Detroit Red Wings\' Nicklas Lidstrom. (CPimages \'06/AP/Jerry S. Mendoza)
"Well, who's better?," wondered his coach, Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings. "You guys (the media) talk about someone else for three months and then you talk about someone else for a while. This guy plays all the months."
The Anaheim blue-line duo of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer may have something to say about the Norris this season but Lidstrom, playing in his 15th season, appears to have the edge right now. The 36-year-old Swede leads all NHL defencemen with 48 points (10-38) in 56 games and perhaps more impressive, is tops in the league among all players with a staggering plus-36 rating.
"He's so good and so professional, it's humbling to be around him," said Babcock. "I've never seen anything like it. He likes hockey, likes his teammates, does what you ask, and steps up his game when you need it."
It's hard to believe the four Norris Trophy seasons Lidstrom has recorded since 2001 nearly didn't happen.
"It was back in '99, our oldest boy was just about to start school and we were debating if we were going to move back and have him start school in Sweden," Lidstrom said Friday during a league conference call, recalling a difficult life decision.
Luckily for Red Wings fans, Swedish friends of Lidstrom and his wife who had lived in Detroit and moved back overseas told them they had no problem integrating their kids into the Swedish school system.
So Lidstrom decided to hold off making the move back to Sweden and continued playing in the NHL.
"We're happy with the decision we made,' said Lidstrom, who now has four sons.
Lidstrom's two-year deal which pays him US$7.6 million per season expires in June 2008. He's not sure at that point whether it will be time to head home for good.
"We'll see how I feel," Lidstrom said. "It's just an inspiration to us all to see (45-year-old teammate) Chris Chelios out there and see how hard he practises. Today was an off-day and I'm sure he was down at the rink riding the bike.
"We'll see if I can play that long, I doubt it."
In the meantime, he's focused on a long playoff run. The Wings are among the top contenders in the West along with Nashville, Anaheim and San Jose. The Ducks and Wings are also among the teams who are believed to have interest in acquiring star centre Peter Forsberg from Philadelphia, Lidstrom's Swedish Olympic champion teammate.
"Peter and I aren't really close," said Lidstrom. "I'm a few years older than he is and we've only played together on the national team. But I think adding a player of Peter's calibre would help any team. I think a lot of teams are looking at him to see if he wants to move and I think we're one of the teams.
"If we could get him that would be huge for our team. He's a world-class player."
Like Forsberg, Lidstrom wear the C on his club, taking over from legend Steve Yzerman this season after the superstar centre's retirement.
"It's been real enjoyable being the captain, especially after such a great player like Steve Yzerman," said Lidstrom. "It hasn't been that tough a transition for me. I was an assistant captain for seven or eight years and I watched Stevie up close for 15 years.
"The more workload for me has been more communication with the coaches, you're more of a link between the players and the coaching staff."
He also credits having other veterans around him such as Chelios, Mathieu Schneider and Robert Lang.
"If you're a first-year captain on a young team I think it's a little bit tougher but I've got a lot of help from the veteran players on my team," said Lidstrom. "I think I have been a little bit more vocal in the room than I've been in the past, especially trying to help out the young guys."