The Nicklas Lidstrom Effect
When Nicklas Lidstrom retired after the 2011-12 season, it was certainly a melancholy moment for hockey fans. Even if you weren't a Detroit Red Wings fan it wouldn't take much to appreciate everything Lidstrom has accomplished. He raised the level of play all over the NHL and will go down as one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game. Notice I said "one of" because if I said he was better than Bobby Orr my dad would probably never speak to me again.
Lidstrom was that player who made everything look so effortless. That's probably why he looked like he could play until the age of 60. Once again, however, he kept it classy and retired when he was still at a high-level. Lidstrom notched 34 points last season, not phenomenal, but he certainly did not look out of place.
While Wings fans may be hurting due to Lidstrom's departure, they had to sort of see it coming. You just knew Lidstrom was not going to pull a Brett Favre and create a daytime soap opera out of his whole decision. I still can't even look directly at a Favre New York Jets jersey. The only way Lidstrom was going to leave the game was on his own terms.
Keep in mind it's not just Detroit fans that will be devastated whenever the next time their team touches the ice, poolies are going to be hurting as well. The obvious reason is that Lidstrom was one of the top defenseman to draft for your squad, but there will also be a trickle down effect throughout the rest of the Wings players. In recent weeks I have briefly mentioned how I thought the Swede leaving would affect certain Detroit skaters that I profiled. And it won't affect all players negatively.
Let's take an in-depth look at how the disappearance of Lidstrom will either benefit or hinder some members of the Wings.
Ian White - D - Negative Effect
White and Lidstrom played together for over 60% of their even-strength shifts in 2011-12. During the season White set a career high in points with 32 and plus/minus, with a rating of plus-23. Lidstrom himself was a plus-21 and has always been known to make up for his partner's mistakes. Expect White's plus/minus to take a little bit of a hit because of that.
One interesting thing that also might hurt White is Lidstrom's ability to fake a point shot and slide it over to his defensive partner. White had a career high 196 shots and Lidstrom's knack for getting him the puck in good shooting positions was a reason why. This was never more evident than on the power play, where White also set a career-mark in points. Expect his numbers on the man advantage to slide a little as well.
Niklas Kronwall - D - Positive Effect
Kronwall was third on the Wings in ice-time last year behind Lidstrom and White, with just under 23 minutes per game. This season Kronwall should be the leader in that area and Detroit's number one defenseman, meaning his totals in areas like hits and PIM could improve significantly. Although he may not reach his 51 point career high from 2008-09, expect his numbers to be closer to that than the 36 he had last year. He has a shot to improve on his seven power play goals from 2011-12 also.
Kyle Quincey - D - Positive Effect
Bringing Quincey back into the fold seems like an even better move now that Lidstrom has retired. He only got into 18 games last year for the Wings, but this year should obviously see him play a full campaign. His strong skating ability and speed is something Detroit could certainly use a little more of, and his ability to quarterback a power play will come in handy with Lidstrom gone. With the talent Detroit boasts, don't be surprised if Quincey hits the 40 point mark and improves on the 168 shots he had in 2011-12.
Brendan Smith - D - Positive Effect
Smith should finally be a regular in the Wings lineup this season without Lidstrom. His offensive upside should be given every chance to shine on the back end. Smith has seven points in just 14 career NHL games, but is averaging more than a hit per contest. Look for the Detroit's defense to play more of a physical style with Lidstrom gone, and if you have categories like blocks and hits in your league, he could be a sleeper.
Jimmy Howard - G - Negative Effect
Howard will certainly be a serviceable fantasy netminder because the Wings are no doubt going to win plenty of games, but expect his numbers to take just a small hit. His .920 save percentage and six shutouts were great, but keep in mind Detroit is one of the best defensive teams in the NHL. Mike Babcock loves to play a defensive system and that was the main reason Detroit finished seventh in goals against in 2011-12. Of course a lot of that has to do with Howard, but Lidstrom's contributions can't be ignored in that area.
Hear me out on this. Lidstrom would often play against the opponent’s best line in an attempt to shut them down. Now that he's gone, skilled checkers like Datsyuk and Zetterberg may be forced more into that type of role. Now both Wings forwards have tremendous offensive skill, but when a player's defensive responsibilities increase, it can be bad for point totals. While taking this approach may help Detroit win more games, it won't necessarily do the same thing for poolies.
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