Lidstrom Reportedly Retiring: Ranking the Top 10 Defensemen in NHL History

Brad KurtzbergContributor IMay 31, 2012

Lidstrom Reportedly Retiring: Ranking the Top 10 Defensemen in NHL History

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    There is no question that Nicklas Lidstrom, who recently announced (via ESPN) his retirement from hockey after 20 NHL seasons, is among the best defensemen ever to play the game.

    We know Lidstrom is bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible, but where exactly does he rank among the game's greats?

    It's always tough to compare players who played in different eras and to weigh the value of those who played before many of us were born, but here is a look at the NHL's 10 best defensemen and where Lidstrom fits on this list.

    Let the debate begin.

10. Brian Leetch

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    Brian Leetch was a great all-around defenseman who finished his Hall of Fame career with 1,028 points in 1,205 NHL games.

    Leetch had great speed and great anticipation. He was able to rush the puck very effectively and create offense for his team while still being responsible in his own zone.

    He had five seasons of 20 or more goals and scored a career-high 102 points in 1991-92.

    Leetch was also a leader. He served as an alternate captain for the Rangers when Mark Messier was there and took over as captain after Messier signed with Vancouver.

    Leetch burst onto the NHL scene after representing the US at the 1988 Olympics and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie in 1989. Twice he won the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman.

    In 1994, Leetch became the first American-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP when he scored 11 goals and 34 points in 23 games to help end the Rangers' 54-year Stanley Cup drought.

9. Paul Coffey

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    Paul Coffey put up exceptional offensive numbers throughout his career. The only reason he is not higher on this list is that his defensive game was, well...average.

    Coffey remains one of the best skating defensemen in NHL history. He won four Stanley Cups and had five seasons of 100 or more points. Three times, he won the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman.

    In 1985-86, Coffey set a record for defenseman by scoring 48 goals in a season. Nobody has topped it since.

    Coffey played with some of the best and most talented players in NHL history like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman. There is no doubt they helped his offensive numbers, but there is also no question Coffey's fine play helped their production as well.

    Coffey finished his NHL career with 1,531 points in 1,409 games.

8. Larry Robinson

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    Big Larry Robinson was the epitome of consistency over the course of his 20-year NHL career.

    He was the part of the Canadiens' famed "Big Three" defense team along with Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard that helped the Habs win four straight Stanley Cups from 1976 to 1979.

    Robinson finished his career with six Stanley Cups, two Norris Trophies and one Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

    "Big Bird" put up strong offensive numbers and was also a force in his own zone.

    Perhaps the most impressive stat Robinson accumulated is that in 1,384 career NHL games, Robinson is a plus-730, the best career mark in NHL history.

7. Chris Chelios

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    Rugged Chris Chelios was always there to back up his teammates, clear out his crease and contribute a little offense as well.

    In a 24-year NHL career, Chelios won three Stanley Cups, three Norris Trophies and finished with 948 points and 2,891 penalty minutes. He was also selected to play in 11 NHL All-Star games.

    Chelios played many roles over the course of his NHL career. He was a young point producer on the Canadiens early in his career, the heart and soul of some very good Blackhawks teams in his prime and then an elder statesman for some championship Red Wings teams later on.

    Chelios excelled in each of those roles, and his longevity, toughness and consistency helped him reach the seventh spot on this list.

6. Eddie Shore

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    Many fans know who Eddie Shore was thanks to his brief mention in the classic hockey film, Slapshot (Old Time Hockey), but very few people are around who actually saw Shore play in the NHL between 1926 and 1940.

    Shore was one of the toughest and most physical defensemen in NHL history. His offensive statistics don't impress at first glance, but this was a very different era in hockey history when defensemen rarely put up big point totals. Shore was also playing less than 50 games per season.

    His contemporaries clearly recognized his value, voting him four Hart Trophies as the league MVP. No other defenseman has won more.

    He also won a pair of Stanley Cups and played in eight NHL All-Star games.

5. Denis Potvin

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    Denis Potvin served as the captain of an Islanders dynasty that won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 83.

    He gave the expansion Islanders instant credibility when he joined them in 1973-74 and he captured the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.

    Potvin also won three Norris Trophies and finished his career with nine seasons of 20 or more goals for the Islanders.

    In addition to scoring 1,052 career points, Potvin was a solid body-checker who made opponents think twice before setting up shop in front of the Islanders' zone.

    To this day, nearly 25 years after he retired, fans at Madison Square Garden still chant his name, an unintended tribute to the way Potvin hurt the Rangers every time he took the ice against them.

4. Ray Bourque

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    Ray Bourque was a force on the Bruins' blueline for more than 20 seasons, but didn't capture an elusive Stanley Cup championship until his final year in the NHL with the Avalanche.

    He started his career off by winning the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie and went on to win five Norris Trophies as the league's top defenseman.

    Nine times, Bourque topped the 20-goal mark and he finished his career with 1,579 points in 1,612 NHL games.

    In addition to his strong offensive play, Bourque was good in his own zone and was a leader for the Bruins both on and off the ice.

    No defenseman has scored more career points than Bourque, a testament to his consistency and longevity.

3. Nicklas Lidstrom

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    As he announces his retirement, Nicklas Lidstrom joins the upper echelon of our list of the Top 10 defensemen in NHL history.

    Lidstrom was consistently excellent over the course of his 20-season NHL career.

    His list of awards is impressive: four Stanley Cups, one Conn Smythe Trophy and seven Norris Trophies. He was the first European-born player to captain a cup winner.

    Lidstrom logged major minutes every night and rarely missed a game due to injury. While he spent a lot of his career in the "Dead Puck Era," Lidstrom finished his career with 1,142 points in 1,564 games.

    He is a shoo-in to have his number retired by the Red Wings and to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

2. Doug Harvey

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    You don't get this high on this list without being a player who changed the game. Doug Harvey certainly did that. He practically invented the role of puck-rushing defenseman.

    When Harvey joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1948-49, defensemen almost never spent much time attacking the opposition's goal. When Harvey retired in 1969, every team was looking for an "offenseman" to help quarterback their power play and key their attack.

    He finished his career with 540 points and played a key role on one of the most dominant dynasties in NHL history: the Habs of the late 1950s.

    Harvey won seven Norris Trophies over an eight-year span. Add six Stanley Cups and the way Harvey changed the way the game is played and you have one of the all-time greats.

1. Bobby Orr

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    No player in hockey history was more exciting or more dominant than Bobby Orr.

    Orr burst onto the NHL scene in 1966 and captured the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.

    His speed and creativity were second to none. Orr was all over the ice skating, shooting, passing and throwing hard body checks. Orr wasn't afraid to defend himself either. Five times he topped 100 penalty-minute mark in a season.

    Orr led the Bruins to two Stanley Cups and captured eight straight Norris Trophies as the league's best defenseman. He also won two Conn Smythe Trophies and became the first defenseman to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's top scorer (he won it twice). Add three Hart Trophies as league MVP and you have a very impressive resume.

    In 1971, Orr became the first defenseman in NHL history to score more than 100 points in a season and he finished the year with an NHL record plus-124, a mark that still stands 41 years later.

    Orr finished with an incredible 915 points in just 657 NHL games before his career was cut short due to knee injuries before his 30th birthday.

    He remains the best defenseman and arguably the best player in NHL history.