NHL Power Rankings: Nicklas Lidstrom and the Top 25 Defensemen of All Time
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski announced his retirement recently. Fellow Wings blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom is possibly pondering retirement and even if he isn't, the 41-year-old doesn't have too many years left.
The truly great defensemen are beginning to retire from the NHL, ushering in a new era of new top defensive talent.
Before that day comes, let's take a trip down memory lane and remember the best defensemen to ever play the game.
Here are the top 25 defensemen in NHL history.
25. Doug Wilson
Wilson was a member of the Blackhawks team that was stacked on defense.
Wilson was a complete defenseman. He was skilled on both sides of the ice and was effective at clearing the net. He was also known for his slapshot.
Wilson became a Blackhawks legend, setting records for most goals and points in a single season by a Blackhawks defenseman, 39 and 85 respectively, during the 1981-82 season. Those records still stand.
He was awarded the Norris Trophy following that season, as the league's best defenseman.
Wilson finished his playing career with the San Jose Sharks and is currently their general manager.
24. Keith Magnuson
When Keith Magnuson was in his teens, the best way to get into the NHL was going the juniors route, paying your dues and hoping to garner the attention of the pros.
Magnuson chose the road less traveled, playing hockey at the University of Denver, along with his long-time friend and teammate Cliff Koroll.
After college, Magnuson signed as a free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks. He soon made a name for himself as a tough defenseman, willing to drop the gloves with anyone.
He still holds the Blackhawks record for most career penalty minutes, with 1,442.
Magnuson's number was retired along with Blackhawks blue-line legend Pierre Pilote's on November 12, 2008. Sadly, Magnuson would not see it retired, as he was killed by a drunk driver in December 2003.
23. Brian Rafalski
Brian Rafalski will go down as one of the greatest defensemen in U.S. hockey history.
Rafalski was not drafted into the NHL. Instead, he had to work through the minor and European leagues to make it into the pros.
He made his impact in all of those leagues though. Rafalski was named Defenseman of the Year in the WCHA in 1995, twice voted the SM-liiga best defenseman and once the SM-liiga best player, as voted on by his peers.
Once he got to the NHL, he made everyone that hadn't drafted him regret it. Rafalski played in five Stanley Cup Finals in his career, winning three Stanley Cups.
In international play, Rafalski won two silver medals with the U.S. national team. He was an alternate captain in Vancouver in 2010 and was named the best defenseman of the tournament.
22. Rod Langway
Rod Langway was one of the greatest Washington Capitals. Oh, and a pretty good defenseman too.
Langway played for the Montreal Canadiens from 1978-1982, when he was traded to the Washington Capitals, a trade that helped keep the Caps in D.C.
The eight-year-old Capitals had never clinched a postseason berth, but made the playoffs every season that Langway was on the team. He served as the team's captain for all 11 seasons, until he retired.
Langway won the Norris Trophy twice in his career in back-to-back seasons, 1982-83 and 1983-84, his first two as a Capital. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002.
21. Guy Lapointe
Guy Lapointe will go down in history as one of the greatest defensemen. Lapointe was an incredible two-way defenseman and quarterback of the Montreal Canadiens' power play, ironically as the mainstay at the point.
Lapointe played alongside fellow blue-line legends Larry Robinson and Serge Savard.
Lapointe still maintains the Canadiens records for most goals by a defenseman in a single season (28) and most goals by a rookie defenseman (15). Lapointe scored 622 points total in his career.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
20. Borje Salming
Borje Salming was one of the first Swedish players in the NHL, paving way for the influx of Swedish players into the league.
Salming was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs after a scout saw him play while on a scouting trip to see another player. Salming's play impressed the scout and he moved to North America.
He debuted for the Leafs in the 1973-74 season, performing so well in his first game that he was named the player of the game.
Before Salming, Swedish players were regarded as not tough enough to play in the very physical NHL. Salming helped to change that, proving himself for 20 years in the league.
In 1996, Salming was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, becoming the first Swedish player to be inducted into the HHOF.
19. Tim Horton
The name Tim Horton is more recognized as a breakfast establishment across Canada than as the name of a former hockey player.
However, once upon a time, Horton's name was only recognized as a hockey player.
Between 1961 and 1968, Horton played in 486 consecutive games, the Leafs' record for most consecutive games played. It was also the NHL's record for most consecutive games by a defenseman until Karlis Skrastins broke it.
In 1962, Horton scored 16 points, which was the Leafs record for most playoff points in a single postseason by a defenseman, until 1994.
Horton was remembered for his incredible strength and was regarded as one of the strongest players of his time.
18. Pierre Pilote
Pierre Pilote was the precursor to Bobby Orr. He was one of the first defensemen to make offense a priority while on the ice, as well as defense.
Pilote spent four years in the AHL before making it to the pros, but once there, he proved himself. He and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 1961. During that postseason, Pilote scored the game-winning or tying goal for every Chicago win.
