The NHL has a rich history of amazing defensemen. From Eddie Shore to Niklas Lidstrom to Bobby Orr to Paul Coffey and others, there have been some incredibly talented blueliners. In a recent conversation with a few hockey friends, the topic of whether Victor Hedman belongs in this rarified air came up. Is Hedman an All Time NHL Defenseman?
Most long time NHL fans say Orr revolutionized the position. Having seen Orr play in his rookie year, there is no argument from me. Orr was the first defenseman in NHL history to score over 100 points in a season. He was the first defenseman to score 30 goals in a season as well as the first to score 40 goals in a season. To see him skate was magical. He was the first player I ever saw go coast to coast regularly. Prior to Orr it seemed every NHL defenseman was a stay at home defenseman. Clearly, the position is ever evolving. Orr begat Lidstrom who begat Hedman. Can’t you see that in a few short years every NHL team will have a 6’6″ defenseman who can skate like Orr and defend like Lidstrom. Let’s remember that Hedman is the first of this future prototype.
Hedman is reminiscent of Orr when he gets a head of steam going towards the opponents zone. His size prevents smaller forwards from impeding his progress. His speed prevents most defenseman in the league from keeping up with him. We’ve seen a more offensive minded Hedman the last few seasons or so. That said, Hedman reminds me more of Lidstrom than Orr. Lidstrom had very good offensive skills. He could shoot, run the power play and was one of the best passers the game has ever seen. The thing Hedman has over Lidstrom is the ability to take over a game. While in the conversation of best All Time NHL Defenseman, Lidstrom didn’t take over a game like Orr before him or like Hedman since.
Who Else Could Be An All Time NHL Defenseman?
The two other defensemen mentioned in opening paragraph, Shore and Coffey have been in the conversation for awhile. Shore played in the 1920’s and ’30s. Before anyone asks, I did not see him actually play. But I’ve read stories and saw interviews on Shore. He was a hitter and never met a check he didn’t finish. Sure the game was different and it’s reasonable to think that some current NHL team couldn’t use a Shore in today’s game.
Coffey built on Orr’s game and was a great offensive defenseman. Some might question his defensive abilities but in his era, Coffey was considered the premier NHL defenseman. Others in the mix are Doug Harvey, Scott Stevens, Chris Chelios, Larry Robinson and Dennis Potvin.
Harvey was the best in the neutral zone and in generating takeaways. Stevens was a hitting machine. Chelios had longevity in this physical position rarely seen. Robinson had an unbelievable plus/minus of +730. Imagine that! Robinson was on the ice at even strength for a whopping 730 more goals than the opponents he faced. Potvin was a great mix of offense and defense during the New York Islander heyday in the 1980’s.
So where does Hedman stack? His peers in the NHL have voted him the best defenseman in the league the last three years running. If you were starting a franchise right now and can have any player in the league, Hedman would garner a hell of a lot attention as that cornerstone player. From the perspective of Lightning fans, we’ve been blessed watching Hedman turn from that 18 year old in 2009 to where he is today.
Hedman is 30 years old and is at the top of his game. How long he can maintain that is debatable but if this season is any indication, he is not even close to trending downward. Tampa fans know he’s been one of the best for several years now. The entire hockey world saw him during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year. In case anyone forgot, he is the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Most Valuable in the playoffs. A case could have been made for his teammates like Braydon Point, Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy but Hedman came out on top. In my opinion, when the dust settles on his career, Hedman will take his rightful place as one of the best defensemen the NHL has ever seen.
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