The 50 Greatest Offensive Defensemen in NHL History
The most exciting play in hockey is the end to end rush. A defenseman starts out behind his own net and skates through an entire team to score a goal. This slide show is designed to honour and rank those offensively skilled players who have played defense in the NHL.
Offensive defensemen were popularized with the coming of Bobby Orr in 1966-67. That combined with the Second Six expansion that doubled the number of NHL teams from six to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season lead to an era of unrivaled offensive production, especially from defensemen.
Most of the players on this list come from 1967 on. The Original Six era featured a conservatism of play that frequently quashed any offensive creativity from defensemen. Players from that era were severely limited in what they were allowed to do offensively and often ostracized or traded if they tried to do more.
Likewise, earlier than that, slowly evolving offside rules and different rules for what constituted an assist severely limited what kind of statistically counted offensive contribution even the most skilled defenders could make. Throw in the fact that the slap shot wasn't popularized until Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion had success with it in the early 1950's and it's easy to see why the offensive contribution from defensmen in those era's was often minimal.
This list then will be highly weighted towards defensemen who have played in the last 45 years in the NHL. Players from earlier eras who are included often don't have comparable statistics. In these cases I'm relying on anecdotal evidence. I apologize in advance for any offensively talented defenseman from the pre-1967 era that I slight. I'd love to hear from anyone who has thoughts or even memories of some of those earlier offensively talented defensemen forced to play in a much more circumscribed role.
Now here they are, the 50 greatest offensive defensemen of all time.
50. Brian Rafalski
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Teams: NJ, Det
Seasons: 11 seasons
Size: 5'10", 210 lbs
Forced to play in Sweden and Finland for four years after graduating from university, Brian Rafalski was finally given a chance by the New Jersey Devils. His obvious offensive skills were an immediate boon to the Devils.
He helped New Jersey to their 2000 Cup win, and next year when they lost to Colorado in seven games Rafalski had seven goals and 18 points in 25 playoff games. That was second on the team in playoff scoring only to Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora.
Rafalski has been one of the NHL's best defensemen for the last decade. He's one of those players who is better when the games are important. His impressive offensive totals increase in the playoffs and he's almost twice the goal scorer in the playoffs that he is in the regular season.
49. Aubrey "Dit" Clapper
Size: 6'2", 200 lbs
Aubrey "Dit" Clapper would have rated higher as an offensive defenseman except for the fact that his best offensive years came as a left winger for the Boston Bruins. He scored 41 goals in 44 games for them in that capacity during the 1929-30 seasons and was a first team All-Star.
From 1937 on he was a defenseman for the Bruins. His skills and size on the back end helped them win the cup in 1938-39. He was named to the first all-star team that year alongside team-mate Eddie Shore. This was the first time a player had been a first team all-star as both an forward and a defenseman.
Dit managed to help the Bruins win a cup again in 1941. His skill as a defenseman let him become the first NHLer to have a 20-year career in the league, all with the Bruins.
48. Al Iafrate
Ian Tomlinson/Getty Images
Teams: Tor, Wash, Bos, SJ
Size: 6'3", 240 lbs
Al Iafrate was a huge train of a defenseman. He skated like the wind and had one of the hardest slap-shots ever. Iafrate was rushed into the league by a desperate Leaf team in 1984. Al was unfortunately a player who could have benefited from seasoning in the minors.
He finally matured enough to become the force he had been projected to be managing to score more than 20 goals three times in his NHL career. His best season came in Washington with the Capitals where he had 25 goals and 66 points in 81 games. He then managed six goals in six games as the Capitals lost to the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs.
Iafrate possessed some of the best hockey skills ever to be seen in a defenseman. He had trouble translating that into offense and then injury cut short what could have been one of the great offensive careers of a defenseman.
Al, in his injury-shortened 799-game career averaged .19 goals per game, which puts him in the top 30 goal scorers per game of all defenseman. His playoff totals admittedly only cover 71 games. Still his .268 goals per game in that period makes him the sixth-best goals per game defenseman of all time among those defenseman who played at least 50 playoff games. He comes out behind only Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Denis Potvin, and Paul Reinhart for goals per game in the playoffs. He was obviously a player who could play better when the games got tougher.
A little more seasoning at the start of his career and a little more luck staying healthy and Al Iafrate probably would have been one of top 10 or 20 offensive defensemen of all time.
47. Shea Weber
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Size: 6'4", 234 lbs
Shea Weber has been the biggest of the big three defensemen in Nashville for six years now. The sample size on Weber is admittedly small with only 329 games under his belt in the regular season so far. Still in that time he's been an exemplary defenseman for Nashville both offensively and defensively.
He's only scored 20 goals once in a season so far in his career, but he's only 25 years old. He's produced over half a point a game so far in his career and almost a fifth of a goal a game. Both those averages go up marginally in the playoffs. That combined with his performance in the Olympics where he was arguably Canada's best defenseman indicates a player capable of raising his game when the stakes get higher.
Weber has a good shot and is a great puck mover. I expect him to move up on this list as his career progresses.
46. "Babe" Pratt
Teams : NYR, Tor, Bos
Size: 6'2", 190 lbs
Walter "Babe" Pratt was an offensive defenseman in an era where it wasn't encouraged. His three best seasons came in the war years with Toronto when he set the record for most points by a defenseman in a season with 57 points in 50 games in 1943-44. The record held until Chicago Blackhawk star Pierre Pilote broke it with 59 points in 68 games in the 1964-65 season.
Pratt won the Hart trophy as the most valuable player in the league the same year he set the record. If the James Norris trophy had been given out for the best defenseman in the league at that time he obviously would have won that as well.
Pratt's point per game total of .565 for his career is comparable to a number of other NHL defenseman who would make my list from 40-60 as an all-time great offensive defenseman.
45. Fredrik Olausson
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Teams : Win, Edm, Ana, Pit, Det, Ana
Size: 6'1", 194 lbs
Fred Olausson was not as spectacular an offensive defenseman as the five we've looked at already, but he managed to be a useful offensive defenseman in the NHL for much longer than they did or have so far. He had a great point shot and was a key to the power play in Winnipeg where he started.
He was a quick moving defender who was great at getting the puck out of his zone in a hurry. He was a key to the offensive transition game the Jets liked to run.
