Last week, we took a look back at some of the best forward playoff performances by decade hockey fans have ever seen. This week, we are going to consider the blueline.
The next generation of back-end all-stars has been on full display during this year’s postseason, with Cale Makar and Adam Fox head and shoulders above the rest. While we wait for the outcome of the 2022 Stanley Cup finals, let’s look back through history and recognize some of the top defensemen playoff performances. For the sake of consistency, we are only going to consider the decades since the expansion draft.
Top Defensemen Playoff Performances by Decade
The 1970s: Bobby Orr – 1972
What didn’t Bobby Orr do in 1972? During the regular season, he was second in the league in scoring, was selected as a first-team all-star, was named the all-star game MVP, won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman, and won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP.
To cap off what was already a season for the ages, he led the Boston Bruins to their fifth Stanley Cup victory, scoring the cup-winning goal and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. That playoff season he scored 5 goals and 19 assists for 24 points in 15 games.
Honourable Mention – Larry Robinson – 1978 (4-17-21 in 15 games)
The 1980s: Paul Coffey – 1985
Paul Coffey almost certainly doesn’t get enough credit in the “best defensemen of all time” debates. In the 1985 playoffs, Coffey put up 12 goals and 25 assists for 37 points in just 18 games for the Edmonton Oilers. This is still the all-time playoff points record for a defenseman.
Though he did not win the Conn Smythe trophy (Gretzky scored 47 points in 18 playoff games the same year), he did score the cup-winning goal in game five against Philadelphia Flyers.
Honourable mention – Al MacInnis – 1989 (7-24-31 in 22 games); Denis Potvin – 1981 (8-17-25 in 18 games)
The 1990s: Brian Leetch – 1994
My apologies in advance to Vancouver Canucks fans. In 1994, the New York Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. The Ranger’s playoff season that year is usually remembered for Mark Messier’s guarantee in the third round, but it was Brian Leetch that led the post-season in points.
He recorded 11 goals and 23 assists for 34 points in 23 games, the second-most points ever by a defenseman in a single playoff season. Leetch deservedly was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts.
Honourable mention – Ray Bourque – 1991 (7-18-25 in 19 games); Chris Chelios – 1992 (6-15-21 in 18 games)
The 2000s: Chris Pronger – 2006
The eighth-seed Edmonton Oilers were not supposed to go anywhere in the 2006 playoffs – they should have been easily handled by the President’s Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings in the first round. However, Chris Pronger put the team on his back and led them all the way to game seven of the Stanley Cup final.
Along the way, he recorded five goals and sixteen assists for 21 points in 24 games, all while playing 31 minutes a game. His points total was good enough for third in playoff scoring that year. Unfortunately, the Carolina Hurricanes ended up winning the Stanley Cup and Pronger signed with Anaheim the next season.
Honourable mention: Rob Blake – 2001 (6-13-19 in 23 games); Nicklas Lidström – 2007 (4-14-18 in 18 games)
The 2010s: Duncan Keith – 2015
Until recently, the Chicago Blackhawks were the closest to a dynasty that the NHL had seen since the institution of the salary cap. In 2015, they won their third cup in six years. Duncan Keith led all defensemen in scoring that post-season with three goals and eighteen assists in 23 games.
He also averaged 31 minutes of ice-time per game and was a +16. Though it was Patrick Kane who led the playoffs in scoring, Keith scored the cup-winning goal in game six of the final and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Honourable mention: Brent Burns – 2016 (7-17-24 in 24 games); John Carlson – 2018 (5-15-20 in 24 games)
What do you think of the list? Were any notable playoff performances missed? Which ones stick out in your mind. Leave a comment below to let yourself be heard.