Top 20 Defensemen in NHL History
Top 20 Defensemen In NHL History
Defense wins championships. That age-old mantra is proven true by nearly every player on this list, which highlights the best defensemen in NHL history. These players played one of the toughest positions in all of professional sports, and did it consistently at the highest level. While often logging more minutes than any of their star forward teammates, these players emerged as great leaders and offensive contributors while bringing home nearly every piece of hardware possible.
From game-changers like Bobby Orr to more recent standouts like Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom, this list looks at 20 defenseman who had the biggest impact on the game. Two things stand out amongst the included players - nearly every one of them has a Stanley Cup or Norris Trophy to their credit. The Norris Trophy has been awarded 58 times, but only 24 different players have taken it home. Some of these players put up incredible scoring numbers, others were key leaders on multiple championship teams and others were reliable defensive defensemen. Each had a huge impact on the game when they played, while setting an example for the current generation of players.
While current players like Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara and P.K. Subban may one day have a place on a list like this, they’re not quite there yet. Nearly every team currently in the league is represented on this list, as the way defensemen are looked at has continued to evolve from the time when there were only six teams.
20. Harry Howell
The last player to win the Norris Trophy before Bobby Orr won it eight consecutive times, Harry Howell played more than 1400 games for the New York Rangers. He was a seven-time All-Star during his 17 seasons with the Rangers, and had his number retired by the team in 2009. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.
19. Chris Pronger
While injuries have derailed the latter seasons of his career, it’s not hard to argue that Chris Pronger was one of the most dominant players in the league during the prime of his career. He won the Norris Trophy and the Hart Trophy in 2000, and won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. He has collected 698 points while playing more than 1150 career games.
18. Rod Langway
Rod Langway won the Norris Trophy two times, and won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1979. After being traded to the Washington Capitals, he led the team to 10 straight postseason appearances and served as captain. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002.
17. Scott Niedermayer
Scott Niedermayer played 18 seasons in the NHL, and won four Stanley Cups. He won the Norris Trophy in 2004, and took home the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2007 after leading the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup. Niedermayer was able to play a physical game while being reliable in his own end and also contributing on the offensive end. He finished his career with 740 points and is a no-brainer for election to the Hockey Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible.
16. Marcel Pronovost
Marcel Pronovost was one of the best defensive defensemen of his era, and won five Stanley Cups during his playing career. He won four of those with the Detroit Red Wings and another while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pronovost was lected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978, and later added three more rings as a scout for the New Jersey Devils.
15. Phil Housley
Phil Housley played for nine teams during his 21 seasons in the NHL. The most successful seasons of his career came while he was a member of the Buffalo Sabres in the 1980s, where he scored at least 20 goals in six straight seasons. While he never won the Stanley Cup, he retired as the leader in points among American-born players (later surpassed by Mike Modano). Housley finished his career with 338 goals and 1232 points.
14. Red Kelly
Red Kelly found NHL success with the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was the first winner of the Norris Trophy, and a Hart Trophy runner-up in 1954 while also winning the Lady Byng Trophy three times in his career. The eight Stanley Cups he won (four with each team) are the most of any player who was not a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
13. Larry Murphy
Larry Murphy played for six different teams during a 21-season NHL career. He scored 287 goals and collected 1216 points, while also winning four Stanley Cups. He won back-to-back Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins (1991 and 1992) and the Detroit Red Wings (1997 and 1998) and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
12. Doug Harvey
Doug Harvey was one of the first defensemen to get involved on the offensive end of the ice, helping lead the Montreal Canadiens to six Stanley Cup championships during his career. He was an 11-time All-Star and won the Norris Trophy seven times.
11. Al MacInnis
Al MacInnis won a Stanley Cup championship and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1989 while with the Calgary Flames. He would later win the Norris Trophy as a member of St. Louis Blues, and finished his career with 340 goals and 1274 points. He had one of the hardest shots in the league during his career, and in 2007 he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
10. Scott Stevens
One of the most physical defenseman ever to play the game, Scott Stevens was one of the most feared hitters in the league when he played. He won three Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils, and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2000. He played 22 NHL seasons, yet never finished with a negative mark in plus/minus.
9. Paul Coffey
Paul Coffey ranks second among defensemen in nearly every scoring category, and was a four-time Stanley Cup winner. He took home the Norris Trophy three times, and was a 14-time All-Star. He finished his career with 396 goals and 1531 points, and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
8. Brian Leetch
One of the greatest players at any position in New York Rangers’ history, Brian Leetch was a two-time Norris Trophy winner who scored 247 goals and collected 1028 points. He won the Calder Trophy in 1989 with a record 23 goals as a rookie defenseman, and was the first American-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. He took that award home in 1994, as he helped lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup championship.
7. Chris Chelios
Dominant throughout the length of his 26-season NHL career, Chris Chelios took home nearly every honor possible. A three-time Norris Trophy winner, Chelios also won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens and two with the Detroit Red Wings. He holds the record for games played by a defenseman, as well as most games played by an American-born player. He missed the playoffs just twice in his career, and scored 185 goals while putting up 948 points.
6. Denis Potvin
A key piece of the New York Islanders dynasty of the 1980s, Potvin helped lead the team to four Stanley Cup championships. He won the Norris Trophy three times, and was dominant in the regular season and the playoffs. He retired with 310 goals and 1052 points, as well as 164 points in 185 playoff games. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.
5. Eddie Shore
Eddie Shore won the Hart Trophy four times, more than any other defenseman and third overall among all players. He won two Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins during his career, and he is perhaps one of the best example of “old time hockey.” The AHL honors its best defenseman each season with the Eddie Shore Award.
4. Larry Robinson
Larry Robinson’s career was highlighted by six Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Canadiens, but his success goes beyond that. Robinson was also a three-time Norris Trophy winner and a highly-regarded leader who never missed the playoffs in his entire NHL career. He retired with 207 goals and 958 points to his credit and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.
3. Ray Bourque
Were it not for Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque would likely be regarded as the greatest player in Boston Bruins history. Bourque holds the records for most goals, assists and points by a defenseman, and although he had to join the Colorado Avalanche to finally win a Stanley Cup, most of his career success came with the Bruins. He won the Norris Trophy five times, and also won the King Clancy Trophy and Lester Patrick Trophy. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
2. Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr is regarded as not just one of the best defensemen to ever play the game, but as one of the best players in NHL history as well. He won eight consecutive Norris Trophies, three consecutive Hart Trophies, and two Stanley Cups as a member of the Boston Bruins. He was the first two-time winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, and had knee injuries not limited his playing career to 12 seasons there’s no telling how many records he would have set.
1. Nicklas Lidstrom
One of the most dominant defensemen to ever skate, Nicklas Lidstrom played 20 NHL seasons for the Detroit Red Wings without ever missing the playoffs. He won the Stanley Cup four times, the Norris Trophy seven times, and was the first European-born captain of a Stanley Cup winning team. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2002, and retired in 2012 with 264 goals and 1,152 points to his credit. He played a brains over brawn style, which helped him rarely miss a game in his career while earning the nickname “The Perfect Human.”
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