Olausson's best season saw him score 20 goals in 1991-92 in Winnipeg. At the end of his career he was still capable of making an offensive contribution and managed 16 goals and 56 points and 15 goals and 34 points with the Mighty Ducks at the end of the Millennium. This all while he was 33 and 34.
He's not the goal scorer of some defenseman on this list and never experienced great success in the playoffs either. Olausson did manage to win his only cup with Detroit in 2002.
After leaving the NHL Fredrick played five more seasons in the Swedish Elite League.
44. Lubomir Visnovsky
Harry How/Getty Images
Teams: LA, Edm, Ana
Size: 5'10", 183 lbs
The shifty Visnovsky has scored 94 goals and 363 points in 633 games as he starts his 10th season in the NHL. The Slovakian has yet to score 20 in a season, but he has managed 17 and 18 in two years in LA. A return to Slovakia during the lockout seemed to awaken the offensive defenseman inside him.
Visnovsky has managed to average .572 points per game for his career so far. The Ducks look to be hoping his numbers with them will closer to the .686 points per game he's managed since coming back from Slovakia. His eight points in 11 games so far this year have that looking possible.
Lubomir is a creative point man who can make things happen offensively.
43. Andrei Markov
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Years : 2000-11
Size: 6' 204 lbs
Andrei Markov is another hugely talented offensive defenseman whose numbers have suffered in the recent trap clogged, big pad NHL. He is a creative offensive force on the point for the Canadiens. Though his highest goal total in a season to date is 16 he looks to have the potential to score 20 in a season.
Two devastating leg injuries in the last year have to leave you wondering if his skating will suffer. Without a devastating point shot it's his mobility and playmaking that set him apart from other defensemen. He's a player who could easily slip off this list with a couple of bad seasons.
42. Mathieu Schneider
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Teams : Mtl, NYI, Tor, NYR, LA, Det, Ana, Atl, Mtl, Van, Pho
Size: 5'11", 187 lbs
Mathieu Schneider was definitely the most traveled of any of the defensemen on my list. In 22 seasons he managed to play for 10 different teams and the Montreal Canadiens twice.
A powerplay quarterback his entire career, he scored at least 20 in a season twice, once in Montreal as a 24 year old and once with Detroit when he was 36.
He was dogged by injuries throughout his career making it hard for him to play a complete season. Eighty games were the most he ever managed in a single year. He averaged only 58.6 games a season yet he played 1289 career games. Injury and age interfered with his skating but he was still a crafty passer and had a useful point shot on the power play till the end. His .173 goals per game for his career put him in a goal scoring class with the likes of career point men like Sergei Zubov and Larry Murphy.
His point totals weren't quite as glowing and so he ends up here on the list of top offensive defensemen.
41. Lionel Conacher
Teams: PP, NYA, MM, Chi, MM
Size: 6'2", 195 lbs
Lionel Conacher earned his nick-name the Big Train playing football in Toronto. The multi-sport athlete was also a rugby, baseball, lacrosse and hockey star. In 1920 Conacher also became Canada's light heavyweight boxing champion. Conacher was named Canada's best athlete of the first half of the 20th century.
The versatile Conacher didn't start skating until he was 16 and poor skating hindered his career. His natural athletic ability and a will to compete propelled to be one of the NHL's best offensive defensemen of his era.
He was a runner up for the Hart Memorial trophy as the leagues MVP twice. He managed an impressive 80 goals in his 494-game career.
40. Dave Babych
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Teams: Win, Hart, Van, Phi, LA
Size: 6'2", 220 lbs
Dave Babych was a big point man in Hartford, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Babych had a career high with 74 points in Winnipeg. He managed to contribute offensively for almost his entire career. His .605 points per game added up over 19 seasons.
Like Chris Chelios he was primarily a defensive defenseman by the end. That didn't detract from the fact that he was a skilled offensive contributor early on
39. Craig Hartsburg
Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images
Size: 6'1", 200 lbs
Craig Hartsburg after a year in the WHA with the Birmingham Bulls was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars.
He played 10 seasons in Minnesota producing a Sergei Zubov like .725 points per game. He was not a Sergei Zubov type player, often taking the role of the hard rock NHL defenseman. He had enough offensive skills though to see him picked for both the 1981 and 1987 Canada Cup Canadian teams.
Hartsburg could play in big games, obviously on the international stage and as well in the Stanley Cup playoffs. His considerable goal scoring ability improved in the post season where he managed to score almost a quarter of a goal a game.
Injuries ended his career with the North Stars much too early. Perhaps a longer career would have seen Craig much higher on this list.
38. Randy Carlyle
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Teams: Tor, Pit, Win
Size: 5'10", 200 lbs
Before he was a coach, Randy Carlyle played 17 seasons as a defenseman in the NHL. The Leafs gave up on him early. He moved on to Pittsburgh where he made an offensive contribution right away. During the 1980-81 season he had 83 points to finish second in team scoring behind Rick Kehoe. He won the James Norris trophy as the leagues best defenseman that year. He was seventh in the league in assists that year.
Carlyle scored an impressive 647 points in 1,055 regular season games.
37. Scott Niedermayer
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Teams: NJ, Ana
Size: 6'0", 200 lbs
Scott Niedermayer was an offensive force in the league for his entire career. He scored 40 points in his first full season as a fresh faced rookie with New Jersey. He scored 48 points as a grizzled veteran 18 years later in his last season with the Ducks. In between he managed to play almost 80 games a season every year. His best point total was in 2006-07 when he had 69 with the Ducks. Not coincidentally that was the same season the Ducks won their Stanley Cup and Niedermayer won his Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP.
Niedermayer also won three Cups with New Jersey. In 2003 he had 18 points in 24 playoff games to lead the team, In 2000 Jersey beat Dallas and in 1995, the Devils swept the Red Wings in the Cup final, and Scott Niedermayer's 11 points and defensive play were again central to the victory.
He won the James Norris trophy in his last year in New Jersey.
36. Chris Pronger
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Teams : Har, Stl, Ana, Edm, Phi
Seasons: 17 seasons
Size: 6'6", 220 lbs
Chris Pronger and his partner in crime for the Duck Stanley Cup, Scott Niedermayer, have had almost identical statistical careers. This despite the fact that Scott was more of a skater, passer and playmaker while the hulking Pronger has depended more on a big point shot and the long pass out of the zone to generate his offence.
