Nicklas Lidstrom

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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.

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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.”

Q&A: Nicklas Lidstrom on his toughest losses, influence of Brad McCrimmon

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Nicklas Lidstrom spent this past weekend in Toronto taking part in the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame Weekend of festivities. He captained one of the teams during Sunday’s Legends Classic and watched as another European player, Vaclav Nedomansky, was enshrined Monday night.

While the former Red Wings captain, a 2015 inductee, is one of four Swedish players in the Hall of Fame, he sees more and more European players who will find their way to Toronto in the near future.

“I think we will have more representatives and more Europeans coming in as they get older,” Lidstrom told NBC Sports this week. “I know [Marian] Hossa’s been mentioned, Pavel Datsyuk is coming up, Henrik Lundqvist, the Sedin twins are coming up. Just talking about Swedes, but in general I think you’ll see more Europeans as these guys get older.”

Lidstrom has spent part of the fall promoting his book Nicklas Lidstrom: The Pursuit of Perfection, which was released in October.

We spoke with Lidstrom this week about his book, what current defensemen he enjoys watching, and what the “Perfect Human” isn’t good at.

Enjoy.

PHT: You write in the book about your first contract with Detroit and thinking you’ll play a few years and then go back home. What was behind that thinking and were there times later in your career where you contemplated that again?

LIDSTROM: “I didn’t really know what to expect when I first signed with the Wings. I didn’t know what it was like living overseas and playing in the NHL, playing almost twice as many games as I did in Europe at the time. That’s why in my mind I said I’m going to give it a try anyway and play a few years and see how it goes. If I’m not successful I can always move back and play in Sweden again. My mindset wasn’t to play 20 years or play a real long time. It was more just get used to playing and living in the U.S. and the NHL.”

PHT: You also wrote about Brad McCrimmon and how big of an influence he was on you in those early years. Did any of the lessons he taught you — on or off the ice — influence in how you dealt with younger players when you were the veteran?

LIDSTROM: “Yeah, one of the things he mentioned was that you’ve got to go to work every day, meaning you don’t take days off and you’ve got to work hard every day. He said if you do that then you’re a pro. If you do it well you can be a star. That’s something I tried to help younger players with as well, [telling them] just got to go there and work hard and feel good about yourself leaving the rink every day.”

PHT: A lot of players quoted in the book talk about how hard it was to get you off your game. Were you always like that as a player, even as a youth?

LIDSTROM: “No, as I matured and got older I developed that. In my junior years, not that I would lose my temper real bad, but I would try to get even or slash someone back if someone was trying to get under my skin. I would sometimes get sucked into that as a junior player. As I matured and as I got to know the game a lot more and became better I was able to keep my emotions intact and focus on the game.”

PHT: You play through a few different eras of the NHL. Today, there are no Derian Hatcher type defenseman. You have to be a good skater, be able to move the puck well. How do you think a 21-year-old Nick Lidstrom would do in the NHL in 2019?

LIDSTROM: “I think I would have adapted and adjusted to the style of today’s game. That’s what I had to do as a 34-, 35-year-old when they changed the rules in 2005. You have to adjust. You were taught to grab and hold and put your stick around someone’s waist, that was how you were taught when you first came into the league. All of a sudden, that’s a penalty every time you do it, so you had to adjust. As a young player I think I would have been able to adjust to that style, too. I was a mobile defenseman in a younger age, so I think I would have been able to adjust to that type of style earlier, too.”

PHT: Who are the defenseman you enjoy watching the most today?

LIDSTROM: “There’s so many good, young players today. Good skaters, they’re good at moving the puck. They wanted you to be big defenseman and maybe the real skill guys were a couple of every team, or three, four at the most, and now you see the opposite. Now you see skill is what team’s are looking for. They’re looking for skating defensemen and guys that can move the puck and be part of the offense. 

“I saw Rasmus Dahlin here in Sweden a couple of weeks ago when they played Tampa and seeing his style of play, how confident he plays with the puck. Cale Makar, I haven’t seen him play live but I’ve watched some highlights of him recently, too. They’re all good skaters and they can move the puck and they can be part of the offense. There’s a lot more mobility on the backend than there used to be.”

PHT: And the exciting thing is guys like Dahlin and Makar, they’re playing at that level right away. It’s not as if they’re older veterans.

LIDSTROM: “That’s what’s so impressive. Rasmus is 19 and Cale [is 21]. I’m so impressed with how they come in and really take charge of the game. You didn’t see that when I came in or even 10 years ago you didn’t see many players that young coming in and being so important to their teams. That’s another thing that’s impressive: how the young guys and young stars of the league have been able to step in and contribute right away.”

