked to lower the thermostat in the room when he was taking his power nap between 2:00 and 4:00 pm. “He wanted it really cold,” Lidstrom explained. “Same thing during the night. One time in Edmonton, when he had opened a window in the evening before we went to bed, I woke up early the next morning with snow in the room. It had started to snow during the night and part of our hotel room was covered in white.” 

Lidstrom was shivering under his blanket but quiet as a mouse, not daring to say anything. It was part of the ritualistic life as a rookie. You had to go along with how the veterans wanted things done. 

There were other things that made him pay attention. Every other week, he got an envelope in his mailbox at the rink with a check. 

“I think the first check I got paid was $15,000,” Lidstrom said. “That was unreal. I couldn’t grasp it. After a number of weeks, I went out and bought myself a new car, a Nissan 300. I wrote a check for the first time in my life. I had looked at a car like that back in Sweden but felt that it was too much money to spend. As a 21-year-old professional hockey player in Detroit, I couldn’t resist the car. My rookie contract paid me an annual salary of $275,000, including a signing bonus of $125,000. The bonus money was put into an account that the Red Wings had opened in my name. That also was a special moment for me. I had no clue they could do that.” 

Lidstrom didn’t have any problems adjusting to the game on the smaller rinks in North America. “He’s a good, solid player in every aspect,” McCrimmon said of his defense partner in an interview during Lidstrom’s rookie NHL campaign. “He’s good offensively and he’s good defensively. He’s got good composure and he works hard. He’s a great skater. You can’t say that he has one dominating quality.” 

McCrimmon felt that Lidstrom’s international opportunities in the World Championships and Canada Cup had served as a sort of finishing school to enable him to smoothly make the transition from Swedish hockey to the NHL. 

“With Nick, I think having been exposed to the World Championships, the Canada Cup, and five years of the Swedish Elite League, he’s had good experience,” McCrimmon explained. “It’s the same with Vladdy [fellow Detroit rookie defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov]. They’re rookies in the NHL, but they’re not rookies in experience.” 

Lidstrom credits McCrimmon’s influence and steadying presence for enabling his relatively seamless transition to the NHL. “He was more of a stay-at-home defenseman, and that gave me a chance to be part of the offense,” Lidstrom recalled. “He was my partner for every game my first year. He was that steady defenseman who stayed home all the time. He would protect me in situations when things got heated. He was a great partner and I learned a lot from him that first year.” 

Off the ice, since the two lived in the same area, they carpooled to games. Their wives also developed a friendship. “He was always happy, always looking at things the positive way,” Lidstrom said of McCrimmon, who died tragically in 2011 when the plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team, of which McCrimmon was the coach, crashed. “He was always trying to encourage players when things weren’t going their way. He helped me out a lot my first year in the league.” 

Lidstrom gained a reputation on the ice for intuitively anticipating what would happen next on a play. Off the ice, he did his best to prepare for his next hockey step into the NHL. 

“When I played in the World Championships in the spring, I asked Tomas Jonsson, Hakan Loob, Bengt Gustafsson, former NHL players that were playing back in Sweden, how it was over here,” Lidstrom said. “I talked to Borje Salming during the Canada Cup. I just tried to talk to as many players as I could. I just wanted to know how it is, how the cities are, the food…well, everything.” 

Once he arrived in Detroit, his tutelage was taken over by Swedish teammate Garpenlov. “When I first came over here, I didn’t know anything,” Lidstrom said. “How to order a phone, find an apartment—things like that. Johan, he helped me. He was great.” 

Triumph Books

Lidstrom discovered that things on this side of the Atlantic weren’t measurably different than back home. “There was a little difference, but not much,” he said. “Back in Sweden everything was not as spread out as it is here. I had to drive a half hour in my car to get to the arena. I spent a lot more time in my car. The cities in Sweden are a couple hundred thousand people. Here, cities are a million. 

“The food was almost the same. There were a lot more fast food places. We had some fast food—McDonald’s, Pizza Hut— but we didn’t have Little Caesars.” 

He smiles at that memory. “I thought maybe I should eat that now,” Lidstrom said with a laugh. Little Caesars Pizza is owned by the Ilitch family, who signed Lidstrom’s paychecks as owners of the Red Wings. 

Steve Yzerman was the team captain when Lidstrom arrived in Detroit. Yzerman was one of the league’s best forwards, often chasing only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in the scoring race. 

