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My Sportsman: Nicklas Lidstrom

Thursday, 11.20.2008 / 2:57 PM ET / Features
By Kostya Kennedy
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My Sportsman: Nicklas Lidstrom
Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 2. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was sitting in the stands of Joe Louis Arena in mid-September, watching the Wings skate through some drills, when apropos of nothing in particular he raised a hand and pointed to Nicklas Lidstrom, the defenseman who was just a few months removed from winning his sixth Norris Trophy and fourth Stanley Cup. "That guy right there," Babcock said, "he's the guy who makes all this possible. He's the reason the Red Wings can be the Red Wings."

Babcock might have been talking about Lidstrom's extraordinary level of play, which has defined him, without argument, as the best NHL defenseman since Bobby Orr. Lidstrom's teammates call him the perfect human, for his smooth and seemingly flawless game. (Lidstrom fits comfortably into an old saw: Two thirds of the earth is covered by water, the other third is covered by Nicklas Lidstrom.) In leading the Red Wings to the NHL's best record last season he played a tireless 27 minutes a night, scored 70 points (tops among NHL defensemen) and was on the ice for 40 more even-strength goals scored than allowed. He also captained Detroit to its fourth title in 12 years. Those, folks, are Sportsman of the Year credentials.

Yet as indispensable as Lidstrom is on the ice, it is his impact on more mercenary matters that Babcock was talking about. Lidstrom earns a salary of $7.45 million, a sweet sum to be sure, but also millions less than he could have commanded from Detroit, or on the open market. That does two things: It gives the Red Wings additional room under the salary cap and it sets a precedent. Other players figure that if the world's best hockey player will accept reduced pay to be a Red Wing, then they can do it too. Several teammates -- Tomas Holmstrom, Dan Cleary, Brad Stuart -- have done exactly that, which is part of the reason why Detroit has the most stocked roster in the NHL.

In a parity-stricken league, Lidstrom has ensured that the Red Wings remain in a class of one, and in June he crossed into hockey's final frontier when he became the first European captain in NHL history to hoist the Stanley Cup. "I'm very proud to be the first," he said, and in the next breath, "I'm very proud of the whole team too."

What makes Lidstrom so Sportsman-like is, well, his sportsmanship: his humility, his professionalism. He is intuitive on the ice and equally so in the locker room. Earlier this year Babcock told me that he had never coached player this good. "In what way?" I asked. Replied Babcock: "In any way you can think of."

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
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8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
H. Zetterberg 82 13 37 -15 50
P. Datsyuk 66 16 33 7 49
D. Larkin 80 23 22 11 45
T. Tatar 81 21 24 4 45
G. Nyquist 82 17 26 -2 43
J. Abdelkader 82 19 23 -16 42
M. Green 74 7 28 -6 35
B. Richards 68 10 18 4 28
D. Helm 77 13 13 -2 26
N. Kronwall 64 3 23 -21 26
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Mrazek 27 16 6 .921 2.33
J. Howard 14 14 5 .906 2.80