Niedermayer has stayed a little healthier. Pronger has scored goals and points at a fractionally higher rate.
Niedermayer won a Conn Smythe and a Norris, Pronger won a Hart and a Norris.
Pronger is a man whose offensive production increases in the playoffs. He lead the Oilers in scoring during their abortive Stanley Cup run. Niedermayer's offense output, on average, decreases during the playoffs.
It's this more than anything that has me place Chris Pronger one step higher on my list of best offensive defensemen.
35. Kevin Hatcher
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Teams: Wsh, Dal, Pit, NYR, Car
Size: 6'3", 232 lbs
Kevin Hatcher is another of the defensive behemoths that manage to make a huge offensive contribution to their teams. Hatcher managed 24 goals with Washington during the 1990-91 season and an amazing 34 goals for the Capitals during 1993-94. He leads all defensemen in scoring that year.
His big offensive weapon was the point shot as was reflected in his almost a fifth of a goal a game he scored during his career. He was skilled with the puck and mobile for a big man but it was the shot that set him apart.
34. Dan Boyle
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Teams: Fla, TB, SJ
Size: 5'11", 190 lbs
The Florida Panthers spent three and a half seasons thinking about Dan Boyle before they gave up on him. Boyle blossomed almost immediately in Tampa Bay when exposed to the talent in the lineup there.
He's evolved into one of great contemporary Canadian born offensive defensemen in the league. He quarterbacked the power play in Tampa Bay and he was able to keep up with the high priced talent that was there.
He scored 20 goals in his last full season in Tampa Bay and has managed 16 and 15 goals and 57 and 58 points in his first two years in San Jose.
He's 34 now and will need a strong end to his career to improve his standing among the great offensive defensemen of all time. His .602 points per game is impressive and indicative of an able playmaker.
33. Mike Green
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Size: 6'1", 198 lbs
Mike Green is the youngest player I have on my list and so has the most potential to climb and fall. The speed he plays at, and the skill he shows at speed, lends Mike Green's game a Paul Coffey quality.
His last three seasons he scored 56, 73 and 76 points. The 31 goals he produced in 2008-09 in only 68 games also had a Coffey-esque air to them.
Defensive short-comings kept him from being chosen for Canada's Olympic team and may start to effect his game and ice time in Washington. Paul Coffey's game had defensive holes in it. If you left him to run you almost never got a chance to notice them.
Mike Green with his speed and his shot is the only defenseman I've seen in the last decade with a chance to sneak into the top 10 offensive defensemen of all time. I'd like to see him get a chance to do it. Playing with Ovechkin in Washington certainly seems like the right place to do it.
His .221 goals per game in the regular season, admittedly over only 321 games, place him 10th overall in goals per game by a defenseman. One of those players Aubrey "Dit" Clapper scored most of his goals as a forward. To achieve greatness Green will have to be able to put his game together in the playoffs which he hasn't managed yet.
32. Rob Blake
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Teams: LA, Col, LA, SJ
Size: 6'3", 222 lbs
Rob Blake has managed two 20 or more goal seasons in his career. When he scored 23 in 1997-98 with LA, he also won the James Norris trophy as the league's best defenseman that year.
Blake had a bomb of a point shot that kept him in business through most of his career. He had a couple big playoff runs scoring 19 points in 23 games for Colorado when they won the Cup in 2001. He had 12 points in 20 games the next year when they fell short.
He was a better skater and play maker early in his career but even at the end he could shoot and he could hit. Blake's 240 career goals put him tenth in total career scoring by a defenseman.
31. Ron Greschner
Size: 6'2", 205 lbs
Ron Greschner was a career Ranger. He was an good playmaker who also managed to score 20 goals or more in a season four times.
As a young player he got to play with and learn from the legendary Brad Park. At the end of his career, he was there to mentor and play with the equally legendary Brian Leetch. Greschner provided continuity for the Rangers during the 80's.
The smooth skating Greschner managed a very impressive .621 points per game over his entire career.
30. Steve Duchesne
Teams: LA, Phi, Que, Stl, Ott, Stl, LA, Phi, Det
Size: 5'11", 195 lbs
Steve Duchesne broke in with the LA Kings and quickly became their power play quarterback. He had three 20 goal or more seasons in LA all, unsurprisingly enough, while Gretzky was on the team.
Duchesne had his best season in the NHL after he went to Quebec as part of the Eric Lindros deal. He scored 20 and had 82 points for his first and only point a game season.
Duchesne had a good shot and was a puck mover and thus could always find work but like Mathieu Schneider he always seemed to be on the move. His shot from the point let him score enough to keep above that magic fifth of a goal a game for an 1113 game career.
Duchesne is 20th in career scoring among all NHL defensemen. He's tied for Kevin Hatcher for 13th in goal scoring. He finished out his career winning a cup as a depth defenseman with the Red Wings in 2002.
29. Ian Turnbull
Teams: Tor, LA, Pit
Size: 6'0", 200 lbs
Ian Turnbull broke into the league during the height of Bobby Orr fever in 1973. Expectations were high for this first round pick. After a stint in the minors during his second season, Turnbull put his offensive game together in his third year, scoring 20 goals and 56 points. He then helped the Leafs beat the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs and then extend the eventual Stanley Cup losing Philadelphia Flyers to seven games in the second round. His 11 points in 10 playoff games were second on the team only to Darryl Sittler's 12.
Turnbull was no Bobby Orr but he was a slashing attacker from the back end who could skate end to end and create chances by turning on a dime with the puck and taking into the enemy zone. His offensive credentials were notarized the next year when he scored five goals versus the Red Wings in a 9-1 rout. He is still the only defenseman ever to score five goals in a game. He's also the only player to score five goals in a game on five shots.
The 22 goals and 79 points he managed that year were his career best. He had another near point a game playoff.
The following year Turnbull lead a Salming-less Leaf team past the Kings and to an upset of the heavily favoured New York Islanders in the second round of the playoffs. He had six goals and 16 points in 13 playoff games that year. He lead the Leafs in goal scoring and points that playoff year.
