The debate rages on about who the greatest NHL defenseman of all time may be. Names like Paul Coffey, Raymond Bourque, and Chris Chelios come to mind. These were all great players in their own right, but the conversation always seems to boil down to two elite players, Bobby Orr and Nicklas Lidstrom.
This season Nicklas Lidstrom will move post Alex Delvecchio for tenth on the all-time games played list. As of Feb 10, 2012 Lindstrom has 1548 games played in the NHL.
Until recently there was no argument. The greatest defenseman in NHL history has unquestionably been Bobby Orr. The only problem is Orr's career only lasted 657 games, until he was forced to retire because of a knee injury.
In raw numbers Lidstrom is either catching up with or eclipsing Orr's career numbers. As of Feb 10, 2012 Lidstrom had 263 goals, he will likely eclipse Orr's career goals of 270 this season. Lidstrom has 873 career assists and 1136 career points. Compare that with Orr's 645 assists and 915 points.
Sometimes great players go deeper than great numbers. Orr was the NHL's first great two-way defenseman. What is truly amazing is the career numbers that Lidstrom has put up in the last twenty years, Orr managed to do about the same in ten years.
A short resume for Bobby Orr would read like this: Won 2 Stanley Cups, eight Norris Trophies (best defenseman), three Hart Trophies (MVP), and two Conn Smyth Trophies (playoff MVP). In the 1969-70 season Orr claimed the Art Ross, Conn Smyth, Hart, and Norris Trophies in the same year. Oh yea, and a Stanley Cup too.
If you were to track a player's stats over a ten year time period, Bobby Orr would undoubtedly be the greatest defenseman in NHL history, but shouldn't consistency count for something?
Lidstrom has delivered consistent play for the last 20 years in Detroit. Over that time he has compiled four Stanley Cup wins and seven Norris Trophies. Not only that, he has done it all with the same team for his entire career which is a modern day oddity.
A good case could be made for both players. When Lidstrom retires in the next few years he will undoubtedly go out a champion. He is a role model to kids and a template for adults of how to play the position.