The lasting measure of Nicklas Lidstrom's impact on the NHL can be found in the new generation of Swedish defencemen, currently dominating the league. Last year's leading scorer among defencemen: Erik Karlsson, a Swede. Last year's leading goal scorer among defencemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a Swede. Last year's probable playoff MVP had the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup: Victor Hedman, a Swede.
Lidstrom's impact on young Swedish defencemen during his distinguished career is similar to what Patrick Roy did for goalies in Quebec in the 1990s. They were so good and so celebrated for so long that everybody wanted to follow in their footsteps. There are a disproportionate number of high-quality Swedish-born defenceman in the NHL now and more coming, according to the Detroit Red Wings' Niklas Kronwall, a long-time teammate of Lidstrom's, and a fellow Swede – a lot of it because of how Lidstrom influenced the position.
"They watched Nick play and they got to see what he accomplished and they wanted to be just like him," Kronwall said.
Of course, it would be practically impossible for them to be just like Lidstrom, the most decorated member of the Hockey Hall of Fame's record seven-member class of 2015, all of whom will be inducted at a ceremony in Toronto on Monday night.
On the ice, Lidstrom won the Stanley Cup four times. He was the first player born and trained in Europe to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, in 2002, and he was first to be captain of a Stanley Cup champion, in 2008. Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenceman seven times, tied with Doug Harvey for second most in history behind only Bobby Orr. He is also a member of the IIHF's Triple Gold Club – Lidstrom won gold medals playing for Sweden at the 1991 world championships and the 2006 Olympics, in addition to all the Stanley Cup titles.
As accomplished as Lidstrom was as a player, however, his former teammates and fellow Swedes will tell you, he was equally good as a person.
"Everyone says he's the perfect human being and I think that says it all," the Washington Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom said. "For me, as a Swedish-born player, he's always been one of my idols and I got to play with him in one tournament, in Vancouver. He's such an amazing person and such an amazing player."
"If you think of a good human being, that's him," added Henrik Zetterberg, who succeeded Lidstrom as the Red Wings' captain.
"If you think about doing everything right, that's him. If you think about being the best husband, that's him. The best father, that's him. That's who he is – and if you look at his family, his mom and dad are the same. It comes from somewhere. And if you look at his kids, they're the same too. For me, it's an honour to be close to that and to see that, both as a teammate and as a friend."
Lidstrom says he laughs when he hears himself described as "the perfect human being," joking that nobody asked his wife for comment.
"She could have killed that story really quick," he said, noting how it was former teammates Kris Draper and Chris Osgood who first made the observation. "They were kind of joking about it; and that's how it first came out and that's how it grew. I took a lot of pride in being prepared for games and practices and trying to play at a high level all the time, but that nickname, it's something I just chuckle about."
Lidstrom's biography, entitled Captain Fantastic, will be published in December in Sweden and is co-authored by the distinguished journalist Gunnar Nordstrom.
In it, the perfect human being reveals that he actually did have one embarrassing moment at the start of his NHL career. When the Red Wings asked him what number he wanted to wear, he asked for the same one he had in Sweden – 9 – not knowing that number had previously belonged to a Red Wings legend named Gordie Howe. One of the trainers walked him out of the dressing room at the Joe Louis Arena and pointed up to the rafters to explain why he would be wearing No. 5 instead.
Now, of course, Lidstrom's retired number hangs from the rafters too, alongside Howe's and those of Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman and Terry Sawchuk.
Lidstrom and fellow inductee Chris Pronger share one similarity in their developmental paths. Both played with the late Brad McCrimmon in the early stages of their respective careers; and both consider McCrimmon, the popular 20-year vet who also partnered with Ray Bourque, Mark Howe and Gary Suter during his career, an important mentor in their lives.
Lidstrom recalled in his biography that McCrimmon – who used to wear short-sleeve dress shirts in the dead of winter – liked to sleep with the windows open on the road, back in the day that you could actually open a hotel window, and one morning, when they woke up in Edmonton, there was snow in the room."
"Beast [McCrimmon] was a man's man," Lidstrom said. "He would let you know, 'This is how it is.' If Beast wanted the room cold, it was going to be cold. As a rookie, you don't say a whole lot. He would say, 'Between 2 and 4, that's when we're going to nap' – so that's when we were napping.
