Best NHL Defensemen of All Time
The blueliners who could dangle, shoot, and stickhandle while shutting down the best forwards are the best NHL defensemen in history.
We are blessed as hockey fans to have so much skill in the NHL today. Every team has a star and most have a few, leading to some of the most exciting and electric hockey in NHL history. In the past, there was not as much skill and it definitely was not spread out evenly. Dynasties were the name of the game for the majority of hockey history, and a lot of NHL defensemen were at the forefront of them. So let's take a look back at some of the true superstar defenders that changed the game, and some that are more recent that are doing the same.
We'll start in Boston with the only player who can give Wayne Gretzky competition for best player ever, Bobby Orr. The Bruins game-changing defenseman revolutionized the sport. With six 100+ point seasons to his name and his 139-point season being the most by an NHL defensemen record still standing, Orr proved he was the premier player in the league for over a decade. His eight Norris Trophies are still the most in history, and he won them all consecutively. Sadly, knee injuries cut his career short, forcing him to retire at age 30. If those injuries had not derailed him, Orr would most likely hold almost all records for defensemen and make the debate with Gretzky really heat up.
The first franchise cornerstone in Boston Bruins history, Eddie Shore was a force of nature. In the early days of the NHL, Shore gave fans of the game exciting moments and a reason to show up. Shore only qualified to win league MVP, as the Norris Trophy had not been invented yet. With four Hart Trophies to his name, it makes you wonder how many Norris Trophies the Bruins legend would have acquired (my guess would be six or seven). He was the first star NHL defensemen and cleared the path for the many to follow after him.
Amazing defensemen just grow on trees in Boston I'm assuming? The leading point-getter by NHL defensemen in history with 1,579, Boston fans were able to forget about Bobby Orr's unfortunate departure from the game much easier than expected because of Bourque. He led the Bruins for 21 years before moving to the Colorado Avalanche. The ultimate storybook ending, Bourque was able to win the elusive Stanley Cup in his final season. This produced one of the greatest moments in NHL history, Joe Sakic handing Bourque the Cup.
The captain for the Detroit Red Wings after Steve Yzerman retired, Nicklas Lidstrom more than filled in for the hockey legend. Lidstrom slid into the leadership role like a glove and led the Wings to the playoffs every season. He won seven Norris Trophies, all in his 30s, which proves that he is the fine wine of NHL defensemen. His retirement was a major contributing factor to the end of an era for the Detroit Red Wings and their playoff run.
One of the most famous players and most successful, Paul Coffey spent his career scoring and winning everywhere he went. Playing for eight teams total, Coffey won four total Cups on some the best teams to ever win the Stanley Cup. Second only to Bourque in points by a defenseman in NHL history, Coffey is remembered as being one of the most offensively gifted players ever, recording 1,531 points in his illustrious career. With three Norris Trophies under his belt as well, it's no shock to see him here.
Larry "The Big Bird" Robinson was a key piece to one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history. The Montreal Canadiens unparalleled success in the 70s and 80s can be largely credited to the lanky defender. Robinson helped Montreal reach the peak of the hockey world, winning six titles during his career with four in a row between 1976-1979. Playing for 20 seasons and accumulating 958 career points are not too shabby either.
Tied with Lidstrom for second most Norris Trophies won at seven, Doug Harvey was the star defensemen for the Montreal Canadiens before Larry Robinson arrived. Some teams just have all the luck. Harvey was dominant defensively, could stickhandle with the best of them, and would take over games by himself. Part of yet another Canadiens dynasty that won five straight Stanley Cups from 1956 to 1960, Harvey was the blueprint for offensive NHL defensemen that came after him.
Dennis Potvin was the captain of the New York Islanders for their 1980s dynasty. Regarded as the best player in Islanders history, and one of the best in NHL history, Potvin surprisingly only won three Norris Trophies. However, he more than made up for that with his Stanley Cup résumé. The number one pick of the 1973 draft led the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983. He was one of the best NHL defensemen because he truly could do it all; shut down the best players in the league, score and shoot with ease, and be one of the best leaders in the league.
The NHL defensemen you needed to be aware of at all times, Scott Stevens was the most feared hitter in league history. He combined his skill, toughness, and intensely competitive nature to become one of the best to ever do it. While everyone remembers his shutdown defensive style, they often forget how much he contributed to the offensive side of the game. He recorded 40 or more points in 11 of his 22 seasons, resulting in 908 points in his career.
Before I get roasted for this pick, relax, this is my pick for the future. Erik Karlsson could arguably be considered one of the best NHL defensemen of all time right now but will undoubtedly be there once his career is over. The two-time Norris Trophy winner is one of the most dominant players in the league and has been for years. In his nine-year career, he has recorded at least 60 points six times, with one season reaching 82.
In a league with a lot more parity, it's hard to be dominant on both ends of the ice, especially for defensemen. However, the Swedish sensation has done that and then some, and he will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Some could argue that Brent Burns is better, but I'd take Karlsson over everyone not named Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.