Friday, October 16, 2020

Let’s build the best all-time team that can’t play defense

This year’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars set up as a classic showdown between offense and defense. Not entirely — the Stars have plenty of talented offensive players and the Lightning are strong in their own zone. But at a high level, this was the team that scored the most goals in the league against the one that gave up the second fewest.

And offense won. Good.

I know I’m supposed to be impartial, but I’ll always cheer for offense, because it’s more fun. I could appreciate a defensive team, back before that’s what everyone in the league was trying to be. But these days, I’m sick of being told that defense always wins and is the only way to play, even if it’s usually true.

So today, let’s build the best roster of all-time stars that breaks that rule. All offense, no defense. And that last part is a hard and fast rule. If you were ever recognized for your play in your own zone, even a little bit, get out. You’re not welcome here.

How do we do it? By basing this off a suggestion from reader Tyler, who asked: What’s the best roster you can build out of players who never received so much as a single vote for the Selke, Norris or Vezina?

I love it. It’s so simple. Three awards that recognize a player’s ability to keep the puck out of his own net, and we’re disqualifying anyone who ever so much as showed up on a ballot for any of them. This is going to be the most one-dimensional team ever, which means it should be lots of fun.

But first, a few ground rules™:

  • Position matters. We need four centers, four left-wingers and four right-wingers. Defensemen can play either side. I’ll do my best to use guys in the position they were best known for, without getting sneaky on anyone who moved around for a season or two.
  • No votes means no votes at all. If even one voter thought they were good enough to earn a spot on their ballot, they’re out. We’ll use the hockey-reference database to track who got votes for what.
  • We’re starting from 1954 for the Norris and 1978 for the Selke, the first years those were awarded. And while the Vezina dates back to 1927, for our purposes we’re only going back to 1982, when it reverted to being an award that was voted on. Players whose careers started before those seasons are still eligible, but we’re only getting credit for what they did afterwards. Gordie Howe never got a Selke vote, but if we take him then we only get his 1979-80 comeback season. (We will not be taking Gordie Howe.)

Sound good? Let’s do this. Let’s build the most offensive team we can find.


We’ll start up front, where things should be easiest. The Norris and Vezina recognize general excellence at a position, so I’m mildly worried about how deep we may have to dig to find guys who never received any votes at all. But the Selke is a specialist award, and it’s possible to be a very good player without ever being considered a great defensive forward. So while it may be slim pickings on the back end, we can make up for that by stocking our team with some of history’s greatest forwards.

Not all of them, of course. Guys like Steve Yzerman and Ron Francis actually won the Selke late in their careers, Peter Forsberg and Doug Gilmour won it in their primes and Joe Sakic and Mike Modano were finalists. Some guys evolve into strong defensive players as their careers wear on. But most star forwards don’t do that; once you know you can light it up in the offensive zone, you tend to stay there. So let’s stock up with an army of history’s greatest one-way glory hounds.

For example, we can start with pretty much our perfect candidate: Wayne Gretzky, who racked up 200-point seasons while barely ever seeing his own zone. We can give him a couple of elite wingers in Alexander Ovechkin and Jaromir Jagr, two flashy Europeans who’ve been constantly criticized for their one-dimensional games, but will be close to unstoppable next to the Great One. And for our second line, let’s start with Mario Lemieux, and put him with Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya, two old friends who’ll compliment his playmaking perfectly. For our third line, how do Pat LaFontaine, Mike Bossy and Ilya Kovalchuk grab you?

Those lines are so good. I think we’re going to have to put Brett Hull and his 700 goals on the fourth line. Forget goaltending and defense, this team will never see its own end of the rink. We’re going to be unbeatable.


Yeah … every one of those players I just mentioned got a Selke vote at some point in their careers. All of them.

I’ll admit, I was a little worried about Gretzky, since I remembered him adding a little bit of defense to his game in his Rangers years. But nope, he got his votes when he was shattering records. Three of them, to be exact, for his entire career – a third-place vote in both 1985 and 1986 and a second-place vote in 1990.

Lemieux got the only two votes of his career in 1997. Ovechkin hasn’t had one in 10 years but got a few in 2008 and 2009 before peaking with a 28th place finish in 2010. Jagr got a fourth-place vote in 2007, then another in 2016. Kovalchuk got a lone fourth in 2013. Hull showed up on a ballot once in his 19-season career, in 2003 when he was 38. And so on down the line.

It turns out that virtually everyone gets a Selke vote at some point. Even guys that were constantly criticized for their defensive play throughout their career have a maddening tendency to sneak in a single vote somewhere over the course of their career.

Pierre Turgeon got a first-place Selke vote. What in the actual hell.

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