It’s not easy to move from defense to forward, or vice-versa, at the NHL level, but some have done it with success. Will Toronto’s Jake Gardiner join their ranks?
There was an item that came out of Toronto this week about the Maple Leafs toying with the idea of moving Jake Gardiner from defense to forward.
GM Dave Nonis told the Toronto Sun’s Steve Buffery the club’s brass has ruminated on the notion, since Gardiner had played some of his formative years up front, but indicated it’s not likely to transpire.
And that’s not surprising. At the NHL level, it’s rare for players to move between the back end and forward for a couple reasons.
First, the transition is difficult. These professionals have been schooled on subtleties and nuances of their positions for years and making the switch typically requires significant training.
Second, and this is applicable in Gardiner’s case, the position the player is vacating needs to be filled and that can create another headache. Gardiner is a strong-skating, solid puck-mover. Who would replace that skill set?
This is why the list of players who’ve successfully transitioned from defense to forward (or vice-versa) is relatively small. With that in mind, here are five guys who have done both well.
- Red Kelly. The gold standard of multi-positional players, Kelly won a Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best blueliner with the Detroit Red Wings in 1954, then after being traded to Toronto in 1960, excelled at center for the Maple Leafs, where he was an integral part of four Stanley Cups (bringing his career total to eight). Kelly, a Hall-of Fame inductee in 1969, ranked 22nd on The Hockey News’ Top 100 Players of All-Time list and also won four Lady Byng Trophies.
- Sergei Fedorov. A Hart Trophy and two-time Selke Award winner, Fedorov was the ultimate threat at both ends of the ice. So much so that Scotty Bowman used him at times on the blueline. Wings’ VP Jimmy Devellano was once quoted as saying he thought had Detroit left Fedorov on defense, he would have won a Norris Trophy.
- Phil Housley. The Sabres used Housley at forward for parts of a couple of seasons early in his career, trying to capitalize on his speed and skill. He ended up playing the large majority of games on the blueline, amassing 1,232 points, the fourth most ever for a defenseman.
- Dustin Byfuglien. ‘Big Buff’ has done the yo-yo between defense and forward during his professional career, most notably scoring 11 times in 22 playoff games as an immovable object during the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup run. He spent time at both positions last season for the Jets.
- Brent Burns. Take your pick: steamrolling power forward or effective hardrock blueliner. Burns can do both, and has been a revelation for San Jose as a bruising winger. GM Doug Wilson said the club will move Burns back to ‘D’, to help offset the loss of veteran Dan Boyle. Time will tell how long he stays there.
Others who’ve split time between the two positions include the smooth skating Mathieu Dandenault (DET, MTL, 1997-2009), plus enforcers such as the late Wade Belak (five teams, 1997-2011) and Randy Holt (seven teams, 1974-84).
Let us know if you think we’re missing anyone of note from the modern era.