Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Comparing Nicklas Lidstrom to Bobby Orr is a joke

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.


  1. nice article john.keep up the good work,tarzan

  2. Well John, I am not saying that Bobby Orr was not a great player, he was, but in your lavish praise of him you are ignoring some basic facts.

    Bobby Orr's career blast off coincided with the expansion of the NHL. The expansion doubled the size of the league without increasing the talent pool, so the gap between the best and worst players grew. Orr's Norris trophies were probably more for his offense than his defense. The WHA also contributed to the weakened talent pool.

    The influx of the Russians and Europeans finally raised the level of play. In the 1990s when Lidstrom started, the dead puck era began so scoring decreased and attention to defense increased. Lidstrom thrived, as evidenced by his 7 Norris trophies and multiple championships. He has been called by his contemporaries and some old time players as the best "defenseman" ever.

    I don't know who the best ever was, but I am old enough to have watched both Orr and Lidstrom throughout their entire careers. It is hard to judge who was best because of the different eras they played in, same as other sports. What we do know is that Orr's career was cut short due to bad knees. What we don't know is if he would have been able to play at the same level for 20 years, which is what Lidstrom has done.

    I think maybe some of your admiration for Orr is simply the romanticist in you coming out. But maybe not.

    Have a good day.

    1. OK Al. Good points and you nailed me. Despite all my bluster at times, deep down I'm an incurable romantic. The Princess knows that, even though I haven't heard from her lately. Maybe someday I could introduce you two. Hmmm. On second thought, she doesn't need any help tearing me up on occasion. Nevermind. Bad idea. LOL Thanks for commenting again and have a good day right back at ya.