Yesterday the propaganda database was updated with an article showcasing the greatest defenseman to ever play the game, Bobby Orr. The GOAT Defenseman will likely go down as the easiest choice of all for our regular series on the GOAT, but ranking those that fall in line behind Orr was a much more difficult task. Nonetheless, it has been accomplished and set in stone for your viewing pleasure.
Here’s the top 10, in order…
- Bobby Orr: Easily the best defenseman and arguably the best player period. See here.
- Nicklas Lidström: 7 Norris trophies and the most technically sound defenseman of all time.
- Doug Harvey: 7 Norris trophies, 6 Stanley Cups, and a model of consistency.
- Eddie Shore: Won 4 Hart trophies, tough as nails, and most dominant player of the 30’s.
- Denis Potvin: 4 Stanley Cups, 3 Norris trophies, and a true offensive catalyst.
- Ray Bourque: 5 Norris trophies and a record 13 First Team All-Star selections.
- Larry Robinson: 6 Stanley Cups, 2 Norris trophies, and best career +/- by a wide margin.
- Paul Coffey: 3 Norris trophies and only defenseman besides Orr to score above PPG pace.
- Brad Park: Never won a Norris, but was runner up a record 6 times (4 to Orr, 2 to Potvin).
- Scott Stevens: Also never won a Norris, criminally underrated, and a true warrior.
The first eight are largely no brainers that I would expect to find on similar lists by anyone else, whereas the final two selections were very tough choices that will likely be met with varying degrees of criticism. Therefore I will now go into detail on why I included them in the top 10 over notable Norris Trophy winning defensemen such as Chris Chelios, Pierre Pilote, and Rod Langway, and Brian Leetch.
First we have Park, an underrated defenseman that played in the shadow of Orr for the first 7 seasons of his career and then had to effectively replace Orr for the following 8 seasons. During his 7 seasons with the Rangers he was often compared to Orr due to a similar style of play and was largely considered the second best defenseman in the league. He even led the Rangers in scoring during the 73/74 season.
During the 1972 Summit Series that Orr was forced to miss due to injury, Park emerged as Canada’s best defenseman and proved instrumental in the final game, recording a goal and two assists to go along with being named the game’s MVP in helping lead Canada to victory. He was also named Best Defenseman of the series.
When Park was dealt to the Bruins in 1975 as part of a blockbuster deal that saw Esposito head to the Rangers, many thought the Rangers had fleeced the Bruins. However, Park was able to immediately step in to provide the strong defensive presence the team needed and was instrumental in maintaining the Bruins as a Stanley Cup contender despite the loss of both Orr and Esposito. He also played a key role in the mentoring of Ray Bourque during his early years.
In the case of Park, besides everything previously mentioned, I feel he was a top 3 defenseman for the majority of his career and was limited to this not by his play, but by the fact that he was behind Orr or some combination of Potvin/Robinson. He may not have the Norris victories, but if not for Orr and Potvin he could have ranked fourth all time.
Next we’ll turn to Stevens. Known as a fierce competitor and one of the hardest hitters the game has ever seen, he never seemed to get the respect he deserved throughout much of his career. Similar to Park, he never won a Norris, but was runner up to Bourque on two occasions.
However, something else was working against Stevens during his period of destruction. Beginning with Coffey, the Norris Trophy was increasingly being awarded to defensemen that showed superiority on the offensive end of the spectrum. Though Stevens was no slouch when it came to providing offense, especially earlier in his career, he largely excelled at the defensive side of the game. Most notably he was a master at separating players from the puck through brute force and was a key piece of the puzzle in New Jersey’s infamous neutral zone trap system for over a decade.
From a pure defensive standpoint, Stevens was one of the best in the NHL for his entire career, not once posting a plus/minus in the negative. His career plus/minus ranks ninth all time among defensemen during the regular season and eighth all time during the playoffs. What makes this even more impressive is that unlike the majority of other defensemen in the top 10, Stevens largely built his impressive plus/minus total through preventing goals more so than generating them. His career points per game average was just a shade over 0.5 during both the regular season and playoffs, much lower than others in the top 10, even Robinson, who benefited greatly from the powerhouse Montreal dynasty during the 70’s.
To conclude on Stevens, I felt that if given the choice between building a team around him or one of the many defensemen left off of the list, I would choose Stevens every time. His presence on the backend would not only solidify a strong defensive core, but also strike fear into the hearts of the opposition.
Well, there you have it, the definitive list of the greatest defensemen ever, with no danger of being changed in the foreseeable future. I don’t see any active defensemen capable of breaking onto this list in the coming years, though some would argue Chara and Karlsson has a good start to build upon. For now, this is it. Enjoy.