Monday, June 4, 2012

Lidstrom or Bourque?



Now that Niklas Lidstrom has hung up the blades and retired the axe, the debate will rage as to where he ranks among all-time defencemen in NHL history. Bobby Orr is the undisputed greatest d-man ever. The general consensus has Eddie Shore and Doug Harvey among the top five. My belief is that the rest of the top five is occupied by Lidstrom and Ray Bourque. I'll look at only these two for now, as their careers overlapped for a full ten seasons. Who should rank higher? Bourque or Lidstrom?

Hockey-reference.com is an invaluable resource, and on top of all the standard numbers they have a category called Point Shares. Based on the baseball rating Win Shares originated by Bill James, it basically estimates how many team points in the standings each player contributes in any given year. Point Shares is a combination of Offensive and Defensive contributions as well, so mathematics aside it is a terrific tool to use when comparing players. First, let's look at the first 12 seasons of Bourque's career and see just how much better overall he was than everyone else. (OPS= Offensive Point Shares, DPS=Defensive Point, PS= Total Point Shares)

1979/80 - 1990/91                                 

                  GP  OPS   DPS     PS
Bourque   870   68.6   70.3   138.9         1st All-Star (8), 2nd All-Star (4) Norris (4)
Coffey      809   79.8   37.1   116.9         1st All-Star (3), 2nd All-Star (4), Norris (2)
Robinson  830   35.8   62.4    98.2          2nd All-Star (2)
Wilson      805   50.1   44.4    94.5          1st All-Star (1), 2nd All-Star (2), Norris (1)
Howe        702   39.7   52.3    92.0          1st All-Star (3)
Murphy     780   42.2   48.9    91.1          2nd All-Star (1)
Housley     686   46.8   37.1   83.9          

As we know, Bourque was head and shoulders above all others during the 1980's. Using Point Share totals, Bourque was 20% better than his nearest rival Paul Coffey and almost 50% better than anyone else. Ridiculous.

Then, along came Lidstrom. He entered the league as a 21 year old while Bourque was 31. The two were contemporaries for the next 10 seasons. Here's how they stack up with the other leading defenders.

1991/92 - 2000/01

                   GP  OPS   DPS     PS
Bourque    742  55.2   48.6   103.8           1st All-Star (5), 2nd All-Star (2), Norris (1)
Lidstrom   775  47.2   52.6     99.8           1st All-Star (5), Norris (1)
MacInnis   656  49.7   45.3     95.0           1st All-Star (1), 2nd All-Star (1), Norris (1)
Leetch       702   54.7  36.1     90.8           1st All-Star (2), 2nd All-Star (2), Norris (2)
Murphy     755   43.3  42.6     85.9           2nd All-Star (2)

Amazingly, Bourque is still at the top of the heap right through to his retirement. Lidstrom was a close second in total Point Shares even with the relatively slower start to his career. He didn't make a year-end All-Star team until his 7th season. The top five was a lot tighter grouped than had been in the 80's but Bourque and Lidstrom were a clear 1 & 2 over the time period.

After Bourque retired, Lidstrom really stepped forward as the undisputed premier defender in the game. His lead over second place Zdeno Chara is substantial but not quite as dominating as Bourque was over his first dozen seasons.

2001/02 - 2011/12

                   GP  OPS   DPS     PS
Lidstrom   711  46.0  55.5   101.4             1st All-Star (6), 2nd All-Star (2), Norris (6)
Chara        701  36.1  50.3     86.4             1st All-Star (2), 2nd All-Star (3), Norris (1)
Boyle        663  39.6  37.6     77.3             2nd All-Star (2)
Rafalski    604  30.0   43.1    73.1
Gonchar    616  40.0  28.8     68.8             2nd All-Star (2)

When push comes to shove and a choice has to be made between Bourque and Lidstrom, I believe Bourque's relative dominance over his peers and his quicker ascent to the top tier makes him the one I would select.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lidstrom? Not a chance ... :-) This player wasn't better than Tommy Albelin in my opinion. Never forget for another player from Sweden - Börje Salming.
If I compared the players, who have played since 1976, there has been a better player like Larry Robinson, Paul Coffey, Craig Hartsburg, Denis Potvin, Rod Langway, Kevin Lowe, Scott Stevens, Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch and Rob Blake.
If we discuss about the history of the NHL, there was little King Clancy, Lou Nanne, who was known for his defensive style gentleman Red Kelly, Hap Day, who is seven-times winner of the Stanley Cup, Dit Clapper from Bruins and Babe Siebert, a member of the famous "S-Line " etc.
I think all of these defencemen are better than the former captain of the Red Wings... But a comparison of these players is not correct because there is a different number of games per season, the difference in quality of opponents, one guy is a specialist for offensive style and another players are known for their penalty killing ability...

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