One factor that is often a constant on a successful NHL Stanley Cup winning squad, is an exceptionally skilled defenseman on the blue line.
This is not a new revelation; it is a constant that has been in place since “Rovers” were skating on teams in arenas across NHL cities nearly 100 years ago. In the last fifty years, only a few teams were lucky and skilled enough to raise Lord Stanley’s cup without the prototype offenseman on the team.
Eddie Shore, King Clancy, Red Kelly, Doug Harvey, Pat Stapleton, JC Trembley, Bobby Orr, Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe, Denis Potvin, and Paul Coffey, Chris Pronger, and Scott Neidermayer stood out especially in the playoffs where they added a new dimension to the offense and made plays at critical points in the series.
A dominating fourth forward gave their team a edge and the cup on many well documented occasions.
The legend continues with the Detroit Redwings future hall of famer, Nick Lindstrom, and 2010 Norris Trophy winner Keith Duncan.
Only the two-time cup champion Philadelphia Flyers and the Carolina Hurricanes, in recent memory, had no one single defenseman who displayed the exceptional talent and leadership ability that players like Orr, Potvin, Coffey, and the others showed during the playoffs.
That is not to say Philadelphia and Carolina did not have a solid defense corps.
The Flyers had Ed Van Impe, Andre DuPont, Joe and Jimmy Watson, Tom Bladon, and Barry Ashbee who all played solidly and aggressively against the offensively gifted Boston Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres.
The Bruins had Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito while the Sabres roster included Gil Perreault and the French Connection.
The underdog Hurricanes beat a highly skilled Edmonton Oiler team with Veteran Glen Wesley, Frank Kaberle, Aaron Ward, and Oleg Tverdovsky.
As the new season approaches and training camps gets underway most general managers and coaches will be taking a close look at their defenseman.
All of them are aware of the importance of that key performer to the fortunes of their team in the regular season and the playoffs.
It is highly likely that the team with premiere defensemen such as, Nick Lindstrom, Duncan Keith, Chris Pronger, Mike Green, and Drew Doughty stand a chance of advancing far into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Let’s have a look at some of the best playoff defensemen of all time and a few who will likely make a impact soon.
Duncan Keith was no small contributor to the Chicago Blackhawks successful Stanley Cup run. Keith was a solid quarterback on the potent Blackhawk power-play, as well as a key contributor on the team's penalty kill unit. After a season that saw him win the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the NHL's best defender, he capped it off by hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Keith will have stiff competition for the title of best defenseman in 2011.
A lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame and one of the best defensemen to ever play in the NHL does not seem to satisfy Nick Lindstrom. He has been one of the cornerstones of the Detroit Redwings for well over a decade, has won six Norris Trophies, and a chest full of Stanley Cups.
Possessing superior ice vision, as well as an accurate shot and excellent play making skills, Captain Lindstrom is a mainstay on the Wings' power-play and penalty killing squad. He always steps it up a notch in the playoffs, as he did in 2010.
The Detroit Redwings were voted Team of The Decade by the Sporting News making Lindstrom the Defenseman of the decade.
A compliment to Paul Coffey's ability is a story told by Doug Orr, the father of Bobby Orr. If anyone has seen exciting and skilled hockey players, it is the senior Orr. The story goes that he saw Coffey skate and called his famous son Bobby and said, "Hey Bobby this kid may just be faster than you."
During his career Coffey scored some "Bobby Orr' goals. His speed and offensive skills allowed him to break one of Orr's goal scoring records. Coffey scored 48 in one season while playing on the Edmonton defense.
In the playoffs Coffey was phenomenal spearheading the powerful Oiler power-play and leading rush after rush toward the opposition.
Coffey was a superb offensive defenseman and was someone to watch in the playoffs.
Brian Leetch wore No. 2 for the Rangers. It was the same number worn by the Rangers other superstar defenseman, Brad Park in the 1970's.
The Rangers ended up trading Park to the Boston Bruins. Luckily they held on to Leetch, who broke most of the scoring records for defensemen and assisted them in winning the Stanley Cup.
In the playoffs, Leetch was extraordinary scoring, defending, and passing to bring the cup to Broadway.
Bobby Orr was not the first offensive defenseman, but he was the best. He single handedly changed the game by opening up the offense.
Other great defensemen have come into the league and made an impact, but didn't possesse all the tools of Bobby Orr.
Orr could skate, pivot at top speed, block shots, shoot rockets from the point, and make passes while falling down. Orr controlled the flow of the game by speeding it up and slowing it down when he felt the need to.
Orr is well known for scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal and is forever immortalized by the famous picture of him flying through the air.
There is still no better defenseman than No.4. It is doubtful there ever will be.
Denis Potvin was a child phenom playing junior hockey for the Ottawa 67's at the age of 14 against 18-and 20-year-old players.
He was quickly compared to another phenom named "Bobby Orr" throughout his career. Potvin was a fierce competitor who possessed a cannon wrist shot as well as extraordinary passing and play-making ability.
Potvin won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie and captained the Islanders to four Stanley Cups. He also won multiple Norris Trophies as the Leagues best defenseman.
Denis Potvin is also famous for his intensity and excellent performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Larry Robinson had the good fortune to play on a team with defensemen Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard.
During the Montreal Canadiens dominance Robinson received notoriety for his physical play. Not only was Robinson physical, but he also has several other skills. Robinson was a gifted offensive contributor and was an able fighter.
Robinson won multiple Norris Trophies and was a catalyst on a Montreal team that won numerous Stanley Cups.
Chris Chelios performed for the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Redwings. He is well known for his intensity and conditioning which have allowed him to continue playing professional hockey long after most defensemen have hung up their skates.
In the playoffs, Chelios is known as a steadying influence on the blueline and a key two way performer.
Chelios recently retired and is said to have accepted a position in the Detroit Redwings organization.
Next to Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey was the best defenseman ever to play the game. Harvey was a great skater and could accelerate out of his own zone before opposition defenders could lay a glove on him. He was a premiere play-maker who was capable of scoring when needed. Harvey was a magician on defense, capable of holding on to the puck until a teammate got free.
Harvey won the Norris Trophy more times as the leagues best defender than anyone,except Bobby Orr.
In the playoffs Harvey stepped it up a notch and the result was magic. The Canadiens won cup after cup largely due to Harvey's domiinance on the Canadien blueline.
Red Kelly had flair.
He was a site to see rushing up ice with his flaming red hair blowing in the wind as he skated past the blueline with the puck on his stick. Kelly was a skilled player capable of stick handling through the whole team, as well as defending against players like Maurice Richard.
Gordie Howe once said, "We never won anything else when Jack Adams traded Red."
Kelly was a catalyst on the Redwings and when traded to Toronto, he became a centerman and helped lead the Leafs to a Stanley Cup victory.
While not officially on the list yet Drew Doughty has a excellent opportunity to become one of the game's best playoff performers.
In his first appearance in the Stanley Cup, Doughty performed well displaying poise and skill beyond his years.
Doughty will be heard from soon.
Mike Green had a disappointing season in 2009-10. He scored the most points and played defense for the team with the best regular season record, but didn't win a Norris Trophy or Stanley Cup.
The talented Green will not go away though. 2011 could be very different with the Capitals starting the season with something to prove.
With Green's offensive skills he could soon make the list.