con-stant [kon-stuhnt] – adjective 1. not changing or varying; uniform; regular; invariable 2. continuing without pause or letup; unceasing 3. regularly recurrent; continual; persistent 4. faithful; unswerving in love, devotion, etc. 5. steadfast; firm in mind or purpose; resolute (courtesy dictionary.reference.com).
Among other things, Nicklas Lidstrom is constant. His play does not deteriorate; over 18-1/2 seasons in the NHL, Lidstrom’s topped the 40-point mark 17 times and has never finished a season as a minus player. He does not get hurt; over those 18-1/2 seasons, six missed games in 2007-08 mark the most time he has missed in a single year.
It would be extraordinary if Lidstrom’s career displayed this kind of constancy at the age of 35, but the fact that he’s 40 and is poised for the second-best offensive performance of his already illustrious career is something else entirely.
Lidstrom has also managed something else this season: he’s passed Raymond Bourque for the most points ever posted by an NHL defenceman over the age of 35. 27 defencemen in NHL history have managed to record 100 points after turning 35. Seven have topped 200 points, and Lidstrom and Bourque alone have bettered 300; Bourque with 348, Lidstrom with 361. Given his play so far this season, Lidstrom could top 400 even if he doesn’t play another year.
Even when we include forwards on the list, Lidstrom’s doing fairly well for himself. He just passed Wayne Gretzky to move into 10th spot all-time, sits three points back of Ron Francis in ninth, and should pass Mark Recchi in eighth by the end of the season.
Setting aside age and looking at all defencemen in the post-lockout era, Lidstrom still stands apart: he’s the only defenceman in the post-lockout NHL to have recorded more than 300 points – his 361 are 71 ahead of second-ranked Brian Rafalski. Another fun stat: Lidstrom’s plus-154 rating is also first among post-lockout defenceman, once again 71 ahead of second-ranked Brian Rafalski.
And despite a modest decrease in ice-time, Lidstrom’s doing what he’s always done. He’s playing over 4:00 minutes a night on the power play, over 3:00 minutes a night short-handed, facing the toughest competition, all while his pairing takes more defensive zone draws than any other on the team.
I’ve often taken Lidstrom’s play for granted, simply because he has been so good for so long. It’s a bad habit, because he’s doing truly remarkable things at an age when most defencemen are watching the game pass them by.
With any luck, he’ll also finally add a Lady Byng trophy to his awards collection. It’s much harder for a defenceman to keep his penalty totals down than for a forward, especially when that defenceman is sent out against the top forwards in the league night after night in his won end. Lidstrom’s long overdue for that particular award.