NHL History: The 10 Greatest Defensemen To Never Win a Norris Trophy
Since being introduced in the 1953-54 season, the Norris Trophy has been awarded annually in the NHL to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability at the position.
Twenty-three different defensemen have won this award since its inception—from Red Kelly to Bobby Orr to Denis Potvin to Nicklas Lidstrom, with Orr leading the way with eight wins.
Even though many of the greats have been honored with this trophy, there are some who have not been so lucky and have been on the outside looking in.
Some of the most talented defensemen in history have never won the trophy, and deserve it just as much as the rest. Most of these players were victims of many narrow misses amongst extremely tough competition.
Because of this, these defensemen are often overlooked because of an absence of Norris wins, as it leaves a void in an otherwise incredible career.
In this list, I will recognize the 10 greatest players who were never able to take home the defenseman holy grail.
Note: Defensemen who hit their prime before the trophy was introduced will not be included in this list (Eddie Shore never won a Norris, just because he retired before it was established).
Pronger-esque defenseman with superb offensive proficiency. Had eight monster seasons with Calgary, including a Calder-winning rookie season and a 91-point season in which he finished third in Norris voting.
Tremendous defensive defenseman with an offensive upside. Is a seven-time Stanley Cup winner, one-time Conn Smythe winner, named to second All-Star team once, played in four All-Star Games and finished in the top five in Norris Trophy voting four times.
The Hall of Famer established himself as one of the greatest defensemen of the '50s and '60s. Is a two-time first-team All-Star, five-time Stanley Cup champion and finished runner-up to Doug Harvey in Norris voting in 1961.
Honorable Mentions: Steve Duchesne, Sergei Gonchar, J.C. Tremblay, Eric Desjardins, Kevin Lowe, Vladimir Konstantinov, Mike Green, Allan Stanley, Dan Boyle, Fern Flaman, Brad McCrimmon, Carl Brewer, Craig Hartsburg, Kevin Hatcher, Al Iafrate, Shea Weber, Jim Neilson, Rob Ramage, Pat Stapleton, Teppo Numminen.
10. Sergei Zubov
Closest Norris Finish: Third (2006)
One of the most consistent players to ever lace up a pair of skates, Zubov played 16 seasons in the NHL; in 15 of them he scored 30-plus points, in 12 of them he scored 40-plus points, in eight of them he scored 50-plus points and in three of them he scored 60-plus points, including an incredible 89-point season in 1993-94, which led all defensemen.
That same year, Zubov scored five goals and assisted on 14 others in the postseason to help the Rangers win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years (he won another Cup with Dallas in 1999).
Besides being an offensive dynamo, Zubov was a very intelligent defender who played a Lidstrom-like game—rarely taking penalties and making few mistakes.
Zubov was named to the NHL’s second All-Star team in 2006 and played in three All-Star Games over the course of his career.
9. Guy Lapointe
Closest Norris Finish: Second (1973)
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993, Lapointe was a key part of an unstoppable Montreal defensive corps during their years of Stanley Cup dominance in the 1970s.
Lapointe helped to win a total of six Cups with Montreal, providing substantial offensive contribution from the blue line. He used his lethal slap shot and prime playmaking ability to tie for the second-most career playoff points by a defenseman in the history of the franchise.
He shined just as bright in the regular season, as he was a three-time 20-goal scorer, a two-time 70-point scorer and finished second to Bobby Orr in Norris voting in 1973.
Lapointe was named to the NHL’s first All-Star team once and the second All-Star team three times. He additionally played in four All-Star Games.
8. Phil Housley
Closest Norris Finish: Third (1992)
As one of the greatest offensive defensemen in NHL history, Housley’s scoring totals are remarkable for a D-man, even most forwards could never dream of amassing the numbers that Housley accumulated.
Some examples of his scoring prowess are: seven 20-goal-plus seasons (including one 31-goal season), 12 60-point-plus seasons (including a 66-point rookie season and a 97-point season), 338 career goals and 1,232 career points (both totals fourth all-time for defensemen, behind Bourque, Coffey and MacInnis). He is also the second-highest-scoring U.S.-born player in NHL history, behind Mike Modano.
While offensively brilliant, Housley was average to mediocre in his own end, as he has a career plus/minus rating of minus-53. Even in his 97-point season, he still managed to finish with a minus-14. Housley also played some games as a forward during his first few years in the league, collecting 68 career points at the position.
In his 21-year career, he also never raised the Stanley Cup over his head. These are all factors that are keeping Housley out of the Hall of Fame for now.
He is a one-time second-team All-Star and played in seven All-Star Games.
7. Bill Gadsby
Closest Norris Finish: Second (1956, 1958, 1959)
Playing in an era where defensemen usually didn’t contribute offensively, "The Great" Gadsby was far ahead of his time.
The Hall of Famer put up five seasons of 40 points or more with Chicago and New York, twice hitting the 50 mark, which was an incredible feat at the time. He set the record for assists by a defenseman in a season with 46 in 1959, and became the first defenseman in history to amass 500 points. When he retired in 1966, he was 20th all-time in scoring for any position. Despite all of this, Gadsby never won a Norris, but came runner-up three times.
He was no slouch as a defender either. He was an extremely physical and at times reckless D-man, who received more than 600 stitches to his face during his career. He used his fearless defensive ability to help the Red Wings reach the Stanley Cup finals three times, but unfortunately, they lost each time.
