In contrast to analyzing the Top 10 Most Effective Sin Bin Dwellers, it’s time to investigate their counterparts – blueliners who play the game with tremendous effectiveness, but rarely penalized for infractions. In the post-lockout era of the NHL, with the intentional crack down on the clutching and grabbing, this is all the more impressive for today’s NHL defenseman.
As per Wikipedia, “Bill Quackenbush and Red Kelly are the only defensemen to have won the Lady Byng Trophy, since then no defenseman has won in over fifty years, the closest being Nicklas Lidström who lost to Joe Sakic in 2000-01.”
When Lidstrom finally decides to hang up his blades, I for one would like to see a trophy in his honour be created, “given to the player (specifically, a defenseman) adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”, as Legends of Hockey notes is the criteria for the Lady Bying Memorial.
Here are the Top 10 blueliners who deserve a trip to Sin City, Las Vegas that is, in recognition of their incredible sportsmanship and defensive acumen while fending off NHL forwards and opposing offensive defensemen, and chipping in offensively themselves at the other end of the rink.
(*Note: Based on stats from last season, I’ve arbitrarily chosen 50 PIMs per 82 games as the cut-off to qualify for this list.)
10. Rob Scuderi: The “Scud Missile” put together his best NHL campaign at the age of 30 and cashed in, signing with the LA Kings for $3.4 million per season in the offseaon. The shutdown defender has limited offensive talent. However, the consummate team player quietly and effectively goes about his business in his own zone, blocking shots and killing penalties. Last season, he managed 16 points in 81 games, was a plus 23 and incredibly had just 18 penalty minutes.
In this clip, Scuderi hip-checks Danius Zubrus in a tilt last season in April 2009:
9. Jan Hejda: 21 points in 82 games tells little of Hejda’s value to the Blue Jackets. His plus 23 rating hints more at how the steady the rear guard utilizes his size and defensive hockey acumen. The next closest Blue Jacket in the plus/minus department was a plus 12. Although quite aggressive and assertive in his own end, he amassed just 38 penalty minutes. Columbus hopes he gets back soon from his recent leg injury.
8. Johnny Oduya: At $600,000 per year, the Devils had themselves a bargain blueliner last season, but rewarded him with a $3 million per year contract in the offseason. He notched 29 points in 82 games and once again eclipsed the plus 20 rating for the second season in a row at plus 21. As THN notes, Oduya “Is a great skater with persistence and aggression in the defensive zone. Owns an infectious attitude and is a solid teammate.”
7. Denis Grebeshkov: The former first round pick of the LA Kings finally seems to put all the tools together last season and had a breakthrough campaign. He had 39 points in 72 games, was plus 12 and had just 38 PIMs while playing over 21 minutes a game. He is a well-rounded rear guard and isn’t afraid to lay the body when the situation calls for it.
6. Paul Martin: The underrated solid two-way defender quietly anchors the Devils blueline. He notched 33 points in 73 games, with plus 21 rating and just 36 PIMs.
5. Brian Rafalski: Nik Lidstrom’s partner in crime, or is it hockey law abiding citizen, had another fantastic season with 59 points in 78 games, tied for 3rd in scoring amongst defenseman. He was also a plus 17 and accumulated just 20 PIMs. The 36 year old rear guard has an extremely high hockey IQ and is a smooth offensive operator.
4. Marc-Edouard Vlasic: Amazingly, the underrated Vlasic is still just 22 years old. The super cool, mature beyond his years blueliner quietly amassed 36 points while suiting up for all of the Sharks 82 games last season. He was a plus 15 and had just 42 penalty minutes while averaging just under 24 minutes per game. He is perhaps better known for his near mistake free play in his own zone.
3. Andrei Markov: Unfortunately, the elite Habs defenseman is currently out until February with an ankle injury. Last season, Markov was the league’s second leading scoring defenseman with 64 points in 78 games, second only to Mike Green. Markov had just 36 PIMs.
2. Dennis Wideman: Like other Bruins, Wideman is off to a less than stellar start to this season, but last year was a dream campaign for the blueliner. He registered 50 points in 79 games, was a plus 32 and had just 34 PIMs while playing almost 25 minutes a game, proving he is more than a power play specialist.
1. Niklas Lidstrom: The King of the Hill of this list is a no-brainer and I foreshadowed this selection in the introduction. Last season he averaged almost 25 minutes per game and in 78 contests had 59 points, was a plus 31, while spending 30 minutes in the sin bin. When it’s all said and done, he will discussed amongst the greatest blueliners who ever played the game.