Defensive Defensemen

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:

Some players we discuss:

[For the full list we considered, please see this spreadsheet.]

Rod Langway

Career:

  • NHL: 1978-93; 15 seasons, 14 quality
  • 51G, 278A for 329P, +276 in 994 games; 78.1 PS
  • Langway was 13th All Time in Defensive Point Shares at his retirement
  • [Only Taiwan-born player in NHL history]
  • Draft: In his draft class (1977), Langway, drafted 36th overall, is
    • 31st in Goals
    • 12th in Assists
    • 17th in Points
    • 2nd in Plus/Minus
    • 4th in Games
  • Era: Of the 34 players to play in at least 750 games between 1978 and 1993, Langway is
    • 27th in Goals
    • 30th in GPG
    • 24th in Assists
    • 25th in APG
    • 26th in Points, PPG and Offensive Point Shares
    • 5th in Plus/Minus
    • 4th in Defensive Point Shares
    • 12th in Point Shares
  • 82-game average: 5G, 29A for 33P, +23
  • 3-year peak (1979-82): 82-game average of 8G, 36A for 44P, +57; 9.5 PS
  • No possession stats
  • Playoffs: 5G, 22A for 27P, +6 in 104 games
  • Adjusted: 40G, 223A for 263P
  • Adjusted 82-game average: 3G, 18A for 22P
  • Obviously Langway isn’t on any adjusted PG leaderboard
  • Traded with Jarvis, Engblom and Laughlin for Ryan Walter and Rick Green.
  • WHA:
    • 3G, 18A for 21P, +10 in 52 games
    • Playoffs: 0P, -2 in 4 games.

Accomplishments:

  • Norris (‘83, ‘84)
  • Top 5 in Hart voting three times [WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!?]
  • Top 5 in Norris voting a further three times
  • Top 5 in Defensive Point Shares six times (‘80, ‘81, ‘82, ‘84, ‘85, ‘86)
  • Top 5 in Plus/Minus twice
  • 1st Team All Star twice, 2nd Team once
  • 6 All Star Game appearances.

Great Teams:

  • Role Player (by points) on one Final Four (‘90 Capitals), Injured (missed half the games) in an unknown role (scored 0 points) on one Champion (‘79 Canadiens)
  • Role Player (by points) on one Canada Cup “Bronze”* (‘81 USA)

 

Brad McCrimmon

Career:

  • NHL: 1979-1997; 18 seasons, all quality (by DPS)
  • 81G, 322A for 403P, +448 (10th All Time) in 1222 games; 93.5 PS [retired right before ice time was tracked]
  • McCrimmon is 11th All Time in Defensive Point Shares
  • Draft: In his draft class (1979), McCrimmon, drafted 15th overall, is
    • 36th in Goals
    • 24th in Assists
    • 28th in Points
    • 2nd in Plus/Minus
    • 7th in Games Played
  • Era: Of the 50 players to play in at least 1,000 games played between 1979 and 1997, McCrimmon is
    • 45th in Goals and GPG
    • 44th in Assists and APG and Offensive Point Shares
    • 46th in Points and PPG
    • 3rd in Plus/Minus
    • 2nd in Defensive Point Shares
    • 18th in Point Shares
  • 82-game average: 6G, 21A for 27P, +30, 6.3 PS
  • 3-year peak (1984-87): 11G, 40A for 60P, +69; 10.6 PS [by PS]
  • No possession stats
  • Playoffs: 11G, 18A for 29P, +35 in 116 games
  • Adjusted: 65G, 267A for 332P
  • Adjusted 82-game average: 4G, 18A for 22P
  • Mentioning Adjusted PPG feels like a joke
  • Traded three times in his prime and once after
    • Prime:
      • Straight up for a young goalie (Peeters)
      • Traded for picks twice (once at the draft)
    • Later:
      • Traded for picks at a draft.

