NHL History: Top 10 Defensemen of This Millennium

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IISeptember 15, 2011

NHL History: Top 10 Defensemen of This Millennium

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    Every year, the NHL hands out awards to its most outstanding players of that season, giving the top three vote-getters for most of them the status of "finalist." The award for the best defenseman is called the Norris Trophy.

    The defenseman has been key to his team's success over the last decade. Eight of the Western Conference champions have had an elite blue line, as have most of the Eastern Conference champions.

    So what if we awarded a trophy for the best defenseman of the entire decade? This would certainly favor those players who were on the ice for most of the past 10 seasons (2000-01 through 2010-11, minus the 2004-05 lockout) and count only those seasons. Since picking three finalists would be too obvious, the list is expanded to 10 to make it more interesting.

Nicklas Lidstrom

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    The winner is a no-brainer. Nicklas Lidstrom has won his seventh Norris Trophy last season, all in the last decade. He was the first European captain to win a Stanley Cup and has two of them in this millennium.

    Lidstrom is a rare breed, being disciplined enough to stay out of the penalty box and not get out of position while putting up points like nobody else at the position. He has 1,108 points in 1,494 games, and last season was his first with a negative plus/minus rating; he is plus-429 for his career. Within the last 10 seasons (all past 30 years old), he has played in 801 games (missing just 19), scored 613 points and is plus-234.

Chris Pronger

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    Chris Pronger's style is much different from Lidstrom's. He is among the dirtiest players in NHL history, having been suspended nine times (including being one of only three in NHL history to be so disciplined twice in the same postseason) and racking up 1,580 penalty minutes in 1,154 games.

    But that edge makes him feared, and he asks for no more mercy than he gives. When someone tells him "everybody says" something, he asks, "Who's everybody?" When the Chicago Tribune put out a classless photo of Pronger in a dress and started calling him "Chrissy" (because women aren't tough, apparently), he said he was "day-to-day with hurt feelings."

    The reality is he is as tough as they come: He often plays 30 minutes a game, and once blocked a shot that stopped his heart, but he managed to pull his 6'6", 220-lb. frame to the bench without blood supply. He won both the Hart and Norris Trophy in 2000 (the 1999-2000 season that precedes this list).

    He has played 646 games in this span and scored 438 points while being a force in his own end. He has 686 points during his entire career.

Zdeno Chara

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    When the hulking 6'9", 260-lb. Zdeno Chara broke into the league in 1998, he was strictly a stay-at-home defenseman. After the 2000-01 season, he left the New York Islanders for the offensive-minded Ottawa Senators and developed a new aspect to his game.

    In the nine seasons that followed, he has only twice missed 10 goals and only twice fell short of 39 points. He has registered the hardest shot in the league at 105.9 miles per hour, played in five All-Star games and won the Norris Trophy in 2009.

    Despite not getting the Norris last season, it was probably his best. He became the first ever captain born behind the Iron Curtain (that's in the old Cold War days, kids—look it up!) to hoist the Stanley Cup, led the league with a plus-33 rating and won the Mark Messier award for leadership.

    Over the last decade, he has played in 779 games, had 387 points and 1,195 PIM.

Scott Niedermayer

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    Scott Niedermayer is the first person on this list to win a Stanley Cup with two different teams within the seasons in question. After winning it in 2000 (the season prior to the list), he also took it again with the New Jersey Devils in 2003 and then the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

    Niedermayer was one of the best skaters in the league and that allowed him to be an asset on both ends of the ice. He was elected to six All-Star games since 2000, won the Norris Trophy in 2004 and the Conn Smythe in 2007 for playoff MVP.

    From the time he scored 40 points in 80 games in his rookie season plus three more in five playoff games, he was an obvious star. In 12 of his 17 full seasons, he scored at least a point per two games, finishing with 740 (and just 784 PIM) in 1,263 games. During the seasons of this list, he played 666 games (he was a Devil for much of that!) and scored 425 points.

Rob Blake

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    Rob Blake is one of the best defensemen of this generation, but 11 of his 20 seasons were before the time period in question for this slideshow. Nonetheless, even when he slowed considerably in his last season as the San Jose Sharks captain, he was an excellent two-way player who could be physical, block shots and get the puck to the net.

    Over his career, Blake played in six All-Star games (three after 2000), won the Norris Trophy in 1998 and a Stanley Cup in 2001. He had 777 points and 1,679 PIM in 1,270 games. From 2000-01 through 2009-10, he played in 662 games, scored 397 points and 697 PIM.

Dan Boyle

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    Dan Boyle is not just among the best defensemen in the game today, he has been over most of the decade. Playing just 35 games with the Florida Panthers before the 2000-01 season (with 11 points and a minus-two rating), he was clearly undervalued when the decade began.

    Since then, he has won a Stanley Cup, played in two All-Star games and scored 446 points in 717 games. He is also underrated defensively, finishing just minus-26 despite playing half those seasons on teams in the bottom half of the league standings. Outside of an injury-plagued 2007-08 campaign on the second-worst team in the NHL, he was actually plus-three in the decade.

    Boyle is still going strong at 35, coming off one of his best seasons. He was second in the league in ice time per game and scored 50 points in 76 games.

Sergei Gonchar

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    Sergei Gonchar came into the league with the Washington Capitals in 1994-95 and started out as a strictly offensive player. By the time he won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009, he was a pretty good defender, too.

    However, he will always be known more for his offense. In 1,058 games he has 711 points and a plus-39 rating. Since 2000, he has been to five All-Star games, played in 694 games, scored 477 points and 569 PIM.

Brian Rafalski

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    For a guy who had to go to Europe to prove himself before breaking into the league, Brian Rafalski had one heck of a career. A great skater, he was an asset on both ends of the ice, but among the best puck-moving defensemen of the decade.

    All but one season (75 games, 32 points and plus-21) happened within the range in question, in which he scored 483 points in 758 games won a Stanley Cup with two different teams. He was only in one All-Star game, but was voted the best defenseman of the 2010 Olympics.

Lubomir Visnovsky

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    Lubomir Visnovsky has not been an outstanding two-way defender over his career that started in 2000-01. He was on the All-Rookie team that season, played in the 2007 All-Star game and was selected as a second-team All-Star last season.

    But he has been a model of offensive consistency. He has 423 points in 703 games with just 288 PIM and a plus-25 rating. Every season beyond his third, he has scored at least a point per two games.

Kimmo Timonen

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    Another puck-moving defenseman, the most valued commodity among those on the blue line, completes this list. But Kimmo Timonen was not just a scorer, but solid in his own end.

    Before 2000-01, Kimmo Timonen played in 101 NHL games and score 45 points while finishing with 56 PIM and a minus-nine rating while being named to one All-Star team. After it, he played in 793 games and scored 419 points with 482 PIM and a plus-31 rating, played in two All-Star games and was named to another.