Skip to main content Blog: What makes a No. 1 defenseman?

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

My most enjoyable times at work are the moments when perception becomes reality.

We love to joke at The Hockey News about the mistaken impressions people have of our office dynamic. Sadly, there is no collection of high-definition televisions displaying hockey highlights 24/7. In fact, most days the ’80s relic of a television we do have gets cranky when you try to go above channel 14.

Heated debates are definitely commonplace, but they’re just as likely to be over semicolon use as, “Crosby or Ovie?”

Enough curtain pulling. The truth is, The Hockey News office is an amazing place to “work” especially when spontaneous arguments like the one a handful of us had earlier this week crop up and force the less-glamorous aspects of churning out a magazine to the back row.

In light of Mike Green lighting the lamp for a seventh straight game Wednesday night versus the Rangers, I thought it pertinent to reprise the debate here for a broader audience: How many true No. 1 defensemen are out there and where do you draw the blueline when determining what defines that label?

The first part of the question came up after we’d collectively denied about eight names of No. 1 status.

“Kimmo Timonen?”

“What, Finland’s ‘I can’t believe it’s not Lidstrom!?’ No way.”

“Dion Phaneuf?”

“He’s not even the best defenseman on his team!”

“Duncan Keith?”

“Nah. He and Brent Seabrook are co-dependant.”

Green was an interesting flashpoint because it got us wondering whether a purely offensive guy could be considered a No. 1 defender. Some were adamant Green was worthy of the distinction, putting forth the notion he’s got more offensive thrust than anyone at his position since Paul Coffey.

Others couldn’t reconcile the fact that position has the word ‘defense’ in it and in order to be among the very best at your craft, you have to be equally astute in all areas.

And what about physical play? Can somebody who’s not a crusher be on the list? Yes, it was determined, otherwise we’d have to explain to Nicklas Lidstrom why he fell short. Essentially, you don’t need to mangle opponents as long as you’re able to eliminate scoring opportunities with great positioning and a quick stick.

Of course, some we deem unworthy of No. 1 status today could achieve it by validating their game with a Stanley Cup ring. Not many people thought Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg could be the go-to forwards on a championship team; then the Red Wings cruised to the Cup last spring with Zetterberg taking playoff MVP honors and Datsyuk finishing right behind him in team post-season scoring.

If Jay Bouwmeester anchored a Cup-winning defense corps, don’t you think that overrated label would disappear in a hurry?

Ultimately, we weren’t able to pin down an exact outline for what constitutes No. 1 status. Basically, it comes down to playing both offense and defense at exceptionally high levels and never having to be paired with someone who compensates for a deficiency in your game.

At the high end of that definition, you’ll find this short list of players: Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara and we’re going to go ahead and include Dan Boyle, too.

That leaves about 10 defensemen you would love to have on your team with a 1-A ranking.

Will any of those guys break into the elite as the games get more significant down the stretch? We will surely be tuned in here – provided the games aren’t above channel 14.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.


1972 Cornwall Royals

The 1972 Memorial Cup and its Impact on the 1982 Stanley Cup Final

The 1972 Memorial Cup was the first of its kind - a forerunner of the modern tournament. Its underdog champion would shock the world, and a decade later, fate would bring several of its combatants back for a fight for the Stanley Cup.


Lightning Trade McDonagh to Predators

The Tampa Bay Lightning have traded defenseman Ryan McDonagh to the Nashville Predators in exchange for defenseman Philippe Myers and forward Grant Mismash.

Conor Geekie

Conor Geekie is the Player Every NHL Coach Wants

Mix in a big frame, great offensive numbers and a reliable two-way game and you've got a great asset in Conor Geekie. It won't be long until his name is called on draft day this July.