“Before you were accepted and had earned a regular spot on the team, he treated everybody the same,” Lidstrom recalled. “Stevie wasn’t as outgoing as McCrimmon, but you could see how hard he worked every day. Both on and off the ice. He was highly respected for the person and leader he was.” 

Lidstrom’s rookie season was a big success. He played all 80 regular season games and produced 60 points (11 goals and 49 assists). But what impressed his coaches and teammates the most was his plus/minus rating of plus-36, which led all rookies and was third in the NHL behind only teammates Paul Ysebaert (plus-44) and McCrimmon (plus-39). 

Yzerman was immediately impressed with the rookie Swedish defenseman. “From the day Nick arrived in Detroit, he clearly belonged in the NHL,” Yzerman said. “Initially, the thing that stood out the most was how poised he was in his play. Nick showed no panic ever when he was on the ice.” 

Yzerman did not see Lidstrom having to clear any big hurdles during his first season in Detroit. “I believe Nick adjusted very well both on and off the ice,” Yzerman said. “He was a mature young man, intelligent, very professional in his approach to hockey. No one, including myself, ever had to do anything to help him out.” 

Lidstrom was proud to have started off well in the NHL without any complications. “I had a very good first year in the league and was nominated for the Calder Trophy together with Pavel Bure and Tony Amonte,” Lidstrom said. Bure, who scored 34 goals, won the award given to the league’s best rookie; Lidstrom finished second in the voting. Lidstrom and teammate Konstantinov were named the defensemen on the NHL All- Rookie Team, and future Detroit teammate Dominik Hasek was the netminder selected to the squad. 

Detroit was an extremely offensive club in the beginning of the 1990s and that suited Lidstrom’s style of play. “The team they had was on the rise, so Nicklas couldn’t have ended up on a better club,” said Calle Johansson, at that time a star defenseman on the Washington Capitals. “They had speedy forwards and he liked to join the attack. It looked like he fit right in. He stepped into what was a dream team in my opinion.”

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Tampa scored three goals in the first 15:16 minutes of the game, including two on the power play, and held off a late push by Dallas to win 3-2 and even the Stanley Cup Final at one game apiece. Brayden Point opened the scoring by netting his 10th of the postseason and Ondrej Palat and Kevin Shattenkirk each scored to give the Lightning a three-goal lead they would not relinquish.

Since the beginning of their First Round series against Columbus, the Lightning are a perfect 5-0 following a loss this postseason. Tampa last lost consecutive games on March 8th and 10th – its final two games before the pause. Andrei Vasilevskiy has not lost consecutive starts since dropping three straight from Feb. 20-25.

After going 0/14 on the power play in their previous four games, the Lightning scored twice on the man-advantage in Game 2, with both tallies coming in the first period. Point and Palat scored power-play goals 2:59 apart in the first period in the win. Dallas took three penalties in the first 14 minutes of play and the Lightning were able to take control by scoring twice.

Tyler Seguin, who is making his third appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28- year-old has gone 11 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span. His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, September 23, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

How the Lightning built a dominant line at the trade deadline

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After their shockingly disappointing playoff loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets a year ago, it would have been easy for the Tampa Bay Lightning to conclude that they needed to do something drastic to a team that kept falling short in the most frustrating ways come playoff time.

They could have made a major trade.

They could have fired coach Jon Cooper.

Pretty much anything that would have sent a jolt through the team.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It also would have been completely reckless, because that is not at all what the Lightning needed.

Even with their late-round collapses (and one early round collapse) this has still been one of the league’s most successful franchises for six seasons. It is a team that is — and has been — loaded with All-Star talent at every level of the roster.

They didn’t need a massive shake-up. They needed a couple of tweaks. General manager Julian Brisebois and his staff were all smart enough to realize that. Some of those tweaks started in the offseason when they signed Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrick Maroon to cheap, one-year contracts to add some depth.

But those were nothing compared to the two trade deadline moves (Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow) that helped Tampa Bay build not only one of its most effective lines this postseason, but one of the most effective lines in the entire NHL.

It is one of the biggest reasons they are three wins away from a championship.

The Trades

It all started on February 16 when they sent a first-round draft pick (previously acquired from Vancouver for J.T Miller) and 2019 first-round pick Nolan Foote to the New Jersey Devils for Coleman.

