It's time for another Who Is the Greatest? poll, with Eli Manning running away with the last one, which asked, Who Is the Greatest Quarterback in New York History? We've narrowed the defensemen candidates down to five, all of whom are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, representing all three local teams, the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. A few outstanding players, such as Doug Harvey and Sergei Zubov, just weren't in New York long enough. We had to draw the line somewhere, so Scott Niedermayer and Ron Greshner just missed the cut. And a long list of other rock-solid defensemen also weren't quite in the upper echelon: Jim Neilson, Rod Seiling, Dale Rolfe, Dave Malony, Ken Morrow, Stefan Persson, Kenny Jonsson, Dave Lewis, Gerry Hart, Bruce Driver, Brian Rafalski, Colin White and Ken Daneyko. And the game has changed so much since the beginnings of the NHL, that players from the 1920s, '30s and '40s weren't included, either. Here are the five: Who is the greatest of all-time? Unfortunately, you can only vote once.
Harry Howell: The Ranger great played 17 seasons with the Blueshirts, from 1952 to 1969 (and 24 total in the NHL and WHA), and he was the last of the old-time, stay-at-home defensemen to win the Norris Trophy (in 1967) before Bobby Orr and the new breed of offensive defensemen took control of that award. Howell played in seven All-Star Games, and was an NHL First-Team All-Star in 1967. He had his highest point total that season, with 40, and scored a career-best 12 goals. An iron man who rarely missed a game, Howell left the NHL as the career leader in games played by a defenseman (1,411, and he's the Ranger franchise leader in games, with 1,160). He recorded 94 goals in his NHL career, with 324 assists, for 418 points, and accumulated 1,298 penalty minutes (plus/minus wasn't kept back in his day). He played in 38 playoff games (but never won the Stanley Cup), notching three goals and three assists. Ending his career in the WHA, finally retiring for good in 1976, Howell played in 170 games in that league, scoring seven goals, with 36 assists, good for 43 points. He appeared in seven WHA playoff games (scoring one goal), and didn't win a (AVCO) Cup in that league, either. His No. 3 has been retired by the Rangers, and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.
Brad Park: If it weren't for Orr, Park would have a house filled with Norris Trophies, as he was the runner up for that award six times. He played seven-plus seasons with the Rangers, from 1968 to '75 (and 17 total), captained the Blueshirts after Vic Hadfield was traded, played in nine All-Star Games, won the Bill Masterton Trophy (in 1984), was a six-time NHL First-Team All-Star (four with the Rangers), two-time NHL Second-Team All-Star (both with Rangers) and was the MVP of Game 8 of the Summit Series, when Canada squared off with Russia in 1972, and was named the Best Defenseman of that series. Park played in 1,113 games in his career, scored 213 goals, piled up 683 assists, for 896 points, was a plus-358 and sat in the penalty box for a total of 1,429 minutes. His best offensive season came in 1973-'74, when he scored 27 goals, with 57 assists, for 82 points. His teams never missed the playoffs in his long career, though like Howell, Park never won a Stanley Cup. In 161 playoff games, he scored 35 goals, with 90 assists, for 125 points. Park, along with Orr, was one of the innovators of the new way to play defense, adding offense to that position. He was a great two-way physical defemseman who could do it all, including fight, as he was an excellent pugilist. He entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988. The Rangers never should have traded him.
Denis Potvin: The overall No. 1 pick in the 1973 amateur draft, Potvin was an instant success, winning the Calder Trophy. He played all of his 15 seasons with the Islanders, and captained them to four consecutive Stanley Cups. The winner of three Norris Trophies, Potvin was a five-time NHL First-Team All-Star, two-time NHL Second-Team All-Star and played in nine All-Star Games. He tallied 1,052 points in his 1,060 NHL games, scoring 310 goals with 742 assists, was a plus-460 and accumulated 1,356 penalty minutes. In 1978-'79, he put up career highs in goals (31), assists (70) and points (101). He scored 56 goals in 185 playoff games, with 108 assists, for 164 points, and the only year his teams missed the playoffs was his rookie season, which was the Islanders' second year of existence. When he retired, he was the all-time leader in goals and points by a defenseman (and had the playoff records, as well). Like Park, he was physical, with great offensive skills, as well as being solid in his own end. His No. 5 was the first number to be retired by the Islanders, in 1992, after being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame the previous year. Though Ranger fans may disagree, Potvin did not suck.
Scott Stevens: One of the toughest players of all-time, Stevens was known for his booming hits and physical style of play. But there was more to him than that, as he wasn't too shabby in the offensive zone. He played 13 seasons with the Devils (22 total) and was there for all three of the franchise's Stanley Cup victories (and one Cup loss, as well), and won the Conn Smythe in 2000. A captain of the Devils, Stevens twice was an NHL First-Team All-Star, three times he was an NHL Second-Team All-Star, he made the NHL All-Rookie Team, played in 13 All-Star Games and led the league in plus/minus in 1994 (plus-54). His best offensive season came in 1994, with career highs in goals (18), assists (60) and points (78). He piled up 908 career points in 1,635 games, scored 196 goals with 712 assists, was a plus-393 (he was plus in every one of his seasons) and totaled an impressive 2,785 penalty minutes. In 233 career playoff games, he scored 26 goals, assisted on 92, for 118 points, and was a plus-48. He was the prototypcial bruising, punishing defenseman, and his No. 4 was the first number to be retired by the Devils. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.
Brian Leetch: One of the great offensive defenseman of all-time, Leetch's end-to-end rushes and playmaking abilities were two of his greatest assets. He played 16-plus seasons with the Rangers (18 total), and was the Conn Smythe winner of their Stanley Cup year of 1994 (and was the first American-born player to win that trophy). Leetch was a two-time Norris Trophy winner, won the Calder Trophy, was a two-time NHL First-Team All-Star, three-time NHL Second-Team All-Star, made the All-Rookie Team, played in nine All-Star Games and was a captain of the Rangers. In 1992, he piled up a career best 102 points with a franchise record 80 assists. For his career, he averaged just under a point a game, with 1,028 points in 1,205 games, scoring 247 goals with 781 assists, was a plus-25 with 571 penalty minutes. He averaged just over a point a game in the playoffs, with 97 points (28 goals, 69 assists) in 95 games. In 1994, he led the NHL in playoff points (34) and assists (23). His 23 goals in 1988-'89 are still an NHL record for rookie defensemen. His No. 2 has been retired by the Rangers, and he was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.