PITTSBURGH — Who ever thought the fabled Fountain of Youth would be found in the murky depths of the Detroit River?
There has to be something in the water to make 40-year-old hockey fossil Nicklas Lidstrom play like a kid half is age, doesn’t there?
How else can you explain the incredible level of performance being maintained by the Future Hall of Fame defenceman who will join fellow team captain Eric Staal on Friday to select their respective all-star rosters by drafting from a pool of players in Raleigh, N.C.?
Just to put things into perspective, consider this: If his beloved Detroit Red Wings get past the first round of the playoffs, Lidstrom will turn 41 in the midst of playing in the post-season.
Not as a bench warmer. Not as a fifth or sixth defenceman.
Instead, Nicklas Lidstom remains No. 1 on the blue line depth chart of the Wings, who are expected to make a legitimate Stanley Cup run this spring.
As well he should be.
As the labourious NHL regular season grinds to a temporary halt for the all-star break, the seemingly ageless Lidstrom is third among NHL defencemen in scoring with 42 points, those coming courtesy of 11 goals and 21 assists.
His plus/minus of minus-3 is a bit, well, unLidstrom-like, sure, but if anyone deserves a mulligan on that front, it’s a guy who has gone an amazing plus-53 over the previous two seasons.
Any way you look at it, Lidstrom has positioned himself to be in the running for a seventh Norris Trophy has the NHL’s best defenceman.
Imagine that. He already has six. Only legends Bobby Orr (8) and Doug Harvey (7) won the coveted award more than the classy Swede.
Yet, for all the hefty numbers and impressive hauls of hockey hardware Lidstrom has accrued in his illustrious career, he doesn’t really seem to get the credit he deserves, especially for someone who has dominated both ends of the ice for so long.
Until recently, you never heard Lidstrom’s name mentioned too often in the same sentence as the likes of Orr, Harvey, Denis Potvin, Paul Coffey, even, to some extent, Raymond Bourque.
But now, with Lidstrom continue to amaze here in the twilight of his career, he finally is getting his well-earned, rightful dues.
As proof of that, we present the pro-Lidstrom argument offered by up-and-coming star defenceman Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Letang, who also will be showcased in the NHL all-star game on Sunday, is another strong candidate in the Norris debate, trailing Lidstrom by just one point in the scoring race among defenceman and sporting an outstanding plus/minus of plus-22, tops among the Norris frontrunners.
For Letang, 23, the greatest defenceman of all time didn’t wear No. 4 for the Boston Bruins, lead the New York Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cups in the early 1980s or play for the Montreal Canadiens back when there were only six teams.
In Letang’s mind, the top blueliner ever is Nick Lidstrom. Case closed.
“To me, he’s been the best to ever play the game,” Letang said.
Even ahead of Robert Gordon Orr?
“I just think the game is way different now, and (Lidstrom) plays both ends of the ice so well. Like I said, to me, he ranks at the top.”
Letang obviously never saw Orr play in person, so keep that in mind. At the same time, his comments symbolize how much Lidstrom is respected by his peers.
“I don’t feel like I’m 40. And I don’t feel like I’m slowing down,” Lidstrom said by phone from Detroit. “The only thing I’ve changed is I do more cardio work.
“I’ll let others discuss where I rank or how many Norris Trophies I’ll end up with. It’s tough to compare because of the different eras. I never saw Harvey play. I saw Bobby Orr on tape. I did have the chance to meet Coffey and Bourque, and that was great.
“When my career is over, I’ll probably appreciate all my accomplishments more, Right now, winning the Cup is the main goal.”
His body of work, of course, is not finished. But even if he decided to hang up his blades tomorrow, Nicklas
Lidstrom already would be one of the greats of all time.