Beneath the familiar number is an unfamiliar stride and a story you’ll recognize if you’ve ever seen a movie, read a book or watched a feature on ESPN.
No. 23. Brian Lashoff. The undrafted free agent who earned a contract during training camp four year ago and then spent four years working up to this point.
The first time he pulls the Winged Wheel sweater over his head, he scores.
He’s one of us. A feel-good story. An overachiever. A Hustler.
He’s had no DWIs, no complaints about playing time. He should be the exact player you root a little extra for. Yet, something’s off. It was something I didn’t fully understand until I saw him drop his head, rest his stick on his waist and gingerly skate to the corner following Dallas’ second goal Tuesday night.
Lashoff had just blocked Ray Whitney’s shot on a one-timer. As he teammates, including defense partner Kyle Quincey, went to chase the puck that had ricocheted to the boards and the surrounding Stars, Lashoff made the safe play. He went to the front of the net.
What he made was the smart play. Michael Ryder slipped about four feet above him, took a pass from Ray Whitney and put a shot low, far-side all in one motion for what would turn out to be the game-winning goal. Lashoff stared at the puck from the time Whitney regained possession to the time the man he should have been covering deposited it into the back of the net.
The fact is, Lashoff isn’t — and never was projected to be — very good.
If you believe the gurus, he’s already reached his ceiling as a bottom pair defenseman. Hockey Prospectus doesn’t even rank him among the Red Wings’ Top 15 prospects.
He’s not the type of unknown who worked so hard and played so well that the team had no choice but to stick him into the lineup. He was called up out of necessity. He’s an emergency replacement for a unit that is quickly going from bad to abominable.
This isn’t Lashoff’s fault. He didn’t ask for two of Detroit’s top defensemen to leave in the same off-season. He didn’t ask for three more to get injured before the season could get two games old (Jonathan Ericsson, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jakub Kindl). He didn’t ask to come to a team that has fans and media wondering about an existential crisis on defense.
Were I writing his story, I would have ended with that first career goal and the Red Wings win. All future endeavors would be just a short note in the epilogue.
But he’s here. The lumbering skater who can occasionally get lost defensively but has a shot that stays low and travels fast will be with the Red Wings for a while.
Right now, Lashoff might just be the Red Wings’ third-best defensemen.
This is your life. This is Life after Lidstrom. Get familiar with it.