All-Time NHL Team: Defense

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All-Time NHL Team: Defense

On our journey to creating the All-Time NHL Team, our next stop is the blueline.

I am going to pick six of the greatest ever to fill out this unit, some you know very well, others you may not.

Our first reserve is a current member of the Detroit Red Wings.  Sweden's greatest export, Nicklas Lidstrom.

 

The 53rd overall selection in the 1989 NHL Draft, Lidstrom was a find for Motown. He arrived in the NHL during the 1991-92 season, earning an All-Rookie Team selection after notching 60 points.

He would go on to have one of the greatest careers a defenseman has had in the NHL. He would become the 14th defenseman to register 600 career assists (now sitting at 726) and is nearing the 1,000 point mark (938). 

He also has five Norris Trophies in his collection, just one of four defensemen to do such, as well as being the fourth defenseman to win three consecutive Norris Trophies and is tabbed to do such for the second time (wins in 2006 and 2007, as well as being the odds on favorite for the award in 2008.), putting him in a club that only a few can claim membership to.

Why is he on the team? Quiet and often under-appreciated, Lidstrom has combined dominating defensive play and sparkling offensive skills to become the greatest defenseman in the last 15 years.  Year and year out, he silently dominates and provides the Wings with at least one certainty. 

He's unquestionably a first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the five greatest defensemen to have skated in the NHL.

Our next reserve was a member of four straight Stanley Cup winners on Long Island and one of the premiere offensive defensemen of his time. 

Denis Potvin joins our crew having left the game as the all-time leading scorer amongst defensemenwith 310 goals, 742 assist for 1,052 points in 1,060 games (he held the all-time mark in all three categories at the time of his retirement).  He also left as the leader in those categories in the playoffs amongst defensemen.

Why is Potvin on the team? He was about as much of an all-around defender as you can imagine, laying the boom as much as booming slapshots. Another Norris bandit, winning the award three times in a four year span: 1976, 1978 and 1979. 

Also, a little fun bit: induced chants of "Potvin sucks!" in Madison Square Garden when a Potvin check broke the ankle of Ranger Ulf Samuelsson. Any time you can anger an entire fan base, you know you're special (unless you're Sean Avery. Then you're just annoying.)

Next up, a Montreal legend (and you'll see a few here) is added to the line up.

Larry Robinson, nick-named "Big Bird" for his size (6'4") and blond hair, was a dominating defensemen for the Canadiens dynasty of the 70's, helping the Habs win six Stanley Cups.

His hardware collection includes a pair of Norris Trophies (1977 and 1980, breaking up Denis Potvin's run of wins) and a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1978. He played in ten  All-Star games and ended his 20-year career having scored 208 goals, 750 assists and 958 regular-season points.  Also finished with an NHL-record plus/minus of plus-730.

So why is Robinson on this team? Aside of Potvin, he was the dominant defenseman of the 70's.  He combined rare size and skating ability, becoming a cornerstone for one of the most dominating dynasties in sports.  Though he wasn't exactly a stay-at-home defender, he is without a doubt the best defensive defenseman on the list thus-far and every team needs one of those.

Rounding out our reserves is a Beantown legend. No, not him,  we'll get to him later. I'm referring to the honorable and revered Raymond Bourque.

Bourque needs little explaining. Anyone who has followed and loved the game knows what he brought to the table. 

A great defensive defenseman, Bourque left as statistically the greatest defenseman ever. His 410 goals, 1169 assists and 1,579 points are all records for defensemen. Bourque also has a record he took from the Great One: 19 consecutive All-Star appearances.

Bourque brought home his fair share of hardware, like the rest of our choices.  His 1996 All-Star Game MVP joins five Norris Trophies (1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1994) in the trophy case, along with a 1992 King Clancy Trophy.

The crowning achievement in Bourque's career didn't come until his final season in 2001.  He finally hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup above his head, albeit as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, not as a Bruin.

Why is he on the team? Well, little explanation needed.  Cool and calm at all times, Bourque was smothering in his own end, not relying on power but perfect angles and positioning.  His shot from the point was low and booming, always finding that empty space.  He was the ideal power play quarterback.

So, with our four reserves named (and it was a toughie as some very deserving candidates were left out), we move on to the starting duo.  One is universally known, the other is a bit old school but just as good in every sense.

What do you know? A Montreal legend makes it in as a starter, as well.

Doug Harvey was the NHL's first puck moving defenseman at a time when the notion was unheard of. Starting in 1951-52, Harvey made eleven consecutive All-Star teams, collecting seven Norris Trophies along the way. 

Long before the days of player unions, Harvey spoke out against ownership about pay.  Earning less than $30,000 a season in his prime, he felt he and other players were being cheated. He was one of the first to help organize a players association, infuriating Canadiens ownership so much that they traded him in 1961.

So why is Harvey here?  He was one of the greats in the game, period.  During his playing days, defensemen were responsible for their own zone and that was that.  But he used his speed and passing skills to become a pioneer and help create a juggernaut offense.  He changed the landscape for defensemen.

Well, by now, it's become blatantly obvious who the other starter is on the All-Time NHL Team.  If it weren't for Gretzky, he'd be arguably the greatest player ever, let alone the greatest defenseman ever.

Bostonians still love and revere him.  He is Bobby Orr.

Where to begin?

How about 1968 when, despite playing only 46 games, he still managed to capture his first of a record eight straight Norris Trophies.  Two seasons later, he set the single-season scoring record for defensemen with 120 points, becoming the first defenseman to win the Art Ross. He would also win his first of three straight Hart Trophies as well as the Conn Smythe that season, the only player in history to win four major awards in the same year.

He left the game with single-season records for points (120), assists (102) and plus/minus (+124), the latter being a league-wide record.  He left the game with a stunning 915 points in 657 games, including 645 assists (!!!!!).

His hardware case is over-flowing.  Eight Norris Trophies, three Hart Trophies, two Art Ross', a pair Conn Smythe Trophies, a Calder and numerous All-Star appearances.

Does the question need to be posed here? Orr simply was the greatest defenseman ever and, in a Gretzky-less world, the greatest player ever.

He revolutionized the way defensemen play the game, using superior skating to conduct breath-taking end to end rushes and his superb passing skills to attack as an extra forward. If not limited by injuries, his stats may have been insurmountable, but his career was over by age 31.

Despite those injuries and his shortened career, one image lives on forever. One image captures Bobby at his greatest. One image shows The Goal.

And that is why Bobby Orr is on this team.

Up next:  Left Wingers

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