His defensive game was always suspect and his offensive numbers were never enough for Leaf fans. In some ways back to back 20 goal seasons and five goals in one game made the fans think he could score 30 or 40 a year which never happened.
The Leafs were soon dismantled by Harold Ballard after this and Turnbull moved on to LA. He finished up in Pittsburgh where injury cut his career short.
28. Chris Chelios
Dave Sandford/Getty Images
Teams: Mtl, Chi, Det, Atl
Size: 6'1", 190 lbs
The scrappy Chelios sometimes gets forgotten when lists of great offensive defensemen are put together. Part of the problem with a career that spans eras is that the beginning can be lost in the mists of time. The talented Chelios hasn't scored 10 goals in an NHL season since 1996-97 with Chicago. Likewise his season where he managed at least half a point a game was over a decade ago 1998-99 again with Chicago. Before then that offensive output was Standard Operating Procedure for Chris.
Chris Chelios was always a good skater who could distribute the puck and had a reasonable shot. Chelios's second season in Montreal he had 64 points in 74 games. He scored 20 goals in 1987-88. He was a key component in two Stanley Cup runs with the Canadiens in 1986 when they won the cup and in 89 when they lost. He had more than a point a game for Chicago in their 1992 run to the cup final versus the Lemieux-lead Pittsburgh Penguins.
Chelios had 72 and 73 point seasons with the Blackhawks. Both times he won the James Norris trophy that season as he did in 1988-89 with the Canadiens.
Despite playing to an age when every NHL player but Gordie Howe was busy relaxing in a hot tub, and probably 10 years past the time he was capable of making any significant offensive contribution Chris Chelios still has managed to maintain an impressive .574 points per game average for his entire career.
When you look at his first 16 seasons in the league Chelios managed to average three quarters of a point a game. So rather than penalizing him for playing so long I want to reward the offensive skill he did show for over 1006 NHL games.
27. Sandis Ozolinsh
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Teams: SJ, Col, Car, Fla, Ana, NYR, SJ
Size: 6'3", 205 lbs
The Latvian speedster is still playing in Riga this year and has almost a point a game. He was a second round pick for the Sharks (30th overall) in 1991 and he joined the team for 1992-93 season.
The talented defender was phenomenal in San Jose right from the start. He had the skills to rush from end to end and the desire to do it. He played 37 games that first season and had 23 points. Next year he scored 26 goals and had 64 points in 81 games. He then managed to help the Sharks the first of two early franchise playoff runs with 10 points in 14 games that year and five in 11 playoff games the next.
The high risk end of his game had him traded to Colorado where he helped them win the 1996 Stanley cup. He had 50 points in 66 regular season games and then 199 in 22 playoff games. He became "the" offensive defenseman on those great Avalanche teams.
Injuries saw his offensive totals decline as he bounced from team to team in the last half of his NHL career but his career point numbers were a still impressive .645 per game and he scored almost a fifth of a point per game.
Ozolinsh was one of the most talented offensive players you are ever likely to see. Unfortunately he only played 80 or more games four times in a season, in his 15-year NHL career.
26. "King" Clancy
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Teams: Ott, Tor
Size: 5'7", 155 lbs
Francis "King" Clancy was a diminutive defenseman in an era when assists were only handed out for a key play that lead to a goal. Clancy made up for that by scoring. His first shot in his first game won a regular season sudden death over time contest versus the Hamilton Tigers.
Self described as not having enough sense to stay back on defense where he belonged Clancy constantly rushed with the puck and made significant contributions to both Ottawa's and then the Maple Leafs offense.
His best season saw him score 17 goals and 40 points for the Ottawa Senators in 1929-30. Clancy scored 136 goals in 592 regular season games which puts him in the top for goals per game scored by a defenseman over his career.
Clancy is now honoured by the King Clancy Memorial Trophy pictured above which is given every year to the NHL player who best shows leadership off and on the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community.
25. Paul Reinhart
Teams: Atl, Cal, Van
Size: 5'11", 205 lbs
Paul "Rhino" Reinhart was an Atlanta Flame rookie who made the jump with the organization to Calgary. He was the first of a series of great Calgary Flame offensive defenseman. He was a stick handler, play maker and scorer of the first calibre.
Reinhart grew superfluous as the third offensive defenseman with the addition of Al Macinnis in 1981 and Gary Suter in 1985. His contributions are still undeniable.
As a sophomore he scored 18 goals and 67 points in the regular season. He followed this up with a 15 point in 16 game playoff performance as the Flames swept Chicago and beat Philadelphia in seven games before losing to the North Stars in their first playoff year in Calgary.
Paul had his best season in 1982-83 with 75 points in 78 games. Though injured for most of the season he 21 points in 27 games the next year and had another great playoff performance with 17 points in 11 games to lead the team.
Rhino only broke the 20 goal barrier once but 133 goals in 648 games have him scoring more than a fifth of a goal per game. More impressive are his playoff numbers. During 82 playoff games he had 77 points and 23 goals. The .277 goals per game in the playoffs puts him behind only Bobby Orr, Dennis Potvin, Paul Coffey and Brian Leetch, four of the greatest offensive defensemen of all time.
24. Sergei Zubov
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Teams: NYR, Pit, Dal
Seasons: 16 seasons
Size: 6'1", 198 lbs
The animated Zubov is one of the slickest passing and stickhandling defenseman of all time. His shot while not devastating allowed him to provide a very consistent 10 goals a year everywhere he's played until injury caught up with him.
He broke in with the Rangers scoring 31 points in 49 games as rookie. His next year, 1993-94, he had an incredible 89 points in 78 games. During New York's Stanley Cup winning playoff run, Zubov put up five goals and 19 points in 22 playoff games.
Zubov was a point a game player for the Penguins in the 1995-96 season and a key member of their playoff run, though they did lose in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Florida Panthers.
Zubov moved on to Dallas to be the power play quarterback there and help them win a Cup in 1999. He had 71 points in 78 games for Dallas in 2005-06.
Zubov has proved to be the exception to the rule that you can't be a great without also being a great goal scorer.