PHT: For all of the team awards you’ve won — Stanley Cups, gold medals — is there a loss in your career that still bothers you to this day when you think about it?

LIDSTROM: “Always when you think back at some of the losses, the one we had in the Olympics in 2002 against Belarus in the quarterfinals was a tough one. That was a real tough loss for us where we were huge favorite and came out on the wrong end of it. 

“The last Stanley Cup Final that I played in, 2009, was hard, too. We beat Pittsburgh the year before. We had a good team and they had a good team, too, which is why it went to seven games. It was disappointing losing that Game 7 at home.”

PHT: When that puck was squirting out to you in Game 7, were you confident you were about to score before [Marc-Andre] Fleury dove across?

LIDSTROM: “No, I can’t say I was confident because the puck was kind of coming on my off side, so I couldn’t get a lot on it. If the puck had squirted out on the other side it would have been like a one-timer. I had to focus more on getting it on net, but I didn’t get as much on it as I would have liked. That’s why when it came from the off side it makes it a little harder to get all of it. I wasn’t overly confident at all that I would score. I knew it was only within seconds of the buzzer, too, so I knew I had to get a shot off quick.”

PHT: Finally, you’ve had the “Perfect Human” nickname for a long time. But tell me, what is something Nicklas Lidstrom isn’t good at?

LIDSTROM: [laughs] “My wife would tell you a bunch of things. I was so detailed in getting ready for games and focusing on everything around the game, but away from the rink my car could be dirty, I could be sloppy with dishes or things around the house. You’re not as focused as you were at the rink. Those kinds of things.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Avalanche land last spot in West

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Three Stars

1. Phil Kessel

This is actually a dual Penguins three-point scorer award, as both Kessel and Sidney Crosby (one goal, two assists) enjoyed three-point nights as Pittsburgh clinched a playoff spot.

Kessel gets the edge for a couple reasons, though. For one thing, he had more goals than Crosby, as Kessel’s points came via two goals and one assist. One of the winger’s goals ended up standing as the game-winner, too.

With 82 points in 81 games, this ties Kessel’s 2011-12 as his second-best output, behind only last year’s 92. While Kessel seems to find his name mentioned far too often in trade rumors, the guy just keeps delivering. In particular, he probably deserves more credit for being “clutch,” as he’s been dynamite for the Penguins in postseason situations, and also important regular season moments like these.

Also, he once filled the Stanley Cup with hot dogs for trolling purposes. Pretty good final tiebreaker, actually.

2. Alexander Steen

As An Increasingly Old, I can relate to Steen slowing down, as the Blues forward has done at 35.

It’s nice to see strong outbursts like these from Steen, then, unless you’re a part of the Central Division jumble where three spots still haven’t been decided. Then you’d probably prefer the Blues to be a one-line team, thank you very much.

Steen scored two goals and one assist on Thursday, with one of those tallies coming shorthanded. His 27 points are more solid when you realize he’s been limited to 64 games played, so maybe he can heat up for the postseason?

3. Petr Mrazek

It was tempting to go for Jack Eichel (one goal and two assists, and you’ll see that one of those helpers ended up being special) or Jaroslav Halak, who pitched a 26-save shutout. There were other nice performances, too.

With the Sabres eliminated and the Bruins already locked in place, the Hurricanes “needed” more out of Mrazek, at least for a while. The complications of clinching scenarios called for some changes, but the bottom line is that Mrazek played well enough to make the process more straightforward for Carolina, as the clinched a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, ending a decade-long postseason drought.

Highlights of the Night

Two moments of great passing really took the cake on Thursday. First, check out this sweet no-look pass by almost-third-star Jack Eichel to Sam Reinhart:

If you’re like me, you’re a sucker for fantastic breakout passes, and Dougie Hamilton provided exactly that to Warren Foegele:

Factoids

  • There will be greater detail on this later, but in the East, the Capitals clinched the Metropolitan Division title, while the Penguins and Hurricanes locked down playoff berths. Out West, the Avalanche clinched their spot, punctuated by this goal from Nathan MacKinnon to Erik Johnson, thus knocking off the Coyotes. The West’s eight is set, while positioning is still to be determined in certain situations.

(Technically, this goal really secured the spot, but the Johnson goal was more fun.)

