July 25, 2008

Ask The Hockey History Blogger -
Is Lidstrom Better Than Harvey?

Hey Joe - would you say Nicklas Lidstrom is better
than Doug Harvey?

- Doug, Ann Arbor, MI

This is what I hope becomes an interesting new feature for the website this coming season. I will do my best to field your questions about hockey history. I'll even take a stab at hockey present and hockey future if so asked.

Just e-mail me with your questions, and I'll see if I can come up with an answer or opinion.

Now, on to Doug's question. Is Nicklas Lidstrom better than Doug Harvey?

I think history tends to nicely accept that Doug Harvey is the second best defenseman of all time, behind Bobby Orr, of course. In fact, most of the so called experts tend to place Harvey in top ten players of all time, regardless of position.

Harvey was something special. He was a six time Stanley Cup champion and 7 time Norris trophy winner. He was the essential triggerman that made the 1950s Montreal Canadiens firewagon hockey and lethal power play work. He is the reason why they changed the rule to nullify the man advantage after one power play goal was scored.

Doug Harvey was the epitome of hockey grace, and one of the few players in hockey history that could truly take control of a game all by himself.

Now that is awfully hard to compete against. Lidstrom is catching up, with more seasons ahead. He's got 4 Stanley Cup championships and 6 Norris Trophies. His career offensive numbers dwarf Harvey's, mind you that is due much to the very different eras each played in. Both are classic and near flawless defenders and both are dominant at both ends of the ice.

The one area I think Lidstrom has Harvey beat is consistency. Lidstrom has been extremely good, albeit somewhat quietly early on, right from day one. He's always been a flawless defender and a top offensive producer. He's always been a real key to the Detroit Red Wings success in the 1990s and 2000s.

Harvey was much more enigmatic. Because of his unworldly composure on the ice, many fans and newspapermen of the 1950s accused Doug of being lazy and frustrating. One night he would be the best player on the ice, and in the next two or three games he would blend in. Perhaps that is just Montreal for you, but Nicklas Lidstrom never had any periods of criticism like Harvey did.

There is no doubt in my mind that Lidstrom is the greatest defenseman of his generation, and a very comparable player to Harvey in terms of style and hopefully legacy. I say hopefully because I'm not sure Lidstrom has ever gotten his full due in history's eyes. I hope that isn't because he is European.

Because of the enigma label that did plague Harvey in his playing days, I'm willing to consider Lidstrom to be better than Harvey. I guess I would have to also consider Ray Bourque for the slot behind Bobby Orr, as I've often felt Lidstrom and Bourque are near equals.

By the way, earlier this year I did name my top 10 defensemen of all time.

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