Friday, June 15, 2007

Sports Today

Or, you know, last night. Anyway...

ITEM: The Spurs mercifully finished off the Cavs. Our long national nightmare of not watching mediocre basketball in the championship (Canada's, too, apparently. Go figure.) is finally over. Children the world over send their thanks and tears.

All I have to say about that is no way Parker is MVP against the Pistons. Sigh, a Pistons/Spurs series might not have done better ratingswise but it might at least have been watchable.

On to hockey.

ITEM: Lidstrom's won his 5th Norris. If it wasn't for Niedermayer in 2004, he'd have a streak stretching back to 2001. The scary thing is, he could have a lot more because not only has he finished as a runner-up several times throughout his 15 season career (Including for the Calder in his rookie season in '91. He lost to Pavel Bure, by the way.), he was playing at a really high level for a long tie before he started to be recognized for it nationally. The Norris trophy tends to be rewarded not just for a good season but for a good career and it takes a few seasons of playing at an elite level as a defenseman to even get a nomination. Really, even though he wasn't picked until after the Wings started winning the cup from, say, '94, '95 on, you could have credibly put Lidstrom's name on that list. He's just an awesome defenseman. Great stick. Scarily flawless positioning. Always plays the puck. The key forwards like Yzerman and Shanahan get a lot of the credit but, for my money, Lidstrom's been the most valuable player on the Wings for at least a decade. As long as he's playing for them, they've got a chance to compete. So good for him.

Still, for all his prowess, he's an incredibly boring, bland individual. I mean, total class act, very nice guy but he's not exactly a firebrand. They say teams take on the personality of their captain and, well, maybe that's why the current Wings just haven't sparked my interest.

ITEM: In other Wings news that I'm much less pleased by, looks like Hasek's coming back. Look, it's not that he's not a good goalie. He is. But what the Wings really need isn't the 42 year old Hasek, it's the 32 year old one. The one who wasn't just a good goaltender for Buffalo, the one who was jaw-droppingly great. I firmly believe that until the Wings get a real blue-chipper in goal, they're not going to win the Cup again – Giguerre, for example, was the best goaltender this year and, what do you know, the Ducks were the champions. And while Hasek is better than a lot of other goalies out there, the treads have worn a bit too far down on his tires, and the Wings could do better than giving them another spin. If there's no one else out there, then, sure, go for it. You could do worse, of course. But let's not pretend like signing Hasek is going to guarantee the Cup or anything and keep looking if there's a good prospect or free agent out there for the plucking.


ITEM: The glow from the no-hitter is fading. Dropping the next two games against the Brewers and falling two games behind Cleveland will do that for you. They made it closer than it looked last night but, yeah, they went 2-1 in the series against Milwaukee. The bullpen's been shaky all season, suffering from injuries and the like, but outings like that make me worry about the quality of the starting pitching, too. Oh well, they're still two games up on Seattle in the wildcard race so the news isn't all that bad.

ITEM: My mother, by the way, works near Comerica (I refuse to call it the CoPa. Just lame.) and reports that, yes, downtown is lousy with moths and they've drawn the gulls (I refuse to call them seagulls because there's no such thing.) to them like...uh, moths to a flame, I guess. Huh, that was a lame simile...


Anonymous said...

Completely disagree with you about Lidstrom. He's a great player but there is no way he's been the Wings best player for the past decade. I would say maybe since about 2001. Yzerman was far more valuable in the 3 cup runs than Lidstrom was. Yzerman has been a better playoff performer than Lidstrom even with his injuries.

Sausaletus Rex said...

We'll probably have to respectfully disagree to disagree, then.

Of course, I tend to regard defense rather more highly than offense when it comes to hockey but then there are fewer defensive players who play more minutes than the forwards and centers so I find their value to be the highest - a great defenseman will be influencing half the ice for nearly half the game. So it might just be that bias in my perspective, but I think Lidstrom's been the lynchpin to Detroit's success for a long, long time.

Yzerman was the undisputed leader, the driving force behind those championship but when it comes to on-ice production, I'd argue Lidstrom's been more important. Not the best leader, not the best person on the team, but the best player of hockey. Yzerman scored more goals, of course, but he's a forward. Lidstrom's a defenseman and his primary job is to keep pucks out of his own net. And there he's put up extremely respectable numbers from the defensive position while posting amazing +/- figures. And low penalty minutes which can be seen as a bad sign - and would if he were a more aggressive, physical player - but I take that to mean he doesn't get beat very often and, therefore, isn't forced into taking a penalty to save a goal. Where Yzerman was most amazing was at the faceoff circle, by the end of his career he was one of the best at the draw in the league - he did not lose in his end and won more often than not in the other - and the value of that can't really be reflected in the raw stats. But, again, Lidstrom is the defenseman who's out there against the opposing team's line and the one quarterbacking the powerplay. Two really important roles on the team.

