DETROIT >> When Nicklas Lidstrom signed his first contract with the Detroit Red Wings all he was worried about was just making the team.
Thursday night he became a permanent fixture amongst the rafters at Joe Louis Arena.
The Wings organization honored Lidstrom prior to the game against the Colorado Avalanche by retiring his No. 5.
“When I first came over I think I signed a three-year contract and I was just hoping to make the team,” Lidstrom said. “I didn’t know anything about the team, except for Stevie (Yzerman) being on it.
“I was just hoping to make the team and see what happens,” Lidstrom continued. “If I didn’t make it, I could always go back and play in Sweden, but I wanted to make a career out of it over here, but I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to do it.”
Lidstrom was more than good enough.
Lidstrom, who spent all 20 seasons of his career with the Detroit Red Wings, will go down as one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history.
He helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups in 11 seasons.
He won seven Norris Trophies, one less than legendary Bobby Orr, and is a member of the exclusive “Triple-Gold” club, winning both an Olympic gold medal (2006) and an IIHF World Championship (1991) with Sweden.
“Seven Norris Trophies, that’s not by accident, he’s just that good,” his former coach Mike Babcock said. “For Nick it was always about the team. You never had any trouble with Nick as the coach because he was always prepared and motivated. Nick brought it every single day. He set an example for all of us in professionalism, perfection, work ethic, being a good human being and doing it without ego.”
Lidstrom was selected in the third round (53rd overall) by the Wings in 1989 and is one of five Wings who played on all four of Detroit’s Stanley Cup championship teams since 1997.
“I played with Larry Robinson,” former teammate Chris Chelios said. “I played against (Raymond) Bourque. You go even further with Doug Harvey, but in my opinion there couldn’t have been anyone better than Nicklas Lidstrom.
“His demeanor was really something,” Chelios continued. “Because of the passion I played with, I got too high, too low. Nick kept it at an even keel. Watching Nick and the effect he had on players, not losing his composure, never panicking, I slowly but surely, like the rest of the team, caught onto that.”
Lidstrom, who was selected for 12 NHL All-Star Games and was named to the league’s first All-Star team 10 times between 1998 and 2011, missed only 46 out of a possible 1,873 games since launching his NHL career in 1991.
“We’ve been so blessed with icons here – Stevie, Nick, the list goes on,” Niklas Kronwall said. “He made you better. He just made the game so easy for you. I don’t know how to explain it, but I don’t know how anybody could do that, really. What we saw with Nick, I think it’s going to take a while before we see anything like that again.”
“I can’t even put into words, just because he meant so much, not only in this dressing room and for this organization but out in the community, too,” Jimmy Howard said. “He did a lot for this city. I think it’s a perfect ending to such a great career he had.”
In 1,564 regular-season games, Lidstrom finished with 264 goals and 878 assists. In 263 playoff games, which is a team record, he totaled 54 goals and 129 assists.
Only Wings legend Gordie Howe (1,687 games) has appeared in more Wings’ games than Lidstrom.
Lidstrom, who became the first European player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2002, spent his final six seasons as the Wings’ captain after taking over for Yzerman.
“During the national anthem each and every night I get an opportunity to look up and I always seem to notice the banners that are hanging there,” said Babcock, who coached Lidstrom for the final seven seasons of his career. “And there are an elite few players, spectacular players. When you’re fortunate to be around one as great a person and athlete as Nick is, it’s pretty special.
“I arrived when he was 35, and most guys are done at 35, and he won the Norris Trophy four (more) times,” Babcock added. “He was OK.”
Lidstrom said he misses a lot of the everyday things that was his career for 20 seasons.
“I think the part that sticks out the most are the Stanley Cups,” Lidstrom said. “We went to six Stanley Cup Finals and we won four Stanley Cups. I think those are the ones that stick out the most, just all of the memories from some of the game situations when you’re late in the winning game to win the Stanley Cup or right after, the parades that we had here through downtown Detroit. All those memories are still very strong to me.”
Lidstrom’s career plus/minus of plus-450 ranks eighth in league history. He posted a minus rating only once (minus-2 in 2010-11).
Lidstrom’s number is the seventh retired by the Wings and all six of the previous honorees – Terry Sawchuk (1), Ted Lindsay (7), Gordie Howe (9), Alex Delvecchio (10), Sid Abel (12) and Steve Yzerman (19) – are all members of the Hall of Fame.
Lidstrom is a year away from becoming eligible to enter the Hall of Fame.
“I’ve been looking up at the rafters for a long time and seeing those names and it’s a little surreal that my name is going to be going up there, too, and it’s a tremendous honor to have my name up there as well. It just seems so much bigger than I imagined,” Lidstrom said.
“I thought it was legends being up there, looking at Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk and you go down the line. Stevie’s up there. It’s just such a tremendous honor to have my jersey up there as well.”
Lidstrom was asked what number he wanted if he made the team out of training camp and he said he wore No. 9 in Sweden. When told that wasn’t going to happen, Lidstrom was handed No. 5.
And now No. 9 and No. 5, along with No. 1, No. 7, No. 10, No. 12 and No. 19 will hang in the rafters forever.