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Nick Lidstrom has officially announced his retirement from hockey at the ripe old age of 42, and it was a terribly sad occasion.
For most of us, it's difficult to remember a time when Lidstrom wasn't patrolling the blue line in the most innocently terrifying way possible. He wasn't going to knock you out of your skates, and he sure as hell wasn't going to hit you illegally, but there just wasn't a chance in hell you were actually getting through him. I'm sure no one kept the official tally, since it would be like measuring erosion on an individual rock in the desert, but the number of times Lidstrom got beat one-on-one is almost certainly able to be counted on one hand.
It's sad that we won't have Lidstrom to watch, and to hold up as a paragon of what every defenseman should aspire to be, anymore. It already feels like the NHL isn't the same. He was a player you could set your watch to, subtle and brilliant and graceful and easy all at once, and endlessly enjoyable while he did it. We'll speak in hushed tones to our kids about how we saw Lidstrom live in his heyday, the way our parents talk about Bobby Orr.
But this decision to announce that he would call it a career on a day between Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final was a serious misstep for him and his franchise.
Let's say this was any player in the sport today besides Lidstrom, who chose to reveal they were retiring in the middle of the Cup Final. Now, granted, it wouldn't have had nearly as big of an impact because, let's face it, no one in hockey today is Nick Lidstrom. But for another, he would have been excoriated by the media, and rightly so.
(A few years back, Alex Rodriguez announced that he would be opting out of his contract with the Yankees in the middle of the World Series, and got torched for it.)
This is the type of thing that only serves to distract from what is, and should be, the greatest two weeks of the NHL season.
I saw somewhere that Lidstrom apparently arrived at his decision to retire a week ago, which leads one to wonder, "Why wait until now, when Game 1 of as many as seven is in the books?" There's not really a good answer to that. For all the Red Wings organization are famed for having, this strikes as remarkably tonedeaf, especially considering the stink a team like Detroit would kick up if someone did it to them. Remember, this is a franchise that tried to get the entire League re-aligned and playoff system revamped because it didn't like its current travel schedule. If the decision was made a week ago, then hold the presser in the days leading up to Game 1; or, better yet, hold it after. It would have no bearing on the Red Wings' offseason plans, especially if they knew internally how to proceed.
But there's another, far more important aspect of this as well. When Chris Osgood retired last summer, those who praised him were limited to Wings teammates, people in the greater Detroit area and old-timey sportswriters who don't quite understand the concept that he was the ultimate product of a system.
When Lidstrom's presser came down yesterday, a healthy portion of the players in the League, regardless of the position they play or team affiliation, took to Twitter to sing the legendary blue liner's praises, extolling not only his virtues as a player, but as a human being as well. Clearly, this was a man who had the respect of every one of his peers, regardless of how fiercely he competed against them, which is to say very.
The same is true for the writers who covered him, and whose jobs he made much easier than most in his position are willing to do. It may count very little toward his legacy — particularly because he was so immensely talented and would have been a first-ballot unaminous Hall of Fame selection if he'd spent his offseasons burning down orphanages — that he had time for every media member's slightest question and inquiry, but that certainly didn't hurt the love-fest.
We might encounter players that are just as classy as Lidstrom again, though perhaps not one so willing to individually thank everyone he's dealt with in his entire career on one of the biggest days of his life. It's entirely unlikely that we will ever see another player of Lidstrom's caliber again, and certainly not one that makes every decision the right one, at the right time, in the right part of the ice.
Lidstrom deserves at least a week of articles fawning all over his brilliant and lengthy career. He deserves 10,000-word career retrospectives, loving portraits featuring insight from his former teammates into just what made him tick so flawlessly for 20 years, and thought pieces on what he meant to his team and the sport in the past, present, and future. He won't get it.
In a day or two, people will go right back to dissecting every aspect of the Stanley Cup Final, and rightly so. This tournament is the center of our beloved sport, and no one, regardless of how transcendent the talent or giving of themselves — whether it's Orr, Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky or Nicklas Lidstrom — is bigger than hockey.
Speaking of stepping on someone else's toes, the Calgary Flames did more or less the same thing, announcing that they'd hired former Thrashers coach Bob Hartley in the middle of Lidstrom's press conference.
For all the speculating that it could be anyone from Troy Ward to Mike Sullivan taking over behind the bench, and for all Jay Feaster's talk that the Flames were in the "middle innings" of their coaching search just a week ago, this was the most blindingly logical answer.
The Flames, and Feaster himself, appear to believe very heavily in going with guys you know (see: the hiring of long-time Flame Craig Conroy as special assistant to the general manager pretty much the second he retired last season). Hartley, more than anyone else, was a guy Feaster knew.
He also happens to be a very good and extremely successful coach, having exhibited an ability to win at every level and in every league in which he's ever stood behind the players' bench. But the question, one supposes, isn't and never was whether Hartley is a good coach, but rather if he's a good coach for this Calgary roster, littered as it is with old-and-getting-older veterans and not-quite-there-yet youngsters, with a healthy mix of effective-but-not-especially-so guys in their late 20s.
This is not a roster any coach could win with save through the use of magic spells, and Hartley is a lot of things, but he's no necromancer. This is a team long dead, but still shambling about brainlessly and, apparently, aimlessly.
Identity? It has none.
We had heard a lot of lip service paid to the Flames' need to rebuild in the wake of their failure to qualify for the postseason for the third consecutive year, including some brilliant ret-conning from guys like Feaster and assistant GM John Weisbrod in particular. Which is what makes the talk in the Hartley presser so puzzling.
"One of the teams in the Stanley Cup finals, the L.A. Kings, just finished five points ahead of the Calgary Flames," he said in the presser. "It's just to show you the difference between being a Stanley Cup winner and a non-playoff team is very, very slim."
Which, to me, says this isn't a team that's interested in doing anything but trying (probably in vain) to get into the playoffs again next year. The reasons why the Kings aren't a true 8-seed are numerous, and for anyone to draw a line from what they did this season — ironically, with the Flames' former GM bringing some serious heat behind the bench — and what Calgary could do next year is, at the very least, disingenuous. That's if it's not outright ridiculous.
Flames fans were worried that this would be a status-quo coach brought in to get impossible results with a hopeless roster — forget about trading Iginla or Kiprusoff or both — and that's exactly what they got. I don't know why anyone would be surprised.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on legends: "I'll never forget the time Nick Lidstrom told me @ center ice, in warm-ups, that he loved reading my tweets. Congrats on a legendary career."
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