23. Borje Salming
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Teams: Tor, Det
Size: 6'1", 185 lbs
Borje Salming was the first of what came to be a flood of talented Swedish players to the NHL. He had as rough a ride as any player I've ever seen play the game. The wisdom at the time was Swedish players would not endure rough play and if hit enough would go back home to Sweden. Salming endured what was at times brutal treatment with a stoicism and toughness that helped pave the way for every other Swedish player who has come to North America.
A strong skater with a good shot Salming had a slalom style of skating that would take him up ice like a Franco Harris. He moved east-west but was constantly looking for the spot where he could move north south and he invariably found it.
His stoicism was supplemented with a fitness level that allowed him to play 40 minutes a game late into his career. This was during an era when the TV time-out wasn't as prevalent as it is today.
He was the master of the long headman pass out of his zone as well. Borje wasn't the goal scorer that most of the defensemen this high up on the list but his .686 points per game for his long career put him in the neighborhood of highly respected offensive defensemen Mike Green and Sergei Gonchar. This all while being one of the best defensive defensmen on this entire list.
22. Jeff Brown
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Teams: Que, Stl, Van, Har, Car, Tor, Was
Size: 6'2", 204 lbs
Jeff Brown was another power play specialist whose lack of a complete defensive game kept him moving. Wherever he went Brown upgraded his new teams power play.
He scored 20 goals or more in three different seasons. His best year was with St Louis in 1992-93 when he scored 25 goals and had 78 points in 71 games.
He spent a lot of his two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks injured, but when he did play for them he was phenomenal. He was a late season addition in 1993-94 and had six goals and 15 points in their run to the Stanley Cup finals versus the New York Rangers. He was the best offensive defenseman on that team. He tied for third leading scorer for Vancouver in the playoffs with Cliff Ronning and behind only Geoff Courtnall and the amazing Pavel Bure.
He had 31 points in 33 games during his next season in Vancouver.
Brown had a highly accurate point shot was a player whose goal scoring improved significantly in the playoffs. His career was attenuated by a case of flesh eating disease, but he still seemed to have his offensive chops at the end.
Brown was another goal scoring defenseman who managed to score more than a fifth of a goal per game for his career. During the playoffs, that increased to .23 goals per game near the very top of career performances for defensemen.
21. Sergei Gonchar
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Teams: Wsh, Bos, Pit, Ott
Size: 6'2", 212 lbs
Sergei Gonchar is a pretty similar statistical player to Jeff Brown but he has played in an era where it's been notoriously harder to score. He's had more success, winning a Cup with Pittsburgh, and still has the potential to put up some good offensive numbers for a few more years.
The talented Gonchar is the definitive power play quarterback, confident and creative at the point with a fine hard, accurate shot.
He has 202 goals in what has been a 1002 game career. Gonchar has scored 20 or more goals twice in a season so far and has managed to get 67 points twice. His last three playoff runs he's scored 14, 14 and 12 points. He got the 14 during the Stanley Cup winning run despite having to come back from a knee injury to play in the final. His first game back he looked like he was playing on one leg.
Gonchar at 36 is likely approaching the end of his career but a good season or two in Ottawa certainly won't hurt his offensive reputation.
20. Larry Robinson
End to End With Larry Robinson
Teams: Mtl, LA
Size: 6'3", 220 lbs
Larry Robinson was the youngest and the best of the big three defenseman that patrolled the blueline for the Montreal Canadiens in the 70's and 80's.
He was known for his offense and defense in Montreal. While not the goalscorer some of these offensive defensemen are, his skating ability made him capable of end to end rushes that were a trademark with the lanky Robinson.
His shot from the point was also a feature on the power play.
Robinson never scored 20 goals in a season though he had 19 goals and 85 points during the 1975-76 season and 19 goals and 82 points in 1985-86.
Robinson won two James Norris trophies. He also won the Conn Smythe in 1977-78 with 21 points in 15 playoff games to tie with Guy Lafleur for the team playoff scoring lead. he also had 20 points in 17 games in the Canadien's 1985-86 playoff run.
Robinson managed just under .7 points per game over a 20 year career. He's ninth in career points by a defenseman.
19. Gary Suter
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Teams: Cal, Chi, SJ
Size: 6'0", 205 lbs
Gary Suter had a dominant offensive year for the Flames as rookie winning the Calder trophy while scoring 18 goals and 68 points. He was another of a wave of talented American-born offensive defensemen who grew watching Bobby Orr play hockey.
Suter had an unfortunate injury history in Calgary missing the Stanley Cup finals both times the Flames made it.
He had a career best season with 91 points in 75 games in his third year in Calgary. he also scored 21 goals that year breaking 20 for the first time. He and Al MacInnis became one of the best power play point combinations in hockey.
Suter was an incredibly strong skater throughout his career. Injuries chipped away at the hard playing Suter but he managed to maintain an offensive presence almost to the end of his career. He scored 23 goals and 81 points with the Flames 1992-93 and 20 goals and 67 points with the Blackhawks in 1995-96.
Suter had a long offensively prolific career in the NHL.
18. Guy Lapointe
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
Teams: Mtl, Stl, Bos
Size: 6'0", 185 lbs
Guy Lapointe was the best offensive defenseman of Montreal's big three. He was a strong skater with a great point shot and nose for the net.
Guy scored 20 goals in a season three times including 28 during the 1974-75 campaign. He scored over .7 points per game for his entire career and almost a fifth of a goal per game. During the playoffs he scored goals at a higher rate then in the regular season.
During his last six seasons in the NHL he was racked with injuries which severely curtailed his offensive numbers and adversely effected his career averages.
17. Nicklas Lidstrom
another for lidstrom
Size: 6'2", 190 lbs
Nicklas Lidstrom is the best defenseman of his generation and one of the best of all time. He's a slick skating playmaker who always seems perfectly calm as he makes the play. Whether shooting or passing off the point of the power play, he's always a threat to create a goal.
Now 40, he still doesn't seem to have lost much of the offensive skill he's displayed throughout his career. He scored 20 goals in the 1999-2000 season. He's been a key member of the four Stanley Cup winning Detroit teams in the past 15 years winning the Conn Smythe in 2001-02 with 16 points in 23 games.
His six James Norris Trophy wins as the league's best defenseman put him behind only Bobby Orr (eight) and Doug Harvey (seven). Ray Bourque would be next with five wins.
