Today marks the third installment of our series previewing the Wings defensemen. J.J. analyzed the triumvirate of awesome (Kindl/Ericsson/Commodore) on Monday while Jeff looked at the dynamic duo (Stuart/Kronwall). Today, we look at a newcomer to the Wings and the greatest defenseman of the past 30 years. Let's preview Nicklas Lidstrom and Ian White.
Last Season's Benchmark: Well, I'd say it would be damn near impossible for Lidstrom to improve upon his season of a year ago, but it wasn't the greatest season he's ever had. He finished second among all defensemen in scoring with 62 points, but the giant bugaboo stat that is plus/minus was not in his favour, as he finished with a minus rating for the first time in his career. However, his adjusted CSSI ratings showed that it was not due to a decline in his game, as he registered a +47, good for third on the team.
White signed a 2-year deal with the Wings in July and will be looking to get some stability in his career for the first time. Between the Hurricanes, Flames and Sharks, he totaled 4 goals, 22 assists and 26 points while registering an overall +3 rating. However, it's hard to really understand how well he played given that he played for 3 different teams in one season. On the Sharks, a team with roughly the same talent level and style of play as the Wings, he 10 points in 23 games in the regular season, while notching 9 points in 17 games in the playoffs.
|2010 - Nicklas Lidstrom||82||16||46||62||-2||20||7||0||1||175|
It was just another boring season for The Perfect Human in 2010-11: 2nd among NHL defenseman in scoring; the oldest NHL defenseman to register 60 points in a single season; the oldest NHL defenseman to score his first hat trick; captain of the winning team in the NHL All-Star game after posting a +7; and a 7th Norris Trophy. The only thing that Nick didn't do this year was heal a blind person, but we're not privy to all the details of his personal life. After the 2009-10 season in which he had a poor start (by his standards), many questioned whether Lidstrom was finally on the decline. He answered those critics by posting 20 points in the first 2 months of the season. He drafted and captained the winning team in this year's All-Star game, and quietly led the Wings to the playoffs once again, becoming the only active NHL player to play 20 seasons and never miss the playoffs. After taking a very long time to decide on his plans for this year, he signed an identical 1 year, $6.2M deal that he played with last year, giving Wing fans one more year before they freak out about what the team will look like without Lidstrom around.
Strengths: He's still one of the best defensemen in the NHL overall, able to produce offensively in all situations while remaining one of the premier shutdown defenders in the game. There are very few people you'd want out there to protect a late lead in a crucial game, yet Lidstrom has not shown that he can't handle the pressures even past the age of 40. He has never been a physical player, relying more on positioning and skill to out-maneuver opponents rather than try to out-muscle them. He can still run a power play, kill a penalty, has a heavy shot and can move the puck better than most forwards. In short, he's still one of the top 3-5 defensemen in the NHL today.
Weaknesses: He hasn't cured cancer. He watches Jersey Shore. He doesn't have a Twitter account. He's mortal. These are weaknesses that could be attributed to Lidstrom, but we're focusing on his on-ice play, not his personal life. Truth be told, there aren't many there. I will say that watching him last year, it's clear that his advancing age combined with the speed and skill of the younger players has caused him to lose a bit of step against the more talented forwards in the league. While he's still the smartest player in the game, sometimes pure physical talent can overcome brains in a split-second situation. Years of playing 25 minutes a game may finally have caught up with him, but reduced ice-time thanks to a deeper defense corps should alleviate any concerns with that.
Expectations: He's the freaking Perfect Human. We expect perfection from him, but realistically, nothing's changed. He's the leader of the team, the heart and soul of the defense, and behind Datsyuk, the team's best player. He should see a slightly reduced role this year in terms of ice time at even strength as Mike Babcock looks to protect him from the rigours of an 82-game NHL season as a 41 year old. I'll say it: we could be witnessing his final NHL season. Look for him to end up around 45-60 points again, once again playing on the top power play and penalty killing units. Depending on how well he plays, an 8th Norris Trophy could be his.
|2010 - Ian White||78||4||22||26||3||26||0||0||0||138|
It's hard to fathom the kind of year Ian White had last year. He started the year with the Calgary Flames but was traded to Carolina in November. He didn't get to enjoy Raleigh for long because he ws traded to San Jose at the trade deadline, where he experienced postseason play for the first time in his career. In July, White signed a 2 year deal with a cap hit of $2.875M per year. His signing was directly influenced by the sudden retirement of Brian Rafalski, as they play a similar style of game. White has bounced around the past few years, so one hopes that the stability afforded with this contract allows White to settle in Detroit and concentrate on winning.
Strengths: Think of White as being almost Rafalski-lite. While he's not the puck mover that Rafalski was, White is a player who can make a good first pass, quarterback a power play, and keep plays alive in the offensive zone. He's a very good skater and most importantly, he's still in his prime. As a right-handed shot, he will be able to pair with Lidstrom (potentially) on the power play and develop chemistry that will result in more goals. He figures to have his talent shine through on a team that worries more about skill than size.
Weaknesses: At 5'10" and 200 lbs, he's a smaller defenseman who has the potential to get pushed around by the bigger forwards in the Western conference. He's never been known as the best defensive defenseman, but he can hold his own. As I said, he's going to be a less-offensive version of Rafalski but with more defensive upside.
We've finished the defensemen, and Monday we'll be looking at the goalies before getting into the forwards.