I understand Nicklas Lidstrom has been a premier defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings for many years, having won his fair share of awards along the way. Lidstrom has certainly shown longevity by still playing at a high standard after the age of 40. Now, as his career winds down, some Detroit fans seem to think he was the best NHL defenseman of all time. And that's a joke on many levels, particularly when it comes to the accomplishments of Bobby Orr.
No, Orr didn't play as many years as Lidstrom, but in Orr's era, a lot of things were different. It's well known Orr had chronic knee (and other) problems which required many surgeries (12). Back then, there were no MRI's, arthroscopic techniques, and modern day medicine makes the procedures of that time appear barbaric. They cut them open, repaired it the best they could, sewed them back up, and hoped for the best. There can be little doubt Orr played through a lot of pain for most of his career.
Much more importantly, Orr revolutionized the game in a few different ways. Before Orr, NHL players were pretty much stuck with whatever salary their club decided they were worth. It was basically a meat market, and the butchers were in charge of setting the prices. Orr hooked up with a man named Alan Eagleson, by some accounts the first "agent", (who would go on to become the first head of the NHL players union, and subsequently be disgraced) and was the first "rookie" to become the NHL's highest paid player. In his second contract, he became the league's first million dollar man. On the ice, Orr changed the game even more. He was the first defenseman to become a constant offensive threat. So much so, that Orr remains the only defenseman to lead the league not just once, but twice winning the Art Ross trophy for the league scoring title.
It didn't seem to hamper his defense. He went eight consecutive years winning the Norris Trophy for the NHL's best defenseman. Overall? During that time Orr won the the Hart Trophy three years in a row as the league's MVP. He hoisted the Stanley Cup, and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP, as well.
Likely due to his injuries, Orr retired at a relatively young age. At that, he then became the youngest player ever inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame when he was only 31 years old. Over three decades after he retired, hockey purists still speak of Orr in reverential tones.
Lidstrom? He's won a few Norris Trophies and hoisted the Cup too. Currently, as a savvy veteran, he's steady and doesn't make many mistakes. He's even put up decent numbers over the years for a defenseman, with goals and assists. But Lidstrom does not, and never did, possess anywhere near the same amount of talent Robert Gordon Orr once displayed.
Bobby has been ranked by some very knowledgeable aficionados as the second greatest player in the history of the game, behind Wayne Gretzky at #1, and ahead of Gordie Howe at #3. His name and impact on the game will never be forgotten. Everybody remembers his jersey #4.
Nicklas Lidstrom might very well have his jersey number retired by the Red Wings and make it into the Hall of Fame, but 30 years from now very few will remember him, much less his uniform number, which is probably not even known much now amongst hockey fans outside of Detroit.
Surely, people that mention Nicklas Lidstrom in the same breath as Bobby Orr, let alone twist their minds into somehow believing the former will ever be considered superior to the latter, must be joking. It's a bad joke, and I don't even want to hear the punch line.
Speaking of which, when it came to toughness, another facet of the game, Bobby could have punched Nick's lights out whenever he got ready.
This isn't like comparing apples and oranges.
It's like comparing the first Apollo moon-shot landing to putting yet another communications satellite in orbit. One might be there for a long time doing it's job, but nobody thinks about it much. The other, while relatively short-lived, was historic, and nobody will ever forget it.