Frank Foyston was a star in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) but never really reached the same level in the NHA, WCHL or NHL, all of which he played in for at least 39 games. Do players like Foyston, who only excelled in one of the early pro leagues, truly belong in the Hall of Fame?
If you judge strictly on the basis of Norris Trophy wins, Nicklas Lidstrom is the second best NHL defenseman of all time. Obviously Norris wins are not the only criteria we should use when evaluating NHL D, so in this episode we look at his entire career and try to figure out where he ranks all time.
Pavel Datsyuk was arguably the best two-way forward of his era, able to dominate other teams defensively without taking many penalties, while scoring enough to sometimes rank in the Top 10 in league scoring. He was the NHL’s first “Corsi God,” a player who drove possession so well that, once the NHL started tracking possession numbers, Datsyuk was simply the best player in the league by those metrics.
However, Datsyuk does not have the gaudy offensive numbers of other NHL Hall of Famers, and he was often played as the second best forward on his own team.
So where does Datsyuk rank all time? Listen to us talk about Pavel Datsyuk here:
Since the position of defenseman was created, there have been defenders who contributed to the team’s offense and there have been players who didn’t much. But this difference was exacerbated by the expansion of the NHL in 1967 and the phenomenon of Bobby Orr, who destroyed scoring records for defenders, and showed that teams could expect scoring from the back-end in ways they never imagined.
This change essentially created a dichotomy between “offensive” defensemen, who scored a lot, albeit not quite as much as Bobby Orr, and “defensive” defensemen, who didn’t score much at all. For our purposes, we’ve arbitrarily assumed that a “defensive defenseman” is a defender which manged .35 adjusted PPG or less throughout their NHL career.
The Hall of Fame’s attitude towards defensively inclined defenders also changed since expansion. The Hall of Fame has inducted six NHL defensemen from that era who scored less than .35 adjusted PPG (of a total of 16 legitimate candidates they could have inducted). But the Hall of Fame has inducted exactly one player who fits the bill, Rod Langway, to play the majority of his career since expansion.
This leads to three possible conclusions:
Rod Langway was the best defensive defenseman since expansion, significantly better than any other, and he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame while no other player with a similar skill set deserves the honour. OR
There are other players of Rod Langway’s ability who have been forgotten or overlooked because they didn’t get the awards votes (Norris and Hart) that Langway got, and they deserve to be in. OR
Rod Langway’s awards votes are a historical curiosity that won’t happen again and he didn’t necessarily deserve them, nor do other players who fail to contribute offensively, and no defensive defensemen should be inducted into the Hall of Fame going forward.
How do we sort out this problem?
That’s the topic of our latest episode. Listen here: