"We used to watch Nicklas get dressed before a game," Kirk Maltby said with a laugh Thursday. "He'd tape his socks, and there wouldn't be creases where he rolled the tape. His skate laces would never be curled or rolled over. They were always perfectly flat and straight.
"We'd say, 'He even does this perfectly. What's wrong with this guy?''"
There was nothing wrong with Nicklas Lidstrom. In an age where hockey highlights are basically goals, saves or big hits, Lidstrom controlled games doing very little of that. Yes, he could score, but that wasn't what he was known for.
The Detroit captain was a master of the game's subtle skills - walking the blue-line, using angles to his advantage, getting pucks through, having an active stick, making a great outlet pass. He was so good at avoiding checks that teammates would be surprised when he actually took one.
Mike Babcock once said his greatest attribute was that "he doesn't think he's important." What is important, though, is that Lidstrom went out on his terms.
One of my favourite baseball players was Mike Schmidt, the great Phillies third baseman. Seven weeks into the 1989 season, hitting just .203, he abruptly retired before a game in San Diego.
"Over the years, I've set high standards for myself as a player, and I always said that when I couldn't live up to those standards I would retire," Schmidt said that day. "I no longer have the skills needed to make adjustments at the plate to hit or to make some plays in the field and run the bases."
That sounded a lot like Lidstrom's own announcement: "Retiring today allows me to walk away from the game with pride rather than have the game walk away from me."
As an 18-year-old, I didn't understand Schmidt's [and by extension, Lidstrom's) thinking. I do now. To have such high standards and be unyielding in your personal expectations of them is what separates those who reach their potential from those who don't.
There were a couple of occasions this season where opponents noted that, for the first time, Lidstrom was making concessions to age. The gap between him and his forwards was slightly larger than before, with the captain hanging back a little more to guard against speed.
It wasn't a criticism. People have too much respect for him for that. It was jarring, more like, "For 20 years, we've never seen Lidstrom need to do it before."
There is one harsh similarity between being an athlete/coach/manager and working in television. You rarely get to walk away on your own terms. The majority of the time, someone tells you you're done, whether you like it or not.
We know we'll see him at least twice more: when the Red Wings retire his number and, in 2015, when he goes into the Hall of Fame. The number of tweets from peers proved Lidstrom is the most respected player of his generation. That's why it's so great to see him go out on his own terms.
1. In my experience with Lidstrom, he had a certain method of doing post-game or post-practice scrums. He preferred to stand and would turn to look directly at whoever asked each particular question. The only other athlete I ever dealt with who always did it that way (unless at a podium) was Michael Jordan.
2. The upper limit of the salary cap is "temporarily" set at $70.3 million US (as reported by Bob McKenzie and pending a new CBA). Two things: The NHLPA has the right to "inflate" that total by five per cent and, to this point, has always done so. Initially, I was told this was not included in the calculation, but now I'm told that is incorrect. Also, @FehrTheeWell pointed out a mathematical mistake on Twitter. The inflator is applied to the midpoint figure, not the cap number. I should have remembered that. Apologies, the errors were mine.
3. Okay, let's do a little Bob Hartley and the Calgary Flames. It is now confirmed by Hartley what had been rumoured, that he had a "handshake deal" with the owner of his Swiss club to escape the second year of his contract if Montreal, Calgary or Quebec City came calling. (The Flames still had to show some green, maybe enough to win an environmental award.) Initially, he had until May 22 to decide, but that wasn't enough time. So, after some arm-wrestling, Zurich extended the window until today (June 1).
4. Because of that, Jay Feaster probably had to make the decision a little quicker than he wanted, although it's extremely likely Hartley was the choice anyway. There are two guys he preferred to at least interview, but couldn't because their teams had lengthy playoff runs. One was obvious: Mike Sullivan, the Rangers' assistant who worked with Feaster in Tampa. The other: John Stevens of the Kings.