Scores

BUF 5 – OTT 2
TBL 3 – TOR 1
NYI 2 – FLA 1 (SO)
PIT 4 – DET 1
WSH 2 – MTL 1
CAR 3 – NJD 1
STL 7 – PHI 3
NSH 3 – VAN 2
BOS 3 – MIN 0
COL 3 – WPG 2 (OT)
SJS 3 – EDM 2
ARI 4 – VGK 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bolts recall Koekkoek with Hedman banged up

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The Tampa Bay Lightning may need some help on defense this weekend, which explains why they recalled Slater Koekkoek.

It’s unclear how hurt Victor Hedman is, but there’s definitely a risk that he won’t be able to play on Saturday, as NHL.com notes.

While Hedman was obviously able to make a huge impression during the 2015 postseason, his Norris hopes were quickly dashed due to injury issues in 2014-15. It would be a big shame for that to happen again, as he drew some serious hype from the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom heading into this season.

Hedman isn’t the only guy who may be unavailable, either, as Nikita Nesterov may face a suspension for his hit from behind from Thursday (which hospitalized Curtis McKenzie).

Speaking of McKenzie:

Update: Nesterov received a two-game suspension for that hit.

At 21, Koekkoek is an interesting moment in his development.

He’s one of the Lightning’s many promising young players as the 10th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, so perhaps getting him another cup of coffee at the highest level – he’s played in three games with the Lightning – would be a good progress report of sorts.

Eric Lindros’ open-and-shut case for the Hockey Hall of Fame

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Peter Forsberg’s election to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday may have helped take care of something that should’ve happened already – make Eric Lindros’ case to be enshrined in Toronto.

The two giants of the ice are forever linked because of the June 30, 1992 trade that sent Lindros’ rights from the Quebec Nordiques to the Philadelphia Flyers. The blockbuster seven-player deal saw Lindros go to the Flyers in exchange for Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, and Philly’s 1993 first-round pick that turned into Jocelyn Thibault.

Both Lindros and Forsberg went on to have superstar careers.

Forsberg had greater team success winning the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche while Lindros made one Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1997 with the Flyers getting swept by the Detroit Red Wings. Forsberg won two Olympic gold medals in 1994 and 2006 with Sweden while Lindros won one in 2002 with Canada.

For Hockey Hall of Fame arguments, team titles are an easy way to distract from the point of the Hall of Fame. Getting elected to the Hall is based on individual success and, let’s face it, there are plenty of players who will never come close to making the Hall who have won multiple Stanley Cups.

When it came to individual accolades, their honors are similar. Both Forsberg (2003) and Lindros (1995) won Hart Trophies. Forsberg also won the Calder (1995) and Art Ross (2003). Both went to multiple All-Star Games and were season-end league all-stars as well.

When you look at the raw statistics and personal achievements between Lindros and Forsberg, suddenly things look a lot closer:

Forsberg:  (14 seasons – 708 GP)  249 G  636 A  885 PTS  690 PIM 1.250 PPG (points per-game)

Lindros:    (13 seasons – 760 GP)  372 G  493 A  865 PTS  1,398 PIM  1.138 PPG

Forsberg’s points per game total is eighth best all-time trailing Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Sidney Crosby, Bobby Orr, Marcel Dionne, and Peter Stastny. He was a no-brainer Hall of Famer whether you loved him or hated him or wanted to hold his history of foot injuries against him.

source: Getty ImagesWhile Lindros’ PPG total pales in comparison, put that into perspective of how great Forsberg’s play was. Lindros’ PPG total is 19th best all-time. The next 11 players behind Lindros on that list are all in the Hall of Fame. Of those between Forsberg and Lindros, Kent Nilsson is the only one who isn’t currently playing that’s not in the Hall (Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr are still going strong).

Forsberg was rightly considered a no-brainer to make the Hall of Fame yet this was Lindros’ fifth turn on the ballot. Next year’s vote won’t be any easier for Lindros to crack through.

Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and Alex Kovalev will be eligible for the first time and join a growing group of worthy candidates to be enshrined. Lidstrom will be a unanimous selection with Fedorov being arguably close to that as well.

That means Lindros will be fighting for recognition amongst other guys with gaudy numbers like Phil Housley, Alexander Mogilny, and Dave Andreychuk or those with brilliant international careers like Sergei Makarov.

There shouldn’t be a way for others, aside from Lidstrom, to make as strong of a claim to make the Hall of Fame next year as Lindros. Now with Forsberg earning his own spot in history, it’s time for the Hall of Fame committee to open the doors for “Big E.”