Brian Leetch or Al MacInnis?
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11-11-2012, 11:54 AM
Join Date: Dec 2010
First off, this is a good comparison. Two closely matched contemporaries.
My initial reaction was Leetch and then I opened the thread, read some responses, and had to re-evaluate a little.
I've always been awed by Leetch's skillset, so perhaps I tend to overvalue him a little. In my mind, as pure rushing/offensive defensemen go, he's a solid third behind only Orr and Coffey. He really had it all. Silky-smooth skater, great vision, could make plays, and had a rocket of a shot. Like someone mentioned above, if you were rooting for the other team, you feared Leetch because he could create something offensively from anywhere. Pretty rare quality in a defenseman. I never feared Lidstrom that way. Or Bourque. MacInnis either, but that shot was, of course, one of the great intimidators in hockey history.
So both guys put up a 100-point season. Both won a Conn Smythe. But Leetch won three Norris trophies to MacInnis' one. And Leetch did it against Bourque, Coffey, Chelios and MacInnis himself. That MacInnis did it all at such an advanced age is impressive, and he completely deserved it. But I'm not sure that the competition was as tough that year as it was when Leetch won his (granted, Leetch was still in the league when Mac won and wasn't even in the conversation...).
Secondly, Mac seems to be getting some traction for longevity and that`s fair. But MacInnis also spent his later years playing with Chris Pronger who ate up a ton of the tough minutes and took on a lot of the tough assignments. Did having a 30-minute-a-game monster on his team help MacInnis age a little more gracefully? Its worth considering especially in light on how Leetch was often a man on an island on some pretty porous and often dysfunctional Ranger teams. Who was the second best defenseman in New York post-1995 or so? Beukeboom? Lefebvre? I don't know if I can even name another one off the top of my head. (And yes, I'm aware that Pronger was injured the year that Mac won the Norris, but it doesn't change the general premise that having Pronger to split the heavy lifting with, allowed MacInnis to extend his time as premier player).
Defensively, I'd agree that there's a solid edge in MacInnis' favour. Mac did the dirty work in front of the net, blocked shots, and could shut guys down. Leetch, at the top of his game, was pretty effective defensively because he could get the puck out of his zone so quickly, and could do it any number of ways. But if you were defending a lead in game seven, you'd probably want MacInnis.
This is very, very close. I think Leetch's A-game was better than MacInnis at his best. And Leetch brought that A-game for no short amount of time. A 100-point season, three Norrises, and a Conn Smythe in the space of what? Seven years? (can't look it up right now). All told , if the 100-point seasons and Conn Smythes cancel each other out, you're left with Leetch's superior Norris-winning prime versus MacInnis' stronger defensive game + his Pronger-aided longevity. And heck, what about Leetch's play in the 1996 World Cup? An argument could be made that he was the second best player in that tournament next to Richter doing his God impression. MacInnis was solid internationally, but never that good.
I think I have to go with Leetch, by the slightest edge. But honestly, I could probably be convinced to change my mind.
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