5. This hiring makes it unlikely Jarome Iginla is going anywhere. "I'm excited about what this means for Jarome," Feaster said Thursday. As tough as Hartley can be, Ilya Kovalchuk and Joe Sakic, both captains and, obviously, high scorers, enjoyed playing for him. (Kovalchuk was extremely emotional when Hartley was fired in Atlanta, although he laughed and denied it when I asked about a year ago if he teared up upon saying goodbye.) Hartley and Iginla spoke Thursday and will meet soon. Don't be surprised if the coach really pushes the captain.
6. As for Sakic, when Tampa went through the hiring process that brought Guy Boucher, the Lightning interviewed Hartley. They didn't really know each other at all, but Steve Yzerman wanted to meet because Sakic gave a strong recommendation.
7. Finally, this scenario reminds of Dean Lombardi/Darryl Sutter and Doug Armstrong/Ken Hitchcock. Under pressure, both bosses turned to the coach they knew best. The results were much better than predicted. There is no one Feaster knows and trusts more than Hartley, going back to their AHL days as hated rivals in Hershey (the GM) and Cornwall (the coach). Feaster joked at the media conference that if Hartley gets fired, his own bags will be packed, too. The Flames sure hope third time's a charm.
8. Drew Doughty's improved play may be rising John Stevens's stock. Stevens, a fitness freak who was known as "Rambo," is credited with helping Doughty reach his enormous potential in the second half of this season. One thing opponents really notice about the defenceman: he's a much better player later in games. That has to do with conditioning and confidence. Stevens especially influenced the conditioning.
9. Don't be surprised if Adam Oates gets an interview in Washington. He played there (for George McPhee) when the Capitals went to the final in 1998 and is a huge part of the New Jersey coaching staff. There are a lot of parallels between good friends Kovalchuk and Alexander Ovechkin, and Oates played an important role in getting the former to fit in with the Devils.
10. Montreal is getting close. So far, Marc Bergevin's hired people he knows very well (Rick Dudley, Scott Mellanby). Of those who are believed to be among the final candidates, the guy he knows best is Michel Therrien. It should be pointed out, though, that Marc Crawford apparently interviewed very well.
11. With the Brent Sutter stakeout continuing, what others say about the Edmonton Oilers is that they value NHL experience more than anything else right now. (The exception might be current assistant Ralph Krueger.) Can't help but wonder if Dallas Eakins, whose Toronto Marlies eliminated Edmonton's AHL team from the playoffs, should at least be interviewed there.
12. Courtesy Glenn Healy: Zach Parise's gone 186 consecutive games (regular season and playoffs) with at least one shot on goal. Last time he played and didn't get one? November 6, 2009 - a 2-1 win over the Islanders.
13. In discussing the New Jersey forecheck about a week ago, Parise gave some insight into what Philadelphia will be looking for. Parise said one of the reasons the Devils successfully pressured the Flyers was the lack of a right-shot defenceman to move the puck on that side. The only one on the roster is Pavel Kubina, who was a healthy scratch for the series.
14. Sounds like we're going to find out John Davidson's future in the next week. The Blues' sale to Tom Stillman triggered a 30-day window in Davidson's contract that allows him to look elsewhere. Stillman purchased the team on May 9. This is not a person who lacks options, including the opportunity to go back into television.
15. Another St. Louis employee who is in some demand: pro scout Rob DiMaio. Not 100 per cent certain what his contract status is, but there is interest in his services. Wouldn't be surprised if that's also the case with Dave Taylor, now that a chunk of his resume is in the Stanley Cup Final. Stillman's going to have some decisions to make.
16. Mike Gillis's Vancouver extension is for five years.
17. Most coaches don't like to hear about injuries. Their belief is, "Either you can play or you can't. If you can, don't complain about them. If you can't, I don't want to see you." It's a little harsh, and some find a way to be more sensitive about it. Then there's Alain Vigneault. He took criticism for the way he handled Cody Hodgson a few years ago, but after hearing him downplay Ryan Kesler's shoulder problems, it's clear he's pretty blunt about that philosophy.
