There is a reason Kris Draper and his Detroit Red Wings teammates nicknamed future Hall of Fame defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom The Perfect Human all those years ago.
“To see what he does in person, in practice, it really is amazing,” Red Wings blue-liner Niklas Kronwall said over the phone on the eve of Saturday’s season-opening game at St. Louis. “Anything he had anything to do with was a hundred per cent, and he did it to perfection.
“His attention to detail is something I think came natural to him. He never overtried or overthought anything.”
And now he’s gone.
Lidstrom retired from the NHL after 20 seasons with Detroit last May 31 at age 42. He played 1,564 regular-season games, won four Stanley Cups, was a 12-time all-star and seven times was named the league’s top defenceman.
“Nick deserves all the credit he gets from around the league,” said the 32-year-old year Kronwall, who received guidance on and off the ice from Lidstrom when he broke into the NHL in the 2002-03 season. “He was our best player for 82 regular-season games and then every game in the playoffs. To do that year in and year out, what do you say?”
Kronwall shared some thoughts on what life is like and will be like in Detroit without Lidstrom as the team embarks on a lockout-shortened season.
CBCSports.ca: Your last game with Nicklas Lidstrom was Game 5 of the Western Conference quarter-finals against Nashville on April 20. How was it, sharing the ice with him that night?
Niklas Kronwall: At the time I didn’t really think too much about it. Even after the game we didn’t really think too much about it. There’s been talk the last couple of years about him retiring and everyone knew that could be the case but I don’t think anybody, especially here in Detroit and all Red Wings fans, wanted to think about that possibility. We kept our heads in the sand and hoped it would never happen.
CBCSports.ca: Was there a message from Lidstrom to you and the rest of the Red Wings defence upon his retirement?
NK: He had a few of us [players] out for dinner before he left for [his native] Sweden last summer. His message all along is that you’ll be fine. Obviously, it’s going to be a completely different look on our defence. We won’t have somebody like [Lidstrom] but the rest of us are going to have to take another step in the right direction in our development and hopefully that will make our team better.Red Wings defenceman Nik Kronwall, bottom, says former teammate Nicklas Lidstrom, top, made the game look more simple than anyone he's played with. (Jerry S. Mendoza/Associated Press/File)
CBCSports.ca: When a guy like Nick Lidstrom is your teammate, what do you enjoy most about him?
NK: When it comes to hockey, just watching him play. He made the game look so simple, more simple than anyone I have ever watched.
CBCSports.ca: Describe what it was like in the dressing room watching Nicklas Lidstrom prepare for games?
NK: I think Nick’s presence in general meant a lot to this team and made everyone calm, whether that was [during his] preparation, during games, in between periods. He talked and spoke up when he needed to. He found the right way to do it.
CBCSports.ca: Was Nick Lidstrom the kind of guy that you and the other defencemen learned more from things he told you during practices and games or just by watching him?
NK: I think it would be more watching him. Nick is a quiet guy and leads by example. He was always there if you wanted to ask him something or get his opinion. Just by watching him most guys have learned a lot.
CBCSports.ca: What have you added to your game from his style of play?
NK: There are definitely things I’m still working on such as when to jump in the play, try not to run around and look for hits and just stay in position in your own zone. If you looked at Nick, he was never out of position. He rarely overworked anything. He kept it simple and that’s why he was so successful. It’s something that most guys are struggling with and that’s something I’m still working on, too.
CBCSports.ca: Obviously, the look of the defence is different. How will the approach or style of play from this year’s defence unit differ with Lidstrom and the traded Brad Stuart not around?
NK: For many years the Red Wings have been mostly about puck-possession hockey and, at the same time, a very hard-working team. That’s something we’re going to try hard to do. We still have very good puck-moving defencemen, forwards are really skilled, but everything is going to come down to hard work.
CBCSports.ca: Do you feel you’re now the leader of the Red Wings defence? Do you want to be the leader?
NK: Yes and no. We’ve been fortunate on this team to have a lot of leaders. Obviously, there are a few guys that are wearing the letters. If you look at the other guys around the room like Danny Cleary, a big leader in this room. Just because he doesn’t have a letter doesn’t mean he’s not a leader. Everyone’s a leader within themselves and we all try to make this ship go forward and in the right direction and help each other out any way we can.
CBCSports.ca: You and the other returning defencemen got a look at prospect Brendan Smith late last season and in the playoffs. Some people describe him as a player with quick, soft hands and a good passer. What type of future do you feel he has on the Red Wings blue-line?
NK: I think he’s going to be a big part of this franchise for years and years to come. I think he showed that last year when he played a few games. He can play and be a factor in this game. Red Wings fans are going to be really pleased from what they see from him this year.
CBCSports.ca: What kind of impression did the other defencemen make at the six-day training camp?
NK: I think Jonathan Ericsson’s going to have a huge year. He’s been waiting years to get this opportunity for more responsibility, more ice time. He’s definitely ready for it and looking great [on the ice]. Smitty’s [Brendan Smith] is looking really good. [First-year Red Wing] Carlo Colaiacovo has been a great pickup as well. [He’s] a really good puck-moving defenceman that we’re really happy to have on our team