Accomplishments:

  • Top 5 in Norris voting once
  • Top 5 Player (by PS) once (‘86)
  • Best Defensive Player (by DPS) once (‘86), Top 5 three times (‘87, ‘89), Top 10 six times (‘85, ‘88, ‘92)
  • Tallied 40 assists once
  • Scored 50 points once
  • McCrimmon is one of only 9 players to have a single-season Plus/Minus in excess of +82
  • Led the league in Plus/Minus once, Top 5 six times
  • 2nd Team All Star once
  • 1 All Star Game appearance.

Great Teams:

  • Top 4 D (by points) on one Champion (‘89 Flames) and one Runner Up (‘87 Flyers), Injured (missed 8 games) on one Runner Up (‘85 Flyers)
  • Role Player (by points) on one World Junior Championship Bronze (‘78 Canada)

Glen Wesley

[Note: We cheated with Glen Wesley, as his early years playing with Ray Bourque bring his career adjusted PPG a bit higher than our cut-off, but he was one of the players who motivated us to have this chat, so we left him in.]

Career:

  • NHL: 1987-2008; 20 seasons, 19 quality (by DPS)
  • 128G, 409A for 537P, +66 in 1457 games (25th); 19:41 ATOI (since 1998-99); 104.1 PS
  • Wesley is 18th All Time in Defensive Point Shares
  • Draft: In his draft class (1987), Wesley, drafted 3rd overall, is
    • 12th in Goals
    • 9th in Assists
    • 10th in Points
    • 7th in Plus/Minus
    • 2nd in Games Played
  • Era: Of the 6 defenseman to play in at least 1250 games between 1987 and 2008, Wesley is
    • 4th in Goals, Plus/Minus and Defensive Point Shares
    • 5th (2nd last) in GPG, Assists, APG, Points, PPG, Offensive Point Shares and Point Shares
  • 82-game average: 7G, 23A for 30P, +3
  • 3-year peak (1987-90): 82-game average of 13G, 32A for 45P, +18; 8.3 PS
  • No possession stats
  • Playoffs: 15G, 37A for 52P, -1 in 169 games
  • Adjusted: 123G, 398A for 521P
  • Adjusted 82-game average: 7G, 22A for 29P
  • Traded once in his prime and once after:
    • Prime: for prospects in the off-season
    • At the deadline for picks.

Accomplishments:

  • Top 5 in Calder voting
  • Top 5 Defensive Player (by DPS) twice (‘88, ‘89), Top 10 three times (‘90)
  • Scored 15 goals once
  • Tallied 40 assists once
  • Scored 50 points twice
  • 1st Team All Rookie
  • 1 All Star Game appearance.

Great Teams:

  • Top 2 D (by points) on two Runners Up (‘88, ‘90 Bruins) and two Final Fours (‘91, ‘92 Bruins), Top 4 D on one Runner Up (‘02 Hurricanes), Bottom Pair D on one Champion (‘06 Hurricanes)

 

Bill Hajt

Career:

  • NHL: 1973-87; 14 seasons, 11 quality (by DPS)
  • 42G, 202A for 244P, +320 (24th All Time) in 854 games; 69.1 PS
  • At his retirement, Hajt was 14th All Time in Defensive Point Shares
  • Draft: In his draft class (1971), Hajt, drafted 33rd overall, is
    • 20th in Goals
    • 11th in Assists
    • 13th in Points
    • 4th in Plus/Minus
    • 7th in Games Played
  • Era: Of the 15 defencemen to play in at least 750 games between 1973 and 1987, Hajt is
    • 13th (3rd last) in Goals and GPG
    • 11th (5th last) in Assists and Points
    • 12th (4th last) in APG, PPG and Offensive Point Shares
    • 3rd in Plus/Minus and Defensive Point Shares
    • 9th in Point Shares
  • 82-game average of 4G, 20A for 24P, +31
  • 3-year peak (1975-78): 82-game average of 6G, 21A for 26P, +40; 7.6 PS
  • No possession stats
  • Playoffs: 2G, 16A for 18P, -6 in 80 games
  • Adjusted: 34G, 170A for 204P
  • Adjusted 82-game average: 3G, 16A for 20P
  • We shouldn’t have to mention he is on no adjusted per game leader boards
  • Never traded.

