23 June 2011

Defending The Defenseman: Detractors of perfection abound

One more to Bobby Orr.

Captain Norris himself, the Perfect Human, took home his 7th Norris Trophy last night at the otherwise absurdly stupid NHL awards. Yes, it was a show that featured Jay Mohr pretending to like hockey and publicly attaching his mouth to gary bettman's turd cutter in what could only have been a desperate play for a continuation of his only gainful source of employment. It featured mind-numbing mispronounciations of the names of NHL legends - Marten Saint Lewis, Nicholas Linstrom, and, yes, Stevie Whyszerman. It featured performances from artists like Dirks Bentley - causing fans to ask "What is exactly bettman's fascination with everything south of the Mason-Dixon" - and the ever-strange and talentless Far East Movement, causing fans to ask, "Who?"

Yes, like anything else the NHL has ever done, the 2011 NHL Awards were handled with gross incompetence with little to no consideration for the desires of its audience. Watching, we all felt very comfortable in the consistency of it all. But despite the circus that was the show itself, one outstanding result sprang forth:
  • Nick Lidstrom was recognized as the most outstanding defenseman in the league.
Whatdya know? The Professional Hockey Writers got it right! Lidstrom pulled down his 7th trophy, bringing him only behind the venerable Bobby Orr for most Norri won.

And almost immediately - assholes across the nation started doing everything they could to diminish the accomplishment.
Lidstrom’s victory smells of name recognition, emphasizing points far too much for a defenseman and a general deficit in defensive stats that don’t require an accounting degree, though.
O'Brien via NBC's Pro Hockey Talk (Surprise! Incompetence at NBC!) 
Or, of course:
Can't argue with Daniel Sedin and Corey Perry splitting the Ted Lindsay and Hart awards. Can't have a beef with Tim Thomas taking the Vezina. Can't disagree with Disco Danny Bylsma taking home the Jack Adams, or Marty St. Louis winning the Lady Byng. Can't get mad over Jeff Skinner walking away with the Calder.

But Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris, as a result of what I can only imagine was most people's teary-eyed nostalgia. He finished the year a minus-2, but as we all have been told many, many times, plus-minus is a bogus stat (trademark and copyright everyone for whom a player's plus-minus doesn't fit their argument about his good- or badness) and should therefore be discounted.
Ryan "Waaaaaaaaah, Wings Fans are Meanies!" Lambert - via Puck Daddy 
Absurd. Seriously. Just, absurd. It's one thing to think (and be wrong) that another candidate should have edged out Norris Nick for the award. Hell, the votes were damn close. But to actually suggest that it's just unthinkable that a guy like Lidstrom could win the Norris - well... that's just stupid.

Second in the league in points by a defenseman, with sixty-friggin-two. Tops on the team in ice-time, despite being 40 years old. An outlet pass that is not only lethal, but completely enables the team to play it's style of puck-possession hockey. Shutting down the opponents on odd man rushes left and right, often because he was stuck playing next to a guy like Jonny "oh yeah, I play defense now..." Ericsson. Thats right - all that production and all that excellence, often skating next to the most Lebda-esque defensemen since... well, Brett Lebda.

And that's not even the biggest piece of the puzzle:
OK, if you want justification, how about this: Quality of competition. Behind The Net's stats on how tough the talent is on the other side of the ice reveals that Lidstrom (at 0.128) faced better competition this season than any other defenseman in the League with at least 50 games played. It's not even close: Brent Seabrook was second at a 0.117 rating; Weber and Chara don't rank in the top 15.
Wysh @ Puck Daddy, 25 Apr 11 
I mean, I guess I could see how a guy like Lambert could miss that. I'm sure he's too busy making Chris Osgood voodoo dolls to, uh, read the site he contributes to.

For the record, Chara ranks 29th and Weber comes in at 40th on that list. So how about we put away this whole, "Nick Lidstrom only won because he tricked people into thinking he was going to retire," thing. That's not how this works. Lidstrom won because he was the best defenseman in this league. Period.

And hell, while we're at it.

The Norris nod isn't the only thing that has people bitching. This gripe, however, doesn't come from outsiders who don't watch enough of Lidstrom's play to truly understand his dominance. Nay - this comes from those within our own fanbase who seemingly cannot be pleased.

On Monday, 7 Time Norris Winning Nick Lidstrom announced that he'd rejoin the team for another year. Right thinking Wings fans rejoiced. Recognizing that the captain's return likely meant the difference between 20 or 21 consecutive playoff appearances, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and found ourselves oddly aroused. However, for some, happiness is just not an option.

As soon as it was announced that Nick was going to earn the same $6.2m that he had in his last contract, the detractors spoke up. Now, when I say detractors, I'm not using the Webster's Dictionary version of detractors, meaning "those who speak ill of; bellittle." Rather, I'm using a more colloquial definition, that being "dickwad assholes; fuckfaces."

