Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom both turned 40 earlier this year, but continue to be elite players in the NHL. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
When it comes to Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne, hockey fans can probably expect a Brett Favre-type situation to play itself out over the next few summers – without the drama and, we presume and hope, without revelations of them texting pictures of their junk.
Both have hinted heavily this season will be their last. But do you think the Detroit Red Wings are going to let Lidstrom retire without doing everything in their power to bring him back after this season? Do you for one minute think the Anaheim Ducks won’t do the same thing with Selanne?
When the hockey world woke up Monday morning, Lidstrom was leading all defensemen in scoring and Selanne was tied for fifth in the scoring race with seven goals and 17 points. Not too bad considering both freaks of nature celebrated their 40th birthdays this year and are older than three current NHL coaches (Guy Boucher, Dan Bylsma and Davis Payne).
Lidstrom and Selanne were born a little more than two months apart in 1970 – the same year Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick, Bill Guerin, Tony Amonte and Sergei Zubov came into being. Pretty good birth year for hockey players not born in Canada – although Canada does have Rod Brind’Amour and Trevor Linden. But of all those players, Modano and Roenick included, none has had the staying power of Lidstrom and Selanne.
When you talk to Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, he says it’s very simple why the Red Wings have been a perennial 100-point team. It’s almost solely because they have been able to rely on Lidstrom being a premier defenseman for the past 15 years. And through the first part of this season, Lidstrom has been the best defenseman in the game. Not the best veteran defenseman, not the best defensive or offensive defenseman, but the best defenseman, period.
“He’s the best defenseman in the world, it’s that simple,” Holland said.
After taking a couple years off from winning the Norris Trophy in 2009 and 2010, many thought Lidstrom was on the downside of his career. But if he keeps up his level of play through the season – and there’s no reason to believe he won’t – he’ll be a serious Norris candidate. Should he win, it would be his seventh, tying him with the legendary Doug Harvey and putting him just one behind the greatest defenseman of all-time, Bobby Orr.
Lidstrom is already the best European player of all-time, so when does the debate begin about where he falls in the pantheon of greatest defensemen ever to play the game? Well, a lot of that depends on how much longer he can keep up his current level of play. One thing is for sure, though: the drop-off that inevitably happens to every veteran player isn’t about to come anytime soon for Lidstrom.
Part of that has to do with how the Red Wings have employed him this season; they have tried to keep his minutes below 25 per game, but he still averages 24:56 this season, slightly down from 25:25 last year. More importantly, if you watch the Red Wings play, there are very few times Lidstrom is required to go back deep into his zone to get the puck. That saves him from a remarkable amount of abuse on his body.
As for Selanne, his story might be even more remarkable, given the laundry list of injuries he has had to overcome to get to this point. But the injuries have not been able to take away his speed, on-ice intelligence and shot. Selanne’s ability to find scoring areas seems as good as it ever was.
Of the two, Selanne will definitely be the one who will waver more when it comes to retiring. I remember speaking with ‘The Finnish Flash’ after the 2008 World Championship in Quebec City. He was enjoying a couple of beers after Finland had won the bronze medal and declared that was his last game. As the conversation wore on, he hinted he might come back to the NHL after all, but this was definitely his last game as a member of Finland’s national team.
Yeah, right. But as long as Selanne keeps playing the way he has for the past two seasons, he has earned the right to be as indecisive as he wants.
And in a league where the stars keep getting younger and younger and more veterans get pushed aside, it’s refreshing to see two of the greatest players the game has ever seen still be able to thrive.
Let’s hope it continues for a few more years to come.
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