When it was announced that Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin is the fourth defenseman in NHL history to win the Lady Byng trophy, it reminded me how voters missed the boat on Nicklas Lidstrom for many years.
The Lady Byng award goes to the player “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard playing ability.”
That criteria describes how Lidstrom played for 20 NHL seasons. Lidstrom should have won that award multiple times and he didn’t win it once.
Lidstrom played an honorable, classy style
He played 1,564 regular-season games and 263 playoff contests and no one ever saw him be disrespectful to anyone. He averaged 26 penalty minutes per season for 20 years. Lidstrom was a superstar who never acted important. He treated everyone with respect, regardless of their station in life. Officials. Coaches. General managers. Opponents. Fans. Hotel employees. People on the street. Everyone got the best of Lidstrom. Some opponents who didn’t deserve Lidstrom’s respect still got it from him.
That’s why his nickname is “The Perfect Human.”
“I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t like Nick Lidstrom,” his former teammate Niklas Kronwall said.
Every day, Lidstrom brought honor to the game. Honestly, he could’ve won that award a dozen times.
The only explanation is that Lidstrom was a defensemen and therefore had a few more penalty minutes than a forward. Sportswriters traditionally weigh penalty minutes into their Lady Byng voting. It shouldn’t be heavily weighted toward penalties, but that is the reality.
Before Slavin won, no defenseman had won for nine seasons. Before Florida’s Brian Campbell won in 2012, no defenseman claimed the award since Detroit’s Red Kelley won in 1954.
Lidstrom had one fight in 20 years. In Lidstrom’s rookie 1991-92 season, he fought Buffalo’s Brad Miller. Lidstrom drew an instigator penalty.
Facetiously, we can wonder whether that instigator penalty caused him to be snubbed all of those years. But Wayne Gretzky had two NHL fights and won the Lady Byng five times. That makes sense because Gretzky, like Lidstrom, played a classy style.
But maybe it wasn’t just about penalty minutes. He had incredibly low penalty numbers. Over one four-season span, Lidstrom had 68 penalty minutes in 324 games. That is remarkable for a player who logged as many minutes as Lidstrom did. Don’t forget that he was always matched up against the league’s best players.
Lidstrom came close only once
One season, Lidstrom posted only 14 penalty minutes. In another season, Lidstrom totaled 18 minutes.
Maybe sportswriters felt like he didn’t need the award.
Lidstrom came close to winning once. In 1999-00, Lidstrom came up four voting points short. That was Colorado center Joe Sakic’s margin of victory. Lidstrom owned 21 first-place votes, compared to Sakic’s 16. But Sakic had 18 second-place votes and Lidstrom only had seven. Sakic also appeared on more ballots.
My guess is Lidstrom isn’t bothered by never winning the Lady Byng. He can take solace in seven Norris Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy and four Stanley Cup rings.
Lidstrom should have also won the Masterton Trophy at least once for perseverance and dedication to his sport. But that debate is for a different day.