A week later they sent their own 2020 first-round pick, as well as Anthony Greco (who had just been acquired a couple of days earlier) to the San Jose Sharks for Barclay Goodrow and a 2020 third-round pick.

It’s a lot to give up, no question. When the dust settled they sent what amounted to three first-round picks for the two forwards, neither of which would be what anyone considers to be a top-line player.

Coleman was the most notable of the two given his status as a 20-goal scorer in each of the past two seasons. Add in his defensive ability and cap-friendly contract ($1.8 million salary cap hit this season and next season) and he carries a ton of value. So it’s not a shock he carried a steep price in trade.

[Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

The price for Goodrow, however, was probably a little more eye-opening because you don’t usually see teams trade a first-round pick for a 27-year-old forward with a career high of 27 points.

He is not bringing you offense. What he does bring you is defense. A lot of it. Over the past two seasons Goodrow was one of the Sharks’ most impactful defensive forwards when it came to suppressing shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals and, yes, actual goals.

Also like Coleman he carries an extremely team-friendly salary cap number ($925,000 per season) through next season.

That means the Lightning added two outstanding defensive forwards, including one with 20-goal ability, for a combined salary cap hit of just $2.7 million through the end of next season.

Individually, those have proven to be two very solid moves.

When put together around Yanni Gourde they have produced a game-changing line.

The Results

The Lightning’s best line this postseason has obviously been its top trio of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat. They have dominated every phase of the game and two of them (Kucherov and Point) are contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

But the Coleman-Goude-Goodrow line is not far behind them in terms of overall effectiveness, as the table below outlines.

All data via Natural Stat Trick.

(CF% = shot attempt percentage; xGF = expected goals for percentage; CA/60 = total shot attempts against per 60 minutes; xGA/60 = expected goals against per 60 minutes; GA/60 = goals against per 60 minutes).

The top line is dominating across the board, which is exactly what you expect with two All-Stars (including the reigning league MVP) playing next to each other.

But look at the second line. There is a decent gap in terms of possession (shot attempts) and scoring chances (expected goals), but they are shutting teams down at an elite level and have scored goals at a rate similar to the All-Star top line. Keep in mind, this is only 5-on-5 data and Kucherov-Point line has a ton of power play points together to drive the offense. But it is still impressive at how close they are in terms of overall effectiveness at even-strength.

As good as that top line is, it takes more than one great line to compete for a championship and ultimately win one.

Thanks to some shrewd moves at the deadline, as well as the scouting and player development system that produced Gourde as an undrafted free agent several years ago, the Lightning have given themselves a second great line to help drive their team.

It is all still in place for next season as well, and when Gourde’s contract is added in it still only costs them $7.8 million against the cap. Tough to beat that value, especially if it helps produce a championship.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sharks name Bob Boughner head coach, finalize coaching staff

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The San Jose Sharks finalized their coaching staff on Tuesday by announcing that Bob Boughner has officially been named the team’s head coach, removing the interim tag that he had in the second half of last season.

Boughner replaced Peter DeBoer as the team’s head coach in mid-December.

With Boughner behind the bench the Sharks finished the season with a 14-20-3 record.

They had been 15-16-2 with DeBoer.

Along with the official hiring of Boughner, the team also announced that it has added former AHL Chicago Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson as an associate head coach and long-term NHL forward John Madden as an assistant coach.

“Bob did a tremendous job last season, getting our group back to playing with an identity and structure that we need in order to be successful,” said general manager Doug Wilson in a statement released by the team. “We saw a marked improvement in our play in several key areas during the second half of the season, before losing some key players to injury.

“We’re also very pleased to add Rocky and John to our staff. Both come with a wealth of experience, both in playing the game and as teachers and leaders. With a healthy and motivated group of players, we are confident that this staff will do a terrific job leading our group in the coming years.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Sharks were one of the most disappointing teams in the league during the 2019-20 season, going from the Western Conference Final a year ago to the bottom of the NHL standings.

Making matters worse, they did not even have a lottery pick having traded it to the Ottawa Senators two years earlier for defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Injuries certainly played a role in their decline, but they also struggled to replace forwards Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi after they left in free agency, while also doing nothing to fix their goaltending issue.

There is still a lot of talent on the roster, but some of their core pieces are getting older. They also still have to address the goalie situation.

This is Bougher’s second head coaching job in the NHL. He was also the head coach of the Florida Panthers for two seasons.

He joined the Sharks as an assistant prior to the 2019-20 season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)