Lidstrom, Rafalski Thriving Despite Age

Hockey is a young man’s game.

Not convinced? Take a look at the last two Stanley Cup Championship teams. Both the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and the Chicago Blackhawks last season were loaded with young, superstar talent.

Still need more? Other than Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk, 13 of the top 15 scorers in the NHL this season are 30 or younger.

There is arguably more young talent in the League now than ever before. Another member of the Lightning, Steven Stamkos, has racked up 31 goals in 38 games and is on pace to net nearly 70. He won’t even be allowed to legally drink in the U.S. until February.

This trend toward the dominance of youngsters has been going on for a while. One of the most convincing pieces of evidence is the Hart Trophy, given to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. Joe Sakic, way back in 2000-01, was the last player to win the award over the age of 30.

All of that suggests once a player hits 30, his skills are supposed to diminish. Someone forgot to tell Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. It’s not exactly like the duo is headed for the geriatric ward at 40 and 37 respectively, but in hockey years, they may as well have walked with the dinosaurs.

Deemed “The Perfect Human” by his teammates, Lidstrom is off to one of the best offensive starts of his illustrious career. With 35 points in 37 games, the 40-year-old Swede is silencing some of his critics.

It’s hard to believe that he had any critics in the first place, but there are some that expressed their displeasure with Lidstrom last season. He tallied just 49 points, and many thought his defensive play had taken a step back. Those same critics called for retirement, claiming that he should go out gracefully instead of hanging on too long and embarrassing himself.

Lidstrom also was not a Norris Trophy finalist for best defenseman in the League for the first time in, well, forever. But the Red Wings never wavered in their support of the captain, and general manager Ken Holland thought Lidstrom was as good as ever last season.

Injuries certainly had something to do with his decreased offensive output, and a banged-up blue line forced the veteran into playing an absurd amount of ice time, even for a player in Lidstrom’s superior physical condition. A healthy roster this season has allowed Lidstrom to get back to his old self. Splitting from long-time defensive partner (Rafalski) has also made for a change in his game.

Now paired with the defensive-minded Brad Stuart, Lidstrom is able to take more offensive chances. As if he really needed to make any improvements, Lidstrom has said that he wants to be more involved in the rush and take more shots this season. And with the blazing scoring pace Lidstrom is currently on, he’s done exactly that. So much for being washed up.

Lidstrom has already had an 11-game point streak this season and registered his first career hat trick. He’s also at a plus-1 rating this year despite playing against the opponent’s top line each game.

Not to be outdone, Rafalski is on a scoring tear of his own.

Despite being sidelined with a bum knee and sore back for a number of games, the diminutive defenseman has notched 24 points in 26 games, all assists.

Paired with the improving Jonathan Ericsson, the 37-year-old veteran has been exceptional. After netting a career-high 59 points in 2008-09, Rafalski managed just 42 points last season.

Detroit’s depth this season has undoubtedly contributed to Lidstrom and Rafalski’s rise in production. Both will falter at some point, but it doesn’t look like that will come any time soon, however, and both will know when it’s time to go. Neither have any interest in overstaying their welcome or their abilities.

For now, in a league with so many young stars, this hardly-decrepit duo still reigns supreme.


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