18. I do have a theory about Kesler, though. There are some people who need to be annoyed to be successful. (Ken Hitchcock used to refer to it as "putting people in uncomfortable positions.") Kesler might just be one of those guys. As his career took off, he played and looked like he was always angry at something. You didn't see that as much last year. Maybe it was the injuries. Maybe he was a little satisfied. Whatever the case, Vigneault is getting on him early.
19. A couple of weeks ago, the Penticton, B.C.-based Young Stars Tournament, a rookie event featuring the Canucks, Oilers, Flames, Jets, Sharks and Ducks over the past two years, was cancelled due to the uncertain CBA. The teams involved in the other major prospects showcase (Traverse City, MI) are trying to save it by starting earlier. The 2011 participants were St. Louis, the Rangers, Dallas, Carolina, Buffalo, Columbus, Minnesota and Detroit.
20. Justin Schultz has a lot of options, but do not discount the Rangers. They will make a push, and he's got two former teammates there (Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan). New York is not shy about inserting young collegians into important roles. See Kreider, Chris.
21. Kreider had a great line after his fifth goal of the postseason. Mentioned to him that he broke an NHL record - most goals by someone who had never played a regular-season game. His reply: "That's obscure."
22. Alright, let's do some Stanley Cup stuff: In Game 1, the Kings did to New Jersey what they did to Phoenix at the beginning of the Western Final - take a good puck-moving goaltender out of the game. The Coyotes felt they allowed Mike Smith better opportunities to help his defence as the series continued. How? Improving their forecheck in the neutral zone, which didn't let Los Angeles carry in the puck or put in harder places for Smith to get it. The Devils will have to do the same.
23. The Kings had their AHL coach, Mark Morris, in their suite Wednesday night. Morris doesn't get a ton of attention, but some of their younger players who've done really well in these playoffs (Dwight King, Slava Voynov, Trevor Lewis, Alec Martinez, Jordan Nolan) developed under his tutelage.
24. One thing several Kings say about Darryl Sutter: he's in the dressing room a lot more than most coaches. Some, like Randy Carlyle, try to stay out of there as much as possible, believing that area is for the players. Not Sutter. He wants to see how they prepare, how "ready" they are for each game.
25. Asked Rob Scuderi if he ever shows his Stanley Cup ring to teammates as motivation. Scuderi said, "No, I'm not really a jewelry person." He keeps it in a safe-deposit box in Boston, and has only showed it to his current teammates once. That was when Pittsburgh owner Ron Burkle presented him with it three years ago. Last year, the Bruins were trying on rings belonging to Mark Recchi, Shawn Thornton and assistant coach Doug Jarvis before games.
26. One of the most amazing things about the Devils is that five of their 18 skaters in Game 1 were never drafted - Ryan Carter, David Clarkson, Stephen Gionta, Andy Greene and Peter Harrold. Greene said he had several offers after he finished university, but chose New Jersey because of its success in developing those kinds of players (Brian Rafalski and John Madden are prime examples).
27. Clarkson also had a few choices after completing junior eligibility. He really came from nowhere. Never drafted into the OHL, he says his agent Pat Morris talked Kitchener into giving him a shot after Belleville cut him. All the Rangers had to do was pick up the cost of his scholarship. Steve Bienkowski, the team's chief operating officer, says it's the best transaction they've ever made.
Inside Hockey before Game 6 of the Rangers/Devils series was on the friendship between Kovalchuk and Martin Brodeur
. Before this season, Kovalchuk was 11-for-41 career in shootouts, just 27 per cent. After Brodeur told him to change his angle of approach, Kovalchuk scored as many times in 2011-12 as he did the previous six years combined. He was 11-for-14.
29. The NHL measures legality of goaltender pads by each person's individual height. No goalie wore shorter ones by those guidelines than Brodeur, who made a switch around All-Star weekend. He added an inch of length and widened the tops, also by an inch. The changes were to protect the five-hole. His save percentage before All-Star was .895. After, it jumped to .921. The weird thing is he's given up 10 goals through the five-hole in the playoffs - including Colin Fraser's series-opener in Game 1.
30. Apologies for the two-week hiatus. Had to think through a few things. The blog returns on a weekly basis through free agency. And, no referees contributed this week
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