These folks immediately declared that Nick Lidstrom was a selfish asshole, only in it for the money. They cried that he clearly didn't care about the team, and that by demanding so much money he was handicapping our ability to truly contend. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Unfortunately, while there was an abundance of wailing and gnashing, there wasn't much thinking going on.

I can only assume that many of these folks were really hoping that Lidstrom would pull a Stevie and ask for just over a million so we could really contend. Unfortunately, these people didn't realize the cold hard truth of it - he did.

See, following The Captain's lead doesn't mean taking next to damn nothing to play. It means taking significantly less than your value for the benefit of the team. That's exactly what Nick did. Keeping in mind that at the time Stevie took that huge cut, he was coming off of a serious eye injury, had horrible knee problems, and was essentially a third line center. That's not to disparage the man's contributions to the team - he was still MVP because he's Stevie Yzerman, damnit. But, consider that the huge cut wasn't as huge as it is made out to be by some of the whiners.

On the open market, is there anyone who really thinks Lidstrom couldn't have found an $8m contract? Hell, maybe more, coming from a team who wants to sell some seats, bring fans in. I dunno, a new franchise that might be looking for some veteran leadership, cup-winning experience, blue line dominance, and a bit of a gimmicky flare? Maybe some team that's just moved north? Just saying, if he wanted it, Lids could have had at least $8m. Hell, he likely could have gotten that here had he demanded it. That means, in reality, he's taken at least a near $2m pay cut to stick around. That's a lot of coin.

Oh, but what the hell does he need it for? He's made money! He should just play for the minimum because, damnit, if he cared about the team, that's what he'd do!

Nope. First, consider that even as much as a hundred thousand dollars is a fuckton of cheddar. Next, consider that as much as you play pretend, and figure if you were a sports star for your favorite team, you'd take no money just to help them out - you're wrong. These guys put themselves through a grueling 82 game regular season, and a harsh playoffs to boot. They bust their asses during the offseason, sacrifice the ability to see their families most of the year, and risk serious injury night in and night out. All the while, its their efforts that generate ticket sales and ad revenue. To expect the most valuable player on the entire team to just forego getting paid because he's already got money is, absolutely, objectively, stupid. It's selfish. It's ignorant. Period.

It sure is nice, though, to have a guy like Lidstrom who is willing to take significantly less than his value to play. Chara (you know, the guy that didn't win the Norris this year), is going to pull down $8.5m next year. Duncan Keith, last year's Norris winner: $8m. Brent Seabrook, never even nominated: $7m with a $2m bonus. So if you'd really like to stick to your guns with the whole, "what a selfish dick" line:

  • Piss off.
Really. Do it. Get out.

But! Just think of what we could have done if he took an even smaller salary. Shouldn't he want to guarantee a win!?

Here's a challenge: you find me a scenario in which Nick Lidstrom's $6.2 million dollars prevents Kenny from doing absolutely anything reasonable, and I will let you tattoo whatever the hell you want on my forehead. Ready, go.

While we're waiting, how about a quick illustration of why that's really fucking dumb:

Assume one of either Emmerton or Mursak makes the big club. I'm sticking with Mursak. That means the Wings will have 16 spots filled, and - with the cap reaching $64m next year - $16.4m to play with. The team needs a top 4 D-man, a bottom 4 D-man, a backup netminder, a bottom 6 forward, and, ideally, a top 6 forward.

So, how about we go ahead and allocate $8m to find those two blue liners. That should be more than enough, right? Plug in $1.5m for a backup - again, more than enough. And hey, look at that

  • We've still got seven million dollars to sign two forwards. 
Now go ahead and take a look at the upcoming free agents list. The only damn one of them that we wouldn't be able to snag if we really really wanted is Brad Richards. And, considering the dude is going to want a payday and a several year term, we wouldn't be in the market for him anyway.

So, surprise! Lidstrom's contract doesn't hurt the team at all. The man took a pay cut, a massive pay cut, in a monster year featuring a huge rebound from the year prior. His presence will only make this team better, and his contract doesn't even come close to handcuffing the front office.

He's the leader on the ice, on the bench, and in the locker room. He's a mentor for guys like Kindl and possibly this year Smith. His outlet pass facilitates the Red Wings style of play. His shut down defense is on display night in and night out against the other teams' best players - usually all 20 somethings. He embarrasses NHLers left and right and quarterbacks the powerplay like nobody else in the business. He still dominates the back end in terms of point production. He's a workhorse, and though he's 41, his durability is the stuff that makes guys 15 years his junior look like Wilford Brimley on skates. He's second all time in post season games played AND playoff points by a defenseman (first all time in playoff points by a defenseman who didn't play with Wayne Gretzky). He's got 1,108 career points and is a career plus 429. His 7 Norris Trophies makes him second only to Bobby Orr, and there is no question that he has had the greatest career of any NHL blue liner, ever.

So bitch all you want, but the facts are in. You're wrong.

...is it October yet?


Post a Comment

Blog Archive