DKM Hockey Podcast

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Remembering our Heroes: Who does number two work for?

 It's funny how we remember our hockey heroes.  The light in which we hold our sacred cows shines the way we want it.  The pending retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and the constant mentioning of Wayne Gretzky and the 1993 LA Kings got me thinking a bit.  This piece is going to challenge the way you think about the great players of all time, not diminish their accomplishments or challenge their place in history.

He played a handful of games in two seasons with the Hawks before retiring at 30.

Why do we consider Lidstrom the 2nd best defensemen of all time?  I'm assuming we're considering Bobby Orr the greatest Defensemen of All Time.  But why?  Undoubtedly he had the single best single season of all-time in 1969-70.  He's the only defensemen to lead the NHL in scoring in a single season.  Bobby Orr could play it any way you wanted it, except straight up defensively.  So why is Orr considered the greatest defensemen of all time?

Norris Trophies

Awarded to "defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position."

Orr won the Norris trophy 8 times, scoring 20 or more goals 7 of those seasons.  Lidstrom won it 7 times, never scoring more than 18 goals in any of those seasons.  Orr led defensemen (or the league) in scoring in all but one year he won the Norris.  Lidstrom led defensemen in scoring 3 of his 7 trophy years. Orr won all his Norris Trophies by age 27.  Lindstrom won his first at 31.  Was Orr a better all-round defensemen than Larry Robinson in 74, 75, and 76?

Stanley Cups

Bobby Orr won two Stanely Cups.  Nicklas Lidstrom won four.  Bobby Orr played in three Cup Finals.  Lidstrom played in six Cup Finals.  Orr won 2 Conn Smythe Trophies, leading in some sort of offensive category each year.  Lidstrom won a single Conn Smythe finishing 9th in playoff scoring that year.

Career Stats

This is where I tell fans, and most hockey writers, to be cautious.  Career Stats can be very misleading.  Lidstrom has 1142 career points, Orr has 915.  Why do career stats mislead us?  Is it because Nicklas Lidstrom played in 2.5 times more games than Orr?  Are Orr's stats that much more impressive because he did them in less time?  Well, yes and no.  If you diminish Lidstroms stats because he played for 21 seasons, then you obviously must diminish Gretzky's 894 goals in 20 seasons in light of  Mike Bossy's 573 goals in 10 seasons.  "You can't compare Bossy's 579 goals to Gretzky's 894"  Then Orr's 915 points are just 915 points, 5 spots behind Lidstrom in the all-time list.  Have I got you pulling the Obama-Cowherd "That's Not what I meant" retraction Act yet?  Career stats are career stats.  Orr is behind Lidstrom.  Stop with Plus minus - Orr is marginally better than Lidstrom.  Larry Robinson crushes them both.  If you're going to say Orr's stats are better than Lidstrom's because he did them in less time, then put Gretzky on the shelf and celebrate Bossy as the game's best all-time goal scorer.

Back to how we remember our heroes...

Just how we all remember Babe Ruth - as a member of the Boston Braves.

Do we remember Orr for his prolific scoring?  Does he win eight Norris Trophies for his all round ability?  How was his Dzone coverage?  Does is pure speed cover for his otherwise Scott LaChance-ian style of defensive play?  Orr's legacy starts with when he gets the puck on the rush. Orr revolutionized the position of defensemen to include offense, there's no doubt about it. But Lidstrom?

How do we remember Lidstrom.  Nicklas Lidstrom defines the position of defenseman.  Nicklas Lidstrom is on the ice when you need to shut down Eric Lindros, Sidney Crosby, Peter Bondra, and the entire 2001-2002 Carolina Hurricanes.  Then he torches you from the point on the Power Play.  Opponents game plan around Lidstrom.

And I leave you with this:  Orr's three consecutive Hart Trophies or Lidstrom making the playoff every year of his career.  Tough choice...

1 comment:

  1. Very good post.

    I have a very hard time with pundits who compare athletes of different eras; too many variables. Equipment, competition, xenophobia, racism, 3.2 beer, etc. Worse, half the time, these pundits have never seen the athlete even play and derive their conclusions from statistics and secondhand information gleaned from those who did actually see the athlete perform.

    I was not fortunate enough to see Bobby Orr or Larry Robinson play, I have seen Nick Lidstrom play. To borrow from Herm Edwards, it comes down to why you play the game. You play to win the game and the teams that Lidstrom played on did that in spades.

    Plus, I can only remember one time someone actually hit him with any authority. Ian Laperriere of Colorado in 2008.