Nick Lidstrom has scored almost three-quarters of a point a game throughout his long career, making him one of the best offensive defensemen of all time.
16. Mark Howe
Ken Levine/Getty Images
Teams: Har, Phi, Det
Size: 5'11", 190 lbs
Mark Howe spent, I hate to say wasted, the first six years of his professional career in the WHA playing for the Houston Aero's and then the New England Whalers. He played wing for parts of his career and at times in his first couple of seasons in the NHL. Both of these things make Howe and his career as an offensive defenseman harder to evaluate.
Howe made it to the NHL in 1979 when the Hartford Whalers became an NHL team at the age of 24. He suffered a nasty injury from a collision with a net the next year that degraded his offensive ability.
Despite all that Howe played in the NHL, mostly as a defenseman for 15 seasons. He retired, early for a Howe at age 40. He showed all the toughness and spring steel durability that would be expected from Gordie Howe's son. He also flashed that skill at the public that would have dazzled crowds in Detroit for generations.
He scored more than 20 goals three times in the NHL though that first season he was mostly a winger. He broke the 80 point barrier twice. Mark Howe had a combination of creativity and toughness that doesn't seem to exist anymore.
He scored well over a fifth of a goal a game in his NHL career and had almost .8 points per game for 929 regular season games. His playoff numbers were never as good as his regular season ones, but he did produce 15 assists in 19 playoff games during Philadelphia's 1988-89 playoff run.
He is the WHA career leader in playoff points. Despite injury and despite six years in the WHA Howe still has phenomenal career offensive numbers as a defenseman in the NHL.
15. "Red" Kelly
Dave Sandford/Getty Images
Teams: Det, Tor
Size: 6'0", 195 lbs
Leonard "Red" Kelly is another of those versatile players who was good enough to play forward or defense in the NHL. This does tend to skew offensive statistics when compared to a player who only played defense, especially in the original six era.
Kelly started his career in Detroit as a defenseman. During those first thirteen seasons he was part of four Stanley Cup winning teams. He scored 15 goals or more for seven straight years. He won the James Norris trophy with 16 goals and 49 points in 62 games in 1953-54 the first time it was given out.
Detroit tried to trade Kelly to the Rangers in 1960 but Kelly retired rather than report. A second deal was worked out with the Imlach coached Toronto Maple Leafs that Kelly accepted. He played another seven and a half seasons in Toronto.
Punch Imlach started Kelly at center, ostensibly to check the rival Canadiens star center Jean Beliveau.
Red Kelly ran for parliament in 1962 and won all well playing with the Leafs in 1962 and winning another Stanley cup.
Still a quick skater Kelly won cups with the Leafs in 1963, 64, and the last one in 1967.
14. Larry Murphy
Teams: LA, Wsh, Min, Pit, Tor, Det
Size: 6'2", 210 lbs
Larry Murphy is another of those offensive defensemen who found he was playing all over the league. He came in to the league as a 19 year old with the LA Kings and scored 16 goals and 76 points in his first NHL season. He was beaten out by the 24-year-old Petr Stasny, who had 109 points with the Nordiques that year for the Calder Memorial trophy as rookie of the year.
Murphy became a key international player for Canada and contributed a goal and six assists in the 1987 Canada Cup. Success on that stage propelled him to greater success in the NHL.
He scored more than 20 goals in a season five times. His best statistical season in the league came while playing with Mario Lemieux and company in 1992-93. He had 22 goals and 85 points on that offensive juggernaut that year and thought he was on his way to winning his third cup in a row in Pittsburgh.
Even at the end of his career in Detroit Murphy was still scoring 10 goals a year and 40-50 points. During the 1998 playoff run he had 15 points in 22 playoff games and won his second cup in a row with the Red Wings at the grand old age of 37.
Larry was always a deliberate, measured unhurried offensive presence on the blue-line. A student of the game he was hard to rattle on the point, invariably making the right play when called upon.
Murphy was a three quarters of a point a game man throughout his long NHL career.
13. Reed Larson
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Teams: Det, Bos, Edm, NYI, Min, Buf
Size: 6'0", 195 lbs
Reed Larson was a mainstay with the Detroit Red Wings. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher and Herb Brooks protege, played for some of the worst Red Wing teams of all time. He and his career often seem forgotten in the NHL because of this.
Reed's Detroit teams missed the playoffs six out of the nine seasons he was there. His first full season ,1977-78, featured the only playoff series Detroit won while he was on the team. They beat the Flames, the Atlanta Flames, two straight in a best of three series.
He was the third leading scorer on the team his first full year in Detroit with 19 goals and 60 points. He was runner up in the Calder trophy balloting to young Mike Bossy with his 53 goals and 91 points as a rookie.
Larson followed this season up with 18 goals the next year five seasons in a row where he scored more than 20 goals as a defenseman.
Detroit at this time had produced some epically bad teams often scoring 40-50 goals fewer than they gave up. The addition of Steve Yzerman in 1983 was the beginning of the climb back to competence. Unfortunately for Reed during his last season in Detroit the Red Wings gave up 415 goals while scoring only 266 and winning only 17 of 80 games.
Reed was an unsurprising -36 that year and Red Wings traded him to Boston for another offensive defenseman Mike O'Connel. The 19 goals in Detroit and 3 in Boston marked his last +20 goal season.
Detroit had their best playoff run in two decades making it to the conference final the next year. Poor Reed though was gone.
He was an enthusiastic offensive skater with a great shot. Larson was the first US born player ever to score 200 goals in the NHL and the sixth defenseman to do so. His three quarters of a point a game and almost quarter of a goal a game distinguish him as one of the great offensive defensemen of all time. He just wasn't one of the great defensemen of all time.
12. Doug Wilson
Mike Powell/Getty Images
Teams: Chi, SJ
Size: 6'1", 190 lbs
Doug Wilson is the first of the defensemen to produce more than .8 points per game for over a 1,000 game career. His career pinnacle came in 1981-82 when he won the James Norris trophy, had 85 points and scored an amazing 39 goals. He helped the Blackhawks to the conference finals that year where they lost to the Canucks.
He scored at least 20 goals in a season on two more occasions. He was another big point man who was a better point per game player in the playoffs.
