With Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement this week, a debate instantly sparked over who is the best defenseman of all-time. If it’s not Lidstrom, some will argue for the likes of Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, or Larry Robinson. So, who is the best NHL defenseman of all-time? Alexander and I debate…
By Alexander Monaghan
Nicklas Lidstrom is an icon, a legend, and an all-around class act. As far as my generation goes, he is the best player to ever grace the blue line. But Bobby Orr, he is not.
My father once told me, “I saw Bobby Orr’s impact on the Bruins. I saw Bobby Orr’s impact on how defensemen played the game for the last 40 years. Lidstrom is no Bobby Orr.”
Orr is, and always should be known as the best defenseman to ever lace up the skates. Throughout his short 12-year career, Orr simply dominated the competition. In eight of those seasons he earned the Norris Trophy as a top defenseman, but those accolades don’t paint a full picture.
Lidstrom may be known for his cerebral, poised nature under pressure and his superb positioning, but Orr did all that and more. Orr would skate figure eights around his competition, completing end-to-end rushes with ease. And don’t even bother trying to out-skate him, as Orr was regarded as the best skater on the ice on most nights. Compared to his competition, there were very few players like him.
In fact, if you watch the old clips, Orr simply is miles beyond any surrounding player. He completed some of the more fantastic moves of the time, and made it look like a shinny in good ol’ Parry Sound.
Back in 1998 a panel of hockey pundits, led by The Hockey News, voted on the top NHL players of all time, giving Orr the honor of being the second-best player to ever play the sport behind none other than Wayne Gretzky. If that panel was to re-vote today, there would be no doubt that Lidstrom makes the cut. But can you say he’s better than such greats as Mario Lemieux or Gordie Howe?
Orr was just that special of a player. When you think of the most famous picture in hockey, what comes to mind? Chances are you think of Orr sailing through the air after his miraculous Stanley Cup winning goal against the St. Louis Blues.
But that goal wasn’t his only award. Orr won the Conn Smythe twice, the Hart Trophy three times and the Art Ross Trophy twice while also capturing the Calder Trophy back in 1967. For his efforts, Orr sits 11th in all-time scoring among defensemen despite playing 955 fewer games than leader Ray Bourque. Imagine what he could have done with two healthy knees and a body that held up like Lidstrom.
Don’t get me wrong, Nick Lidstrom is an icon and it was a true honor to watch him play the game. If I were to take one of the two in their prime it would be Orr – and it wouldn’t be that close, either.
By Ryan Porth
I can’t sit here and tell you that Bobby Orr isn’t the best defenseman of all-time, but I can argue that Nicklas Lidstrom is the best.
When it comes to Lidstrom’s 20 years of excellence in the NHL, one of the most impressive things to think about is how many times the game has changed over that time. Lidstrom played in the early 1990’s and dominated; he played in the Dead Puck Era and dominated; he played in the Post-Lockout Era and dominated.
Despite all the changes the NHL has seen over the years, there remained one constant on defense: Nicklas Lidstrom.
When you combine durability, consistency and greatness, there may only be a few other NHLers that were better than Lidstrom.
The most games Lidstrom ever missed in a single season was 12, which happened this past season due to an ankle injury. As a result to his durability, Lidstrom played in 1,564 games – the most one player has ever played on one team.
Lidstrom’s consistency throughout his career was mind-blowing. He reached the 50-point mark 15 times in his 20 seasons, sometimes reaching 60, 70 and even 80 points. And the thing is, he wasn’t considered an offensive defenseman – he did it all in all three zones. Lidstrom also went his first 18 seasons without boasting a minus rating (in 2010-11, with a minus-2 rating, he still won the Norris Trophy).
That consistency led to his greatness. Seven Norris Trophies. Four Stanley Cups. Eleven trips to the All-Star Game. Lidstrom finished with 1,142 points, fourth all-time in Detroit’s storied history.
Lidstrom also played in the postseason in all 20 seasons, taking the ice in 263 playoff games (an additional three seasons tacked on to his career). When you think about it that’s 13 playoff games per year, meaning the Red Wings were consistently going deep in the playoffs. With Lidstrom in the lineup, the Red Wings reached the Stanley Cup Final six times and the conference finals eight times.
Throughout his career Lidstrom was considered a top-five defenseman, and that’s how he went out this week when he officially retired: a top-five defenseman. Not many others can say they were one of the NHL’s best defensemen for a 20-year stretch. For Lidstrom, he did so facing the Wayne Gretzkys and Mario Lemieuxs then, as well as the Sidney Crosbys and Alex Ovechkins now.
On the ice he was a model of greatness and consistency. Off the ice he was a model of class and respect. He’s an individual that young defensemen now look up to as a role model or their idol. When that many youngsters admire your work, when they were toddlers at the beginning of your career, that’s when you know you’ve made an impact on the sport.
Photos credit: Getty Images