Ranking the 5 Best Scoring Defensemen in Detroit Red Wings History
The old adage “defense wins championships” has become a cliche in modern sports. When the duality of an offensive defenseman evolves, the lines tend to blur while the points rack up.
So many of the NHL’s greatest defensemen over the course of history have had the offensive skill to back their ability to protect the blue line and stifle the opponent.
Ray Bourque, Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey rank among some of the NHL’s elite at both ends of the rink, and they provided the offensive punch to make their jobs easier on the back end. Their offensive instincts along with their defensive responsibilities put them in a class of their own.
For the Detroit Red Wings, although they don’t have many of the most prolific scoring defensemen, they still have some very productive blueliners of their own.
The players on this list have been measured by their production, the threat level they posed and where they fall in team history.
Let’s face it, points matter, and it is an accurate depiction of a player’s production level. Defensemen may not necessarily be “threatening” in their own zone, but the stretch pass and the ability to fly end-to-end creates offense in a flash.
How they rank among the best to wear the winged wheel is, of course, monumental. Even if they aren’t the most offensively productive safety nets in hockey, they still hold a special place in Hockeytown history.
Here are the five best scoring defensemen in Detroit Red Wings history.
5. Gary Bergman
Gary Bergman isn’t a household name by today’s standards, but he certainly made a name for himself during his 12 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings.
From 1964-75 Bergman was a solid, all-around defenseman during his tenure in the Motor City. His versatility earned him valuable time on both the power play and the penalty kill, where he was effective and a mainstay, and it also earned him an invitation to Team Canada during the 1972 Summit Series.
With the Red Wings, he totaled 303 points in 706 games while posting 30 or more points in seven of nine seasons from 1967-75. While it may not sound like much, he did it during one of Detroit’s worst periods in team history, known as the “Darkness with Harkness.”
Bergman was a tremendous boost on the blue line for a team that played just 21 playoff games—nine during the 1965-66 season—over the course of his career.
While he may not have put up numbers like Bobby Orr or Brad Park in those days, Bergman was still a valuable asset on offense with his patience and creativity from the back end. He is fourth in assists and points among Red Wing defensemen and accrued the ninth-most penalty minutes in team history (1,101).
Bergman may not have been the flashiest player on the ice or the most spectacular name in the program, but his steady contributions during a tough time for the franchise make him worthy of No. 5 on our countdown.
4. Paul Coffey
One of the most dangerous scoring defensemen in NHL history, Paul Coffey continued his torrid scoring pace for the four seasons he played in Detroit.
Although Coffey was dealt just before Detroit ended its Stanley Cup drought, he certainly contributed to the team’s growth toward a title. In 231 games with the Red Wings, Coffey tallied 46 goals and 239 points, good for eighth among Detroit defensemen all-time.
More impressively, he averaged more than a point per game and is the only defenseman in team history to do so. He did most of his scoring with the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins, but Coffey certainly lived up to his name in Detroit earning his third Norris Trophy in 1995.
Coffey was traded to the Hartford Whalers along with Keith Primeau in the deal that brought Brendan Shanahan to Detroit on October 9, 1996. That season, Detroit won its first of back-to-back Stanley Cup titles.
Perhaps that trade was the catalyst for Detroit’s playoff success, but Coffey never failed to contribute in the postseason. In 49 playoff games, Coffey scored 14 goals and 50 points over four seasons and helped lead Detroit to the 1995 Stanley Cup Final, where it was swept by the New Jersey Devils.
His time in Detroit was shorter than most, but his totals alone earn recognition among the team and the league’s best.
His tremendous offensive instincts are apparent in the numbers, and he was a primary supplier for added offense. There is no doubt that Coffey has earned his place at No. 4 on the list.
3. Red Kelly
Aside from one of this writer’s favorite names in all of hockey, Leonard "Red" Kelly was a force to be reckoned with on Detroit’s blue line.
While playing with the likes of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel and Alex Delvecchio is nice, Kelly himself was just as formidable. A four-time Stanley Cup winner, Kelly put up seven consecutive 40-point seasons, including 50 points in the 1955-56 campaign.
Although he was a championship boxer in college, he only racked up 253 penalty minutes in 846 games with Detroit, earning him the Lady Byng Trophy three times. He would win it a fourth time as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kelly was also a very unique player. Known primarily as an offensively gifted defenseman, he played center toward the end of his career. His 472 points in a Red Wing uniform are good for third-best among defensemen and 14th all-time in team history.
Another one of the many historic talents Detroit has had over the years, Kelly is certainly one that fans remember. In 1954 the NHL awarded him with the first James Norris Trophy as the league’s most outstanding defenseman.
He put up quality numbers in an era when goals didn’t always come with regularity and helped his club win four titles in six years. It’s difficult to argue with Kelly coming in at No. 3 on our list.
2. Reed Larson
For those who don’t know Reed Larson, now is a good time to learn.
Larson was a product of the great University of Minnesota hockey program under Herb Brooks, and he translated quickly to the NHL level. He scored 19 goals and 60 points as a rookie and was runner-up for the Calder Trophy to Mike Bossy in 1978.
It was the beginning of a stretch in which Larson totaled 20 goals in five straight seasons and topped the 60-point plateau eight times. Unfortunately, Larson would not win a Norris Trophy because of guys like Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey and Denis Potvin.
An all-around hockey talent, it didn’t matter which end Larson played in because he was going to make something happen. He had no trouble adjusting to the pros from college and quickly left his mark on Red Wing hockey history.
He finished his time in Detroit with 188 goals and 570 points in 708 games, both good for second among defensemen and ranking 11th all-time in team scoring. He could absolutely hold his own totaling 1,127 penalty minutes, most among defensemen and eighth in team history.
Larson was a three-time NHL All-Star and was the first American-born defenseman to score 200 goals.
His rocket of a shot was a real weapon for the team, and he provided a much-needed offensive punch in Detroit’s unsuccessful seasons in the 1980s. His stats are evidence of his supreme talent, but Larson still sits second behind our No. 1.
1. Nicklas Lidstrom
Surprise! Who would have thought that Nicklas Lidstrom would top this list? It’s unfathomable the kind of talent that No. 5 had at both ends of the ice.
His seven Norris Trophies are tied with Doug Harvey for second-most in NHL history—and he did it in a 10-year span. His 1,142 points are more than twice the next highest scoring defenseman in team history (Reed Larson) and rank fourth all-time in team scoring.
Lidstrom’s most eye-popping statistic is his career-high 80 points during the 2005-06 season—at 36 years old. He was an ageless wonder who mastered the play within either blue line. His impeccable accuracy from the point made Detroit one of the most dangerous power-play units for his entire career.
He was awarded with the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2002 for playoff MVP after recording 16 points in 23 games on Detroit’s way to its third Stanley Cup title in six seasons. In 2008 he became the first European captain to win the Stanley Cup, the fourth of his career.
His number will be retired to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena on March 6, 2014 against the Colorado Avalanche. There wasn’t anything else for Lidstrom to achieve by the time he called it quits after the 2012 season.
He’s won everything from individual trophies, to championships, MVP trophies, a gold medal and is a shoe-in Hall of Famer. It’s no wonder his teammates nicknamed him “the Perfect Human.”
There certainly is no better candidate for the No. 1 spot.