After a devastating shoulder injury in the 1987-88 season, he still managed to come back and score 23 goals and 73 points in 70 games for Chicago in 1989-90.
11. Al MacInnis
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Teams: Cal, Stl
Years: 1981- 2004
Size: 6'2", 200 lbs
Al MacInnis was renowned for having the hardest shot in hockey, ever. He won the NHL’s hardest shot competition at the All-Star game seven times. The same way teams were forced to design defenses around Brett Hull, they forced to rush the point to keep Al MacInnis from getting that cannon off.
He was fair skater and an able puck mover, but his shot moved him into the offensive elite of the game. His .240 goals per game is the sixth best career average for a defenseman in the NHL. He kept that up throughout a 23 season career.
His career featured five 20 goal or better seasons. He managed 103 points once becoming the fourth NHL defenseman ever to do that after Orr, Coffey and Potvin. MacInnis is the third-highest scoring defenseman in NHL history.
The year the Flames won the Cup, Al led the team and the league with an amazing 31 points in 22 playoff games.
Al MacInnis developed into a complete offensive defenseman as his career progressed, but it was his shot that got him to the NHL. It was the shot that made Al great.
10. Pierre Pilote
Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Teams: Chi, Tor
Size: 5'10", 165 lbs
The legendary Pilote was Chicago’s answer to Doug Harvey. He was an offensive star with Chicago and always near the top of the league in scoring among defensemen.
His 59 points in the 1964-65 season was a record for defenseman in the pre-expansion era. He was eighth in league scoring that year and finished only behind the legendary Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull on his own team.
His 15 points during Chicago’s 1961 Cup run led the team. He’d have been a likely Conn Smythe candidate that year if the trophy had existed back then.
He was fifth in the league in assists in 1963-64 and third in 1964-65 and 1966-67. He won three James Norris trophies in a row from 1963 to 1965.
The hall of fame end to end rusher, was the second best offensive defenseman of his era behind only Doug Harvey. He was one of the best offensive defensemen of all time.
9. Phil Housley
Teams: Buf, Win, Stl, Cal, NJ, Wsh, Cal, Chi, Tor
Years : 1982-2003
Size: 5'10", 185 lbs
The much traveled Phil Housley is another of these great offensive defensemen who got his career off with a bang. He started in Buffalo with 19 goals and 66 points.
The quick skating Housley was an offensive force for the Sabres and he played forward as well as defense for them. He had 31 goals and 46 assists the next year, but some of that output came as a forward. That was the only year Phil scored more than 30 goals in an NHL season. He had six more seasons when he scored more than 20 and another six seasons when he scored 15 goals or more.
He was traded to the Winnipeg Jets after eight seasons in Buffalo for Winnipeg icon Dale Hawerchuk. he became the Jets best player leading the team in scoring from the back end three years in a row. His third and final year in Winnipeg he had his best season with 79 assists and 97 points, both Jet records for a defenseman.
Housley was traded again for another teams veteran hero. He'd been moved to St Louis by Winnipeg. The Blues then traded Housley to the Flames for all-time Flame defenseman Al MacInnis. Housley was never treated very well by the fans in Calgary despite leading the team in assists during the strike curtailed 1994-95 season. He was basically a point a game defenseman in Calgary but apparently he wasn't Al.
The smallish Housley was as talented a puck moving defenseman as has ever been in this league. Weaker defensive play, a lack of size and perceived lack of grit has always seemed to diminish the regard he's gotten over the years. Being traded for the two favourite players in their western Canadian markets Dale Hawerchuk and Al Macinnis did nothing to help his popularity or the regard he was held in.
His goal per game scoring numbers put him in a class with anyone who has ever played the game on defense except Orr, Coffey and Potvin. This was over a 21-season career.
8. Ray Bourque
Teams: Bos, Col
Size: 6'0", 219 lbs
Ray Borque burst on to the scene in Boston with 17 goals, 65 points and a Calder Memorial trophy as the league's best rookie. He only got better.
By his third season Borque was a point a game NHL defenseman. He was a point a game player for the next 12 years. He had four seasons where he got more than 90 points, another six where had between 80 and 89 points and a further two seasons where his point total was in the 70's.
Ray Bourque had nine seasons when he scored more than 20 or more goals. He scored 31 goals once. He had another four 19 goal seasons.
The only NHL season that Ray Bourque scored fewer than 10 goals in a season was his last in Colorado.
Ray Bourque won five James Norris Memorial trophies in his career, slotting him behind only Orr and Doug Harvey. Bourque maintained a phenomenal .98 points per game average throughout his 1,612 game career. He scored over a quarter of a goal a game for an NHL best 410 career games. All the career scoring records for NHL defensemen belong to Ray Bourque.
7. Brad Park
Teams: NYR, Bos, Det
Size: 6'0", 190 lbs
Brad Park suffered from but also benefited from being the second-best defenseman in the league during the Bobby Orr era.
Pre-Orr a player with Park's obvious defensive skills would never have been given the free rein that coaches and general managers gave defensemen after Bobby Orr made it evident what a talented defenseman could do for his team offensively.
He suffered of course in comparison because no one was Bobby Orr. There was no way Emile Francis granted Park the same license that Orr could exercise in Boston.
Park was a bit of a pocket Potvin for the Rangers, exercising a similar physical presence. He was a great skater and supremely confident with the puck.
Playing against the completely unknown Russian speedsters in the seminal Summit Series in 1972, Park was never at a loss. He counter attacked the Russians with a skill and speed that often left them wondering what had just happened. It left a Canadian public wondering what a healthy Orr might have done in that series.
Park was chosen MVP of the last and deciding game, Game 8. Park was also named the best defenseman in the ground breaking series.
Park was an end to end rusher throughout his career with a great shot. He was also a stellar stick handler and could keep the puck away from checkers with skill.
Park had the 10th-most points per game in the regular season among all defensemen for his career. He scored well in the regular season and was another player who could gear it up for the playoffs. His .217 goals per game in the playoffs put him among the top 10 defensemen who had played at least 50 playoff games.
6. Eddie Shore
Teams: Bos, NYA
Size: 5'11", 194 lbs
Eddie Shore was another iconic Boston Bruin offensively-talented defenseman. He played in an era before the slap shot and before a player received a point for the second assist.