Accomplishments:

  • Top 5 Defensive Player (by DPS) once (‘80), Top 10 five times (‘77, ‘78, ‘81, ‘84)
  • Top 10 in Plus Minus once

Great Teams:

  • Top 4 D (by points) on one Runner Up (‘75 Sabres) and one Final Four (‘80 Sabres)

 

Dallas Smith

Career:

  • NHL: 1959-62; 1965-78; 16 seasons, 12 quality? (by DPS)
  • 55G, 252A for 307P, +318 (18th All Time, 11th All Time at his retirement) in 889 games; 69.8 PS
  • At his retirement, Smith was 18th All Time in Defensive Point Shares
  • Era: Of the 18 defencemen to play at least 750 games between 1959 and 1978, Smith is
    • 9th in Goals, GPG, Points and Offensive Point Shares
    • 8th in Assists, APG and PPG
    • 1st in Plus/Minus
    • 6th in Defensive Point Shares
    • 7th in Point Shares
  • 82-game average: 5G, 23A for 29P, +29
  • 3-year peak (1970-73): 82-game average of 7G, 31A for 38P, +62
  • No possession stats
  • Playoffs: 3G, 29A for 32P, +43 in 86 games
  • Adjusted: 53G, 241A for 294P
  • Adjusted 82-game average: 5G, 22A for 27P
  • Obviously Smith is not on any adjusted per game leaderboards
  • Never traded.

Accomplishments:

  • Top 10 Player (by PS) once (‘71)
  • Top 5 Defensive Player (by DPS) once (‘71), Top 10 three times (‘73, ‘76)
  • Led the league in Plus/Minus once, Top 5 three times
  • 4 All Star Game appearances.

Great Teams:

  • Top 2 D (led the playoffs in Plus/Minus) on one Champion (‘72 Bruins), Top 4 D (led the playoffs in Plus/Minus) on one Final Four (‘69 Bruins), Top 4 D (by points) on one Champion (‘70 Bruins), Runner Up (‘74 Bruins) and one Final Four (‘76 Bruins)

 

Terry Harper

Career:

  • NHL: 1962-81; 19 seasons, 14 quality (by DPS)
  • 35G, 221A for 256P, +254 (22nd All Time at his retirement, but only tracked by the NHL since 1967-68) in 1066 games; 78.3 PS
  • Harper is 21st All Time in Defensive Point Shares (5th All Time at his retirement)
  • Era [only a couple D played in 1000 games in his era]: Of the 13 players to play in at least 1,000 games between 1962 and 1981, Harper is
    • 13th (last) in Goals, GPG, Points, PPG and Offensive Point Shares
    • 12th (second last) in Assists and APG
    • 2nd in Plus/Minus (tracked by the NHL since 1967-68)
    • 1st in Defensive Point Shares
    • 6th in Point Shares
  • 82-game average: 3G, 17A for 20A, +20
  • 3-year peak (1973-76): 80-game average of 5G, 22A for 27P, +24; 7 PS
  • No possession stats
  • Playoffs: 4G, 13A for 17P, +8 in 112 games (not tracked by the league from 1967-68)
  • Adjusted: 33G, 211A for 244P
  • Adjusted 82-game average: 3G, 16A for 19P
  • Obviously Harper is not on any adjusted PG leaderboards
  • Traded twice in his prime:
    • Once for picks
    • Once with Dan Maloney for Marcel Dionne (!!!) and a guy I’ve never heard of.

Accomplishments:

  • Top 5 in Norris voting once, Top 5 in Calder voting
  • Best Defensive Player (by DPS) once (‘64), Top 5 three times (‘66, ‘75), Top 10 five times (‘70, ‘71)
  • Top 5 in Plus/Minus twice
  • 4 All Star Game appearances.

Great Teams:

  • Best D (by points) on one Final Four (‘63 Canadiens), Top 2 D (by points, maybe led the playoffs in plus/minus) on one Champion (‘66 Canadiens), Top 4 D (by points) on one Champion (‘71 Canadiens) and one Runner Up (‘67 Canadiens), Role Player (by points) on three Champions (‘65, ‘68, ‘69 Canadiens) and one Final Four (‘64 Canadiens)

 

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