Having already completed the Chicago Blackhawks’ best possible all-time roster’s forward group in the three posts linked below, it’s now time to turn to the defensive unit. As is the case with the three positions I’ve already done, the Blackhawks have been very fortunate to have quite a few outstanding defensemen throughout the history of their storied franchise. It should come as no shock that there are multiple Norris Trophies and First All-Star team selections split between the six players that make up this stout defensive group.
If Chicago’s three Stanley Cup winning teams have taught us anything, it’s that it’s of the utmost importance for an optimal team to have high-end talent at the top end of the defensive depth chart and highly capable role players down near the bottom. It seems unlikely that the Blackhawks would have won as many championships as they have if not for the three-headed monster of Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson leading the charge from the back end.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Blackhawks historically are not exactly lacking for worthy candidates to fill out the defensive portion of this roster. Here are the six defensemen from Blackhawk teams past and present that I’ve deemed worthy of making this dream team.
1st Pairing: Duncan Keith – Chris Chelios
It would have been a gift from the hockey gods if these two defenders had the primes of their careers overlap. The two would have been tailor-made for each other. Keith is left-handed while Chelios is right-handed, so neither of the two would have had to play on their off side. Additionally, it would have been quite the sight to see opposing players try to keep these two from absolutely dominating the pace of play and possession of the puck. It just wouldn’t have happened.
Today’s hockey fans know all about Keith. Notably and most recently, he claimed the Conn Smythe Trophy as this year’s playoff MVP following the Blackhawks’ third championship in six years. He’s also won two Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenseman, with those coming in 2010 and 2014. He was also named to the NHL’s First All-Star team in those same years. Keith is well on his way to retiring as one of the best defensemen to ever play the game.
On the other hand, members of the younger generation may not be quite as familiar with Chelios. As a Blackhawk, Chelios won two Norris Trophies in 1993 and 1996. He also was named to the NHL First All-Star Team in 1993, 1995, and 1996. Chelios was a member of the Blackhawks throughout the entirety of the 1990s. In 664 regular season games with the franchise, he compiled 92 goals, 395 assists, and 487 points. He was outstanding offensively while always being responsible in his own end and outstanding at moving the puck. These two players form what is an absolute slam dunk as Chicago’s best possible all-time top pairing.
2nd Pairing: Pierre Pilote – Brent Seabrook
I’m mixing eras big time here to put together a duo that I find to be a very intriguing possibility. There’s plenty that’s different between these two outstanding blue-liners. Chief among those distinctions being that Seabrook is still a Blackhawk while Pilote played his last game for the club in 1968.
As with Keith, anyone who has seen a reasonable amount of hockey over the past decade knows most of what there is to know about Seabrook. He’s a big, imposing, physical defenseman who excels at breaking up the opposition’s controlled zone entries while being capable of coming up with a clutch goal or offensive contribution on occasion. He won a gold medal with Team Canada at the Olympics in 2010, but outside of that his decorations are rather limited. The reason he’s included on this roster is that his contributions to the Blackhawks’ three recent championships were nothing short of indispensable.
In Pilote’s case, he was the only serious consideration to unseat Keith on the top pairing. To say that he was one of the league’s greatest defensemen in history would not be hyperbole. He won the Norris Trophy in an astonishing three consecutive seasons from 1963 to 1965. The only players to win the award at least three times since he did so are Bobby Orr or Nicklas Lidstrom. I’d say that’s pretty good company. Further, Pilote was also the runner-up for the award in 1962, 1966, and 1967. Which is to say that he finished in the top two in the award’s voting for six straight years. That is rather good, as you’ve certainly noted just now.
3rd Pairing: Doug Wilson – Robert Murray
This duo coming from the Blackhawks of the ’70s and ’80s rounds out this outstanding defensive unit. On this hypothetical bottom pairing (they obviously played together quite a bit way back when), Wilson represents the dynamic offensive-minded defenseman while Murray would take on the role of Wilson’s defensive conscience.
Before Wilson became the general manager of the San Jose Sharks, he was a Norris winning defenseman in Chicago. He took home the award in 1982. He was also the Blackhawks’ sixth overall pick in the 1977 NHL Entry Draft. He lived up to and exceeded the expectations that come along with such a draft slot with great ease. He played in seven NHL All-Star games while he was with the Blackhawks and was named to the NHL’s First All-Star team in 1982. He is Chicago’s franchise leader in points from the back end with a remarkable 779 over 938 games played.
While Murray may be the more defensively-minded player of the two, that’s not to say that he wasn’t fully capable of putting up points in his own right. In fact, his career as a Blackhawk saw him be over a half a point per game, with 514 in his 1,008 contests with the club. He joins Seabrook as the only player on this defense to never take home the Norris Trophy, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t an outstanding player in his time. All it means is that there was never a year in which Murray was the clear-cut best defensemen in the league, and he’s got Shea Weber as a modern contemporary in that club.
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There you have it for Chicago’s all-time defensive unit. If you’d like to make the case for one of the players I left off the team, feel free to do so in the comments. There are a number of excellent defensemen from the Blackhawks’ past that I was forced to leave out.
As always, thanks for reading. Stay tuned in the very near future for the conclusion of this series as I finally fill out the remainder of the roster with the goaltenders and head coach.