"Don't know the guy."
"F--- off, you know him."
"No. You sure it's Lid ... Lid-what?"
"Well, he just retained me."
The line went dead for 10 seconds. "Dammit, you can't mention him," Smith finally said. "We're going to take him, but don't tell anybody. And you can't bring him to the draft."
Smith was afraid that Meehan would raise Lidstrom's profile by talking him up to G.M.'s or parading him around the Twin Cities during draft week. Smith even stopped mentioning Lidstrom to other Wings staffers for fear someone might drop the name in conversation. "There was a blackout," Holland says. "Neil told me about Lidstrom when he got back from Europe that January—we were best friends at the time—but he saw no need for anybody else in the organization to [scout him]."
When Lidstrom joined Detroit in 1991--92, he had 60 points in 80 games and finished second in rookie of the year voting to Pavel Bure, who was taken by Vancouver in the sixth round, three picks before the Wings planned to draft him. Now Lidstrom is a finalist for his seventh Norris Trophy.
"Getting Lidstrom took what people think of as scouting but really wasn't," Smith says. "This was a rare time you find a diamond no one else sees. I was really concerned about using a valuable chip [a third-round pick]. The easiest thing would have been to take a junior player. Everyone would have left the draft happy. And if it hadn't worked out, everyone would have shared the misfortune of that pick. But this was totally going to be on me and Christer. And if it didn't work out, people would say, 'Neil leaves [for New York] and sticks us with these dogs in Europe.'"
Smith did leave that summer to run the Rangers, with whom he won a Stanley Cup in 1994. (Lidster, but not Lidstrom, was on that team.) Rockstrom went with Smith, but not before recommending a friend, Hakan Andersson, as his replacement with Detroit. As their draft began to pan out, the Red Wings became increasingly committed to scouring European rinks for late-round treasures, a commitment that has not waned.
Andersson would later identify, among other current Red Wings: Datsyuk (drafted 171st overall in 1998); Zetterberg (210th in '99); Filppula (95th in 2002); Jonathan Ericsson (291st in '02); and Franzen (97th in '04). These five players had 60 points and were a combined +41 this postseason, including 17 and +12 in the conference final. Given the Red Wings' dominance, the rest of the NHL has been feeling the distinct draft.