Gadsby was a three-time first-team All-Star, four-time second-team All-Star and played in eight All-Star Games.
6. Borje Salming
Closest Norris Finish: Second (1977, 1980)
Being one of the first Europeans to make an impact in the NHL, Borje Salming has paved the way for many of the greats and almost single-handedly eradicated the hatred for Europeans in the league, because his superb, gritty and respectable play countered the European "chicken" hockey stereotype.
Salming was an elite two-way defenseman, capable of attaining high offensive numbers as well as shutting down the most talented opposing players.
He holds numerous Toronto team records including: most career regular-season assists (620), highest career plus/minus rating (plus-155) and most career regular-season goals and points by a defenseman (148 and 768).
Salming was named to the NHL first All-Star team once, the second All-Star team five times and played in three All-Star Games.
5. Tim Horton
Closest Norris Finish: Second (1964, 1969)
As well as being one hell of a donut-maker, Horton was one hell of a hockey player.
An absolute defensive force for Toronto, he led the team to four Stanley Cup wins during the 1960s. Horton was described by his opponents as one of the strongest players and heaviest hitters to set foot in the NHL. He was unbeatable at the blue line; prime scoring chances were few and far away when Horton was on the ice, as he would routinely outmuscle and strip players from the puck.
He was also an ageless wonder, as he played quality hockey right up until his death at the age of 44.
Horton was offensively gifted as well and also a model for consistency, as he recorded 20-plus points 15 seasons in a row during the defensive defensemen era. It is claimed by some that Horton was the first player in the NHL to use the slap shot as a reliable offensive weapon.
He was a first-team All-Star three times, a second-team All-Star three times and played in seven All-Star Games.
4. Larry Murphy
Closest Norris Finish: Third (1987, 1993)
Through two decades of solid, consistent play, Murphy quietly established himself as one of the greatest defensemen of the modern era.
Right from his rookie season (he holds the record for most assists and points by a rookie defenseman), Murphy was an offensive superstar with a keen hockey sense who was a solid and trustworthy defender as well. He is a five-time 20-goal scorer, a seven-time 50-assist scorer and a five-time 70-point scorer, whose season high is 85 points. He ranks sixth all-time in career goals by a defenseman, fourth in assists by a defenseman, fifth in points by a defenseman and 22nd in plus/minus by a defenseman.
He also won four Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh and Detroit.
Despite being overshadowed by the likes of Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey and Chris Chelios, who were all hitting their primes at the same time as him, he still was a second-team All-Star three times, played in three All-Star Games and finished in the top five in Norris Trophy voting four times.
3. Mark Howe
Closest Norris Finish: Second (1983, 1986, 1987)
There’s not too many defensemen in history with the all-around ability that Mark Howe had; he simply did everything on the ice.
Howe was a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s. He was incredible offensively and defensively—on the power play, shorthanded, in the playoffs. You name it, Howe was great at it.
He was a three-time 20-goal scorer and two-time 80-point scorer. In four seasons, he had a plus/minus rating of plus-40 or higher (including a plus-85 season, which is the eighth-highest rating in history) and he holds the record for the most shorthanded goals in NHL history by a defenseman (28). Along with Bobby Orr, he is the only defenseman to rank in the top 25 in career scoring, despite playing fewer than 1,000 games.
Howe also led the Flyers to three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, but lost each time.
He is a three-time first-team All-Star and played in four All-Star Games.
2. Scott Stevens
Closest Norris Finish: Second (1988, 1994)
Known as a devastating hitter, shutdown defenseman and long-time Devils captain, Stevens’ memorable and iconic career spanned 22 seasons and 1,635 games, and it's hard to believe that in that much time, he never won a Norris Trophy.
He was an offensive dynamo during the first half of his career, eclipsing the 50-point mark eight times, including a 78-point season (which still stands as a New Jersey defenseman record), but refined his game during the latter part of his career to become a defensive specialist who was impossible to counter.
Stevens captained the Devils to three Stanley Cup Championships during his career, with his defensive performances earning him a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2000, after leading the league in plus/minus.
He is a two-time first-team All-Star, three-time second-team All-Star and played in 13 All-Star Games.
1. Brad Park
Closest Norris Finish: Second (1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978)
Damn that Bobby Orr.
Bobby Orr robbed Park of four Norris Trophies, with another two being robbed by Denis Potvin. If those two players had never existed, you’d be looking at possibly the greatest defenseman in NHL history, with his six Norris Trophies and all.
Brad Park was one of the most talented two-way defensemen in history. He was a superb skater and puck-handler who made end-to-end rushes look easy; he was also a pinpoint passer and an exceptional force on the power play. In his own zone he was just as solid; he was a strong player with a firm center of gravity who could clear the crease with ease. He was also an aggressive checker and shot-blocker.
Despite all of this, Park played at a time where Bobby Orr was breaking records every night, and therefore, never got the true recognition that he deserved.
He was a three-time 20-goal scorer, a 10-time 50-point scorer (with his season high being 82 points) and twice recorded a plus/minus rating of plus-60 and higher. He accomplished all of this while playing at a time where offensive defensemen were rare, as he and Orr were basically the only ones in the league during the late '60s and early '70s.
Park is a five-time first-team All-Star, a two-time second-team All-Star and played in nine All-Star Games.