Following that impressive performance, Pilote was named captain of the team.
Pilote was awarded the Norris Trophy in back-to-back-to-back years, 1963 through '65. He was the runner-up for the award in 1962, 1966 and 1967.
Pilote was known for his resiliency, playing 376 consecutive games at one point in his career.
17. Serge Savard
Serge Savard played for the Montreal Jr. Canadiens, before joining the pro team in 1966. In his second full season with the team, Savard helped the team to their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.
With 10 points in the series, Savard was given the Conn Smythe, the first defenseman to win the award.
Savard played 17 seasons with the Canadiens, winning eight Stanley Cup championships during his career in Montreal.
Savard was known for a spin-o-rama move that helped protect the puck from opponents. Danny Gallivan named the move for him, calling it the "Savardian Spin-O-Rama."
16. Scott Niedermayer
Niedermayer was the third overall draft pick in the 1991 NHL draft, drafted by the New Jersey Devils. He helped the franchise to their first Stanley Cup and three championships in an eight-year time period.
Niedermayer won the Norris Trophy in 2003-04, taking the award from Nicklas Lidstrom, who had won the previous three years.
He signed with the Anaheim Ducks after entering free agency in 2005, wishing to finish his career playing alongside his younger brother, Rob. Niedermayer helped the Ducks to a Stanley Cup championship, his fourth.
He retired in 2010.
15. Phil Housley
Phil Housley played for eight NHL teams in his 21-year career: the Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks and finally, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Housley is the second highest American-born point scorer in NHL history, with 1,232 points. He was the leader until Mike Modano surpassed him in 2007.
He never won a Stanley Cup; he remains the leader in most games played without winning a Stanley Cup (certainly not an accolade).
Housley was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004, the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame in 2007 and is currently eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
14. Red Kelly
The Toronto Maple Leafs passed on signing Red Kelly because their scouts predicted that he would not last more than 20 games in the NHL.
They were a little off, as Kelly ended up playing 20 years in the league.
Kelly signed with the Detroit Red Wings and played 13 seasons with the club. He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team that had scorned him, in 1960. Once with the Leafs, Kelly was switched from defense to centre.
The switch wasn't that difficult, as Kelly had always been known for his offensive production.
Red Kelly has the most Stanley Cup rings than any player who never played for the Montreal Canadiens. He has eight. He also won three Lady Byng Trophies for gentlemanly conduct, as well as one Norris Trophy.
13. Larry Robinson
Larry Robinson spent 20 seasons in the NHL, playing for the Montreal Canadiens and Los Angeles Kings.
In 17 seasons with the Canadiens, Robinson helped the franchise win six Stanley Cup Championships. He was the recipient of the 1978 Conn Smythe Award.
He won the Norris Trophy twice.
Robinson was a surprisingly mobile defenseman, considering that he was 6'4" and 225 pounds.
Robinson was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995 and his number, 19, was retired by the Montreal Canadiens in 2007.
12. Chris Chelios
Chris Chelios played 26 seasons in the NHL, from 1983-2010, retiring when he was 48. He was the second oldest active player of all time.
During his career, Chelios played for the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and Atlanta Thrashers.
He played in an NHL record 24 postseasons, only missing the playoffs twice. He won two Stanley Cups, one with the Canadiens and one with the Red Wings.
Chelios also won three Norris Trophies in his career.
11. Larry Murphy
Larry Murphy was drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1980 NHL draft. In his first season with the Kings, Murphy set NHL records for most assists and points by a rookie defenseman, 60 and 76 respectively.
A few years later, Murphy was traded to the Washington Capitals. Murphy also played for the Minnesota North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, in addition to the Kings and Capitals, over the course of his 21-year career.
During his time with Pittsburgh, Murphy employed a play dubbed the "Murphy Dump" by a Penguins commentator. Murphy would dump the puck into the other team's zone, in front of the net, avoiding an icing call.
Murphy was part of four Stanley Cup winning teams in the 1990s, back-to-back championships with the Penguins and back-to-back championships with the Red Wings.
He has 1,216 career points, fifth all-time amongst defensemen. He also broke Tim Horton's record for most career games by a defenseman, with 1,615, but it was surpassed a few years later by Scott Stevens.
10. Al MacInnis
Al MacInnis played 23 seasons in the NHL, for the Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues.
He won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy for his performance. He was nominated for the Norris Trophy three times before finally winning it in 1999 during his time with the Blues.
The season after winning the Stanley Cup, MacInnis scored 103 points. It was just the fourth time an NHL defenseman scored 100 points or more.
MacInnis was known for having the hardest shot in the league. His shot was so hard that it split St. Louis Blues' goaltender Mike Liut's mask during a game in 1984. He won the NHL All-Star Hardest Shot competition seven times with his lethal shot.
9. Paul Coffey
Paul Coffey played 21 seasons for the Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins in the NHL.