Eddie was renowned for his ability to take over a game. He was famous for his end to end rushes and brutal hits.
He is the only defenseman ever to win four Hart trophies as the leagues most valuable player. If the James Norris was available, Eddie would have won four at least and probably would have equalled or surpassed Orr’s eight and Harvey’s seven and Lidstrom’s six James Norris trophies if the award had been given out when he played.
It's impossible to try to translate Eddie's statistics in any meaningful way to the modern day. He was the premiere offensive defenseman. Eddie had a will to play and a knowledge of the game that made him a great if eccentric teacher of hockey skills years after he stopped playing.
5. Brian Leetch
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Teams: NYR, Tor, Bos
Size: 6'1", 190 lbs
Brian Leetch was another of the flood of talented American defensemen who came into the NHL attempting to emulate Bobby Orr. Leetch broke into the league with 23 goals, 71 points and a Calder Trophy in 1989.
He was a great skater and playmaker with a very useful point shot. When the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, it was not Mark Messier or Mike Richter who was the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. Leetch won that award with 11 goals and an incredible 34 points in 23 games. Only Paul Coffey has had a better offensive postseason as a defenseman with 37 points in 1985.
Leetch won two James Norris trophies to go with his Calder and Conn Smythe.
The Texan-born player has scored 20 or more goals in a season five times. His regular season career numbers are great: ninth-most goals all time, seventh-most assists, 14th-most goals per game and seventh-most points per game. His playoff numbers were even better. He has the second-most points per game for a defenseman in the playoffs with 97 in 95 games behind only Bobby Orr, who had 92 in 74 playoff games. He is just ahead of Paul Coffey, who had 196 points in 194 games.
The talented Leetch is one of the all-time great offensive defensemen.
4. Doug Harvey
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images
Teams: Mtl, NYR, Det, Stl
Size: 5'11", 190 lbs
Doug Harvey was an all-time great offensive defenseman born in an era where such play was characterized as risky and undesirable. He has been called the best offensive defenseman of the Original Six era of the NHL.
He was known as a non-conformist in an era, the 1950’s, when conformity was king. That resistance to conformity apparently fueled his offensive instincts. He was famous for his ability to steal the puck from attacking forwards. He favoured long passes out of his own zone after drawing the forecheckers into him. Coach Dick Irvin feared Harvey would end up coughing up the puck in front of his own net, but it almost never happened.
His prowess was recognized through-out the league. He and his mostly offensive skills won seven James Norris trophies as the league's best defenseman. He was a first team All-Star 10 times and made the second team once.
He quarterbacked one of the greatest power-plays of all time in Montreal, featuring himself and Geoffrion on the points and Beliveau, the Rocket and Bert Olmstead.
Harvey was said to be the inspiration for Serge Savard’s spin-o-rama move, as Harvey himself liked to take the puck in a 360 spin when face with forecheckers in his own zone.
Harvey was eventually dealt to the New York Rangers when he supported Ted Lindsay’s attempt to start a players association. He played in the AHL for a time, but finished his career with the St. Louis Blues at the age of 44.
3. Denis Potvin
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Size: 6'0", 205 lbs
The multi-talented Potvin broke in to the NHL as injuries were forcing Bobby Orr out. The physical Potvin was an abundantly talented skater, stick handler and playmaker. He could step up and through defenses before they realized he was moving. Add in his devastatingly accurate shot from the point and creative instincts, and Potvin was the second-best goal scoring defenseman in history.
His .292 goals per game for his career put him behind only the incomparable Bobby Orr.
His best seasons never reached the heights of Orr or Coffey. Still in 1978-79 he scored 31 goals and 101 points. He scored 20 or more goals nine times in a season, 30 or more three times.
Potvin broke into the league with 17 goals and 54 points in 77 games to win the Calder trophy. He left with 19 goals and 51 points in 72 games 14 years later.
His skills were critical to early Islander success, especially in 1975-77 where he almost singlehandedly lead the team on long playoff runs.
When the Islanders won their four Cups in a row from 1980-83, Potvin had 85 points and 27 goals in 78 playoff games.
Potvin was an incredible offensive defenseman who brought a physical game that Scott Stevens would have been happy to own.
2. Paul Coffey
Tim Smith/Getty Images
Teams: Edm, Pit, LA, Det, Har, Phi, Chi, Car, Bos
Size: 6'0", 200 lbs
Paul Coffey was perhaps the fastest man ever to lace up skates. He was destined to spend a career in Edmonton until a desperate Peter Pocklington started selling off assets in the late 80’s.
Coffey was the defenseman who broke Orr’s record for most goals in a season with 48 in 1985-86 and just missed Orr’s point record with 138 points that same year.
He was one of only two great offensive defenseman to be more than a point a game player for his entire career. His 396 goals were the second-most ever in a defenseman’s regular season career. Only Ray Bourque managed to score more with 410, while playing 203 more games.
When playoff performances are added, Coffey leads all defensemen with 455 goals in 1,603 NHL games. Bourque comes second with 451 goals in 1826 games.
Coffey was also one of those rare offensive lights who managed to be a point a game player in the playoffs. Again only he, Bobby Orr and Brian Leetch have ever managed that feat as career defensemen who played over 50 games in the playoffs.
1. Bobby Orr
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Teams: Bos, Chi
Size: 6'0", 200 lbs
Bobby Orr was the greatest offensive defenseman of all time and arguably the greatest player of all time. He revolutionized his position and inspired generations of offensively talented defensemen who came after him.
Orr was an unrivalled skater. He scored over .4 goals a game during his career. No other NHL defenseman has ever managed to score more than .3 goals a game. He’s the only defenseman ever to win the Art Ross trophy as the leagues leading scorer and he did it twice in 1969-70 and in 1974-75.
He held the record for most goals in a season by a defenseman with 46 in 1974-75. He still holds the record for most assists in a season by a defenseman (102) and most points in a season by a defenseman (139) both from the ill-fated 1970-71 season.
Orr’s 102 assists is the 12th-best assist total in NHL history for any player. Only Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky have ever had better assist totals in a season.
Orr ushered in a new post original six era with a new look at an old position. He was an offensive talent on the blue line that may never be matched.