Colorado defenseman Cale Makar has taken the NHL by storm since his debut during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He scored a goal in his debut against Calgary and has since become a premier name when discussing defensemen in the NHL.
Makar has the ability as a dynamic skater and offensive presence to go a long way. He is so dynamic, in fact, that there are some who feel that he could put himself in the discussion of the best of all-time. In a season where Avalanche has been plagued by injuries having Makar healthy is crucial.
So, let’s take a look at who Makar has to catch, where he currently stands, and what he will need to do to get there.
Depending on who you ask, this is either a very easy answer or requires some discussion. In this writer’s humble opinion, it comes down to two categories: the honorable mention and the greatest of all-time. Let’s take a look at each category.
The honorable mention
It would take too long to break down each player’s career accomplishments in full, so let’s take a quick overview of some of the greatest to ever play the position. Keep in mind that the game looked quite different in each era, so some stats/accolades may not jump out as you would think.
Doug Harvey. Harvey was the original powerplay quarterback. With more than 500 career points and a whopping seven Norris Trophies as the best defenseman, there is no questioning that Harvey was the GOAT at least for a little while.
Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom never blew anyone away with his physical ability but in the modern era, there may be no better. Lidstrom played a quiet, unassuming style that led him to seven Norris trophies of his own as well as four Stanley Cup titles. A true shutdown defenseman who could contribute offensively.
Paul Coffey. You can’t mention great offensive defensemen without talking about Coffey. During the 1980s, Coffey was the most dynamic scorer there was, with 18 different records. Perhaps his most impressive is the 48 goals he scored in 1985-86, a record that stands today.
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) February 14, 2023
The current GOAT
With all due respect to Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Paul Coffey, and the rest of the all-time greats, there is only one name to discuss when talking about the GOAT among defensemen. That name is Robert Gordon Orr.
Orr’s resume speaks for itself: two Stanley Cups, eight-straight Norris trophies, two Art Ross trophies as scoring champion, three Hart trophies as league MVP, and the first two-time winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
While his resume is dazzling and unmatched, it is his impact on the game that will be forever remembered. Orr’s skating ability was unmatched, and his end-to-end rushes changed what it was to be a defenseman. Even Harvey, who was considered to be an offensive dynamo in his day, couldn’t touch the offensive capabilities of Orr.
Until Wayne Gretzky showed up and set fire to the record books, Orr owned many of them, especially for assists. He let it be known that defensemen could not only be great in their own end but dangerous at the other end of the rink. To put it simply, Bobby Orr changed the way defensemen play the game.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) February 18, 2023
That is perhaps, after Gretzky, the tallest resume to live up to. Makar, who is just 24 years old, certainly has a climb ahead of him. But his resume is already putting him into rarified air and making the discussion at least a possibility.
At 24-years-old, Makar has already done just about anything a modern defenseman could do. He has a Stanley Cup championship, winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. He has a Norris Trophy as best defenseman and won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
More importantly, he is doing on the ice what only Orr could do in the 1970s. Makar, who has 180 points in 178 career games, has the kind of game-changing skating ability that is so rarely seen. His ability to join the rush or jump in from the point is something no one else possesses in the game today.
The uphill battle
While Makar certainly has one of the best resumes a 24-year-old could have, the battle is still an uphill one. Orr is currently fifth all-time in average points per game – Coffey is the next closest at 33rd. Makar has more than a point per game average but it will take a Herculean effort to match Orr’s output.
Oh yeah, he also has to get near Orr’s eight Norris Trophy wins, as well as multiple Cup wins, MVPs, scoring titles, and an overall impact on the game. Makar has the resume right now that projects to being among the all-time greats.
But if he wants to challenge the vaunted #4 that hangs in the Boston rafters, he’s still got a lot of work to do. Together with new Avalanche recruit Jack Johnson we are excited to see what Makar can do this season.
In his first game back after suffering a concussion earlier this month, Cale Makar was forced off the ice following a collision with Alexei Toropchenko. pic.twitter.com/OBtXKBrfi3
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 18, 2023