In 1983-84, the beginning of the Oilers dynasty, Coffey scored 40 goals, only the second time the feat had been accomplished in NHL history.
Coffey won four Stanley Cups in his career, three with the Oilers and one with the Penguins. He also won three Norris Trophies in his career.
He was famous for his speed and scoring prowess and is second all-time in goals, assists and points by a defenseman.
He was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004 and his uniform number, 7, was retired by the Oilers in 2005.
8. Brian Leetch
Brian Leetch was known for his playmaking skills, as well as his defensive skills.
Leetch won the Calder Trophy, as rookie of the year in 1989, after scoring 23 goals, which remains a record for most goals scored by a rookie defenseman.
During the 1991-92 season, Leetch scored 102 points. He is one of only five defenseman to score more than 100 points in a season.
Leetch was and still is the only American-born recipient of the Conn Smythe Award. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
When Leetch's number, 2, was retired by the New York Rangers, former teammate Mark Messier called Leetch the "greatest Ranger of all time."
7. Scott Stevens
Scott Stevens played 22 seasons in the NHL for the Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils.
Stevens was the greatest captain in Devils history, leading them to four Stanley Cup Finals appearances and three championships. He was the recipient of the Conn Smythe in 2000.
Stevens was known for his fierce body checking. He also has the most penalty minutes of anyone in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In all of his 22 seasons, not once did Stevens end a season with a negative plus/minus rating. Despite all of his defensive accomplishments, Stevens never won a Norris Trophy.
6. Denis Potvin
Denis Potvin played 15 years for the New York Islanders. He won the Calder Trophy his rookie season and his first Norris Trophy in 1976. He would win two more in his career.
He was an integral part of the New York Islanders dynasty that won four Stanley Cup championships.
In 1979, Potvin became the second defenseman to score 30 goals and 100 points in a single season (the first was Bobby Orr).
After that season, Potvin was named captain of the Islanders. In his first season as captain, the team won their first of four consecutive Stanley Cups and five consecutive Stanley Cup Finals appearances.
The Islanders made the playoffs every season of Potvin's eight-year tenure as captain.
5. Eddie Shore
Eddie Shore is one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history, known for his defensive toughness. He played for the New York Americans and Boston Bruins, from 1926-40, winning two Stanley Cup Champions.
Shore was so tough that he once almost had his ear cut off in a game and when the doctor sewed it back on, he refused to be put under, instead watching the procedure.
All hockey players are tough, but that's beyond tough.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947 and his number, 2, was retired by the Boston Bruins that same year.
4. Doug Harvey
Doug Harvey was the greatest defenseman of his time and one of the greatest of all time.
He played from 1945-69 for the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings, Baltimore Clippers, Buffalo Bisons, Pittsburgh Hornets and Quebec Aces.
Scoring wasn't a part of the defenseman's duties during Harvey's time, but he contributed to the Canadiens' high-scoring seasons.
Harvey won six Stanley Cups in his career and an incredible seven Norris Trophies.
3. Ray Bourque
Ray Bourque spent 21 seasons in a Boston Bruins uniform, 15 of them as captain, the longest-serving captain in Bruins' history.
While part of the team, the Bruins continued a 29-year consecutive playoff berth streak.
Despite a successful career as a Bruin, the Stanley Cup had eluded Bourque. Until he played his final season with the Colorado Avalanche, when he finally won the Cup in his final NHL game.
He won five Norris Trophies in his impressive career.
Bourque ended his career leading the NHL in career goals, assists and points by a defenseman.
Bourque was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004 and his number, 77, was retired by both the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche, one of only six players in NHL history to have his number retired by more than one team.
2. Nicklas Lidstrom
Nicklas Lidstrom has played for the Detroit Red Wings since 1987. Lidstrom succeeded The Captain, Steve Yzerman, as captain of the Wings.
Yzerman had big shoes to fill, but Lidstrom filled them as well as anyone can.
In his time with the Wings, Lidstrom has won four Stanley Cup championships, six Norris Trophies and been voted into 11 All-Star games. So far, at least.
Lidstrom's biggest skills are his ability to see the ice, read the play and force turnovers, rather than just be a physical body-checking presence.
Lidstrom's name will forever be in the same breath as the greatest NHL defensemen and hopefully we'll have at least another year to watch him play.
1. Bobby Orr
It is almost an impossible feat to overtake Bobby Orr as the greatest defenseman of all time. Orr paved the way for the offensive defenseman, combining speed and play-making with defensive skills. He truly changed the way defensemen now play the game.
Orr is the only defenseman to win two Art Ross Trophies, as the league's leading scorer. He also holds the NHL records for most points and assists in a single season by a defenseman.
Orr won a record eight-consecutive Norris Trophies as the league's best defenseman. He also won three consecutive Hart Trophies.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979. At age 31, he was the youngest player at the time to be inducted into the HHOF.