"But he was a great influence on me, my first year, we played every game together. Then later on, I had him as an assistant coach in Detroit, he was the same kind of Beast, but now on the coaching side. He was a players' coach. He played a long time. He knew what we felt as defencemen. He knew what we could do differently or better, so he was great as a coach too."
Lidstrom's soon-to-be published memoir should solidify himself in the public consciousness in Sweden, where both Backstrom and Zetterberg say he really never received enough credit for all that he accomplished as a player.
"I will say in Sweden, he wasn't as big as people in North America would think he is because they never saw him," Zetterberg explained. "He never came back to play world championships because he was always in the postseason. It was not until the last seven to 10 years of his career that they actually started showing more NHL games over there. I didn't realize until I got over to Detroit how good Nicklas Lidstrom was – that he was the best defenceman in the world. I never thought that, until I started playing with him – and then I realized it quite quickly."
As for Kronwall, he says it's not easy to put Lidstrom's legacy into words just because he accomplished so much – "not only for the Red Wings, but for Sweden really and for hockey in general.
"With Nick, he always led by example. He was the best player on the ice every night. He made everything look so simple. He always had time for everybody – for fans, his teammates, the media – you name it. Nick wasn't a very vocal guy, but when he did say something, the room was very quiet.
"There's a reason they call him the perfect human."
THE HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
Lidstrom, 45, won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenceman seven times, tied with Doug Harvey for second-most in history behind the legendary Bobby Orr. Lidstrom played 20 seasons, all for the Detroit Red Wings, and accumulated 1,142 points in 1,564 games. The four-time Stanley Cup champion won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP in 2002, the first player trained outside of North America to do so. Internationally, Lidstrom is a member of the IIHF's Triple Gold club, (Olympic gold medalist in 2006, world champion in 1991 with Sweden). He was runner-up to Pavel Bure for the 2002 rookie-of-the-year award and was a five-time finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct.
Known primarily as an offensive defenceman, Housley, 51, scored 1,232 points in 1,495 NHL games, playing for eight different teams over 21 seasons, the fourth-highest career scoring total for an NHL defenceman. He was the primary assist machine during Teemu Selanne's rookie-record 76-goal season, and played for the United States in the 2002 Olympics, where he won a silver medal. Among U.S.-born players, only Mike Modano has scored more points in the NHL.
Pronger, 41, is the only defenceman other than Bobby Orr to win both the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenceman in the same season – 1999-2000. He played 1,167 games over 18 NHL seasons for five teams – Hartford, St. Louis, Edmonton, Anaheim and Philadelphia. In each of his first seasons playing for the Oilers, Ducks and Flyers, he helped the team get to the Stanley Cup final, winning in 2007 with Anaheim. He, too, is a member of the Triple Gold club, having won two Olympic gold medals for Canada – 2002 and 2010, plus a 1997 world championship – and also played on Canada's 1993 world junior championship team.
Fedorov, 45, became the first Russian player to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP – in 1994 – and also won the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward twice in his career (1994 and 1996). Though Fedorov spent most of his career with the Red Wings, he also made stops in Anaheim, Columbus and Washington before retiring in 2012 with 483 goals and 1,179 points in 1,248 career games. Fedorov has won world junior and world championship titles and played in three Olympics.
Ruggiero, 35, won four Olympic medals in her career, gold in 1998, silver in 2002 and 2010 and bronze in 2006. In 2004, while attending Harvard, she won the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in U.S. college hockey and was part of the U.S. team that won four world championship gold medals (2005, 2008, 2009 and 2011) and six additional silvers. Ruggiero and Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser became the first two female playable characters in the EA video game NHL 13.
As a player, Hay, 79, was the first to graduate directly from U.S. college hockey to the NHL, which happened in 1960, where he got a chance to play on the Chicago Blackhawks' Million Dollar Line alongside Bobby Hull. Among the highlights of his lifetime in hockey, he served as president of Hockey Canada, president of the Calgary Flames and was also the long-time chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Though known primarily as the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, the 72-year-old Karmanos's most lasting contributions to hockey in the United States came through his Compuware youth hockey program, which grew the game immensely in the Michigan area. Karmanos is also the long-time owner of the Plymouth Whalers, the first Canadian Major Junior Hockey League team to operate in the United States. He bought the Hartford Whalers in 1994 and subsequently moved them to Raleigh, N.C., where they became the Carolina Hurricanes and won the 2006 Stanley Cup.