If you want to talk overall importance to the Wings historically there's no doubt it's Yzerman. But 10 years ago would be the end of the '97 season or the season the Wings first won the Cup by beating Philadelphia. That would also have been Yzerman's 16th season in the league and, even accounting for the overall shift in his game and the league to a more defensive style, his production was starting to decline.

It's easy to forget now but, at that point, the Wings had been a consistent disappointment in the playoffs - failing against Colorado and New Jersey before them and San Jose - back when they were an expansion team - and Toronto and Chicago. All when they were higher seeded and expected to be a legitimate contender. Sometime around then the Wings came within a hair's breath of trading Yzerman to Ottawa. They never pulled the trigger and, you know, thank goodness they didn't but at the time the '96~97 season started he was the biggest chip they had to move and they considered it because he was getting past his prime. If Yzerman was so indispensable why would they consider trading him?

Because, while he was valuable, he wasn't the single most valuable player on the team.

He had 85 points that year and that's the highest he'd get from that point on. Especially as the tail end of his career was nearly ruined by injuries - he missed a lot of games in those last few seasons. And, even then, his production was well below his real high watermark around the 90 season (I think that's the year he broke the 150 point mark.) and well below his career average of a little over a point a game (Which, of course, is fantastic and well above what Lidstrom produces but, again, forward versus blueliner. Trying to judge them off of points produced is like comparing Randy Johnson's batting average to Barry Bonds.). His playoff production wasn't much different. He was actually best the next year when he won the Conn Smythe when he had 6 goals and 24 points in 22 games. '97 he had something like a similar amount of goals but far fewer assists in a similar number of games. 'He had another good year in 2002 when, again, the Wings won the Cup - with Lidstrom getting the Conn Smythe nod - but otherwise, Yzerman was either a playoff disappointment or a no-show. Over that period, anyway which starts in 97 - the point where it's becoming clear, in retrospect, that he was on the downhill slide.

Lidstrom, on the other hand was just coming into his peak around then. The point where you knew, year in and year out, he was going to give you 60~70 points and anchor your defense.

And as for the playoffs, he's been just as solid a performer there, too, while picking up even more minutes and defensive responsibilities.

You can make a good argument that, in that 97~98 season where he won the Smythe, Yzerman was hands down the team's best player. But that was also the year after Konstantinov was injured leaving a big whole on the Red Wing's blue line. But who was it that stepped up and filled that gap? That was the year Lidstrom went from being part of the best one-two punch of defensemen around to just being great no matter who he was with (He also got injured during the playoffs, I believe.). I think a better case can be made that he wasn't as important in '97 back when he benefited from playing with Konstantinov. Lidstrom was just pure, positional finesse while Konstantinov had that raw, physical edge to get under opposing player's skins. That year, with that two-headed beat on defense that the team didn't really have again until they picked up Hatcher (And, boy, did that ever work out well...) I can accept as the last one when Yzerman was really the best player out there. Otherwise, over that sweep of years, I still say it was Lidstrom.

It was always Stevie Y's team, mind. But as he lost steps and got closer to retirement, he wasn't the one to set the mark for the whole team. The player who did that, for my money, is Lidstrom.

Like I said, though, reasonable minds can differ. That's the whole fun in this kind of late night, at the bar, "who's the greatest ever" kind of discussion. You can't go wrong arguing about which Red Wing's been the best, not when other teams would be glad to have just one of the great players to grace the Joe. It all comes down to what's important to you and how you define the terms of success. Your point that Yzerman's production during the three Cup runs outweighs everything else is certainly a valid one, I'm just focusing more on the broad sweep of things.

Anonymous said...

Actually Lidstrom has been horrible in the playoffs with the exception of this year. He was completely invisible during the cup runs especially in 2002. Yzerman was hands down the Wings best player and it wasn't even close. He got robbed of the conn smythe. During the cup years, Yzerman was the best all around player for the Wings. He could do it all from faceoffs to penalty kill to power play to scoring goals to assisting to blocking shots to playing defensively to being a leader. His line was always out against the other teams top lines. He even managed to take Pronger out. Lidstrom has more meaningless regular season trophies, but he really hasn't done much in the playoffs. We would've won all three of those cups without Lidstrom, but there is no way the Wings win any of those without Yzerman. Don't forget that Yzerman had been playing with a bum knee for 15 years. He was told to retire back when it first happend. Yzerman also had to sacrifice his stats for the team too.

As for the Wings wanting to trade Yzerman that doesn't mean much. Many great players were traded. Look at Gretzky and Messier. They were both traded. That doesn't mean they weren't valuable. Heck the Wings didn't want to draft Yzerman in the first place, they wanted LaFontaine. They had been trying to trade Yzerman since day 1 and were unsuccessful. Maybe the Wings just never thought he was all that valuable to the team, who knows. I guess if you go by the logic that the Wings never tried to trade Lidstrom so that means he more valuable to the team then I guess you can say the same thing about Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Draper, Maltby, Holmstrom, Kronwall, Chelios, etc. The Wings never tried to trade any of those guys either.