- Paul Grant
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With all these comparisons flying around, this week we're going to cut through the crud and make a call. Given two players, one active and one retired, in their primes, who would be better? And the best part is that you, the reader, get the final word.
For our fourth and final installment, how about two of the best defensemen of the modern era in Zdeno Chara and Nicklas Lidstrom? Sure, different styles, different physical builds, but roll with us on this one. There's no questioning each was the No. 1 defenseman on a highly successful team.
The case for Zdeno Chara: One Stanley Cup. One Norris Trophy. But that doesn't accurately represent how dominant a player Chara, 36, has been over the years. The Bruins defenseman shuts down opposing stars with smothering coverage using his height and massive reach. His game has come a long way since he broke into the league as a raw Islanders third-round draft pick in 1996. As he gained confidence and comfort with the NHL style of play, he became a force to be reckoned with. His grit and leadership -- the second European-born captain to raise the Cup -- have helped push the Bruins to one Stanley Cup and another berth in the finals in three seasons. When he's on his game, few can stop him. His slap shot is a thing of scary legend, regularly eclipsing the 100 mph mark and largely responsible for his usual 10-19 goals. He fights, he scores, he assists, he hits, he leads, he wins. Not a bad combination.
The case for Nicklas Lidstrom: Lidstrom should be considered the best defenseman of his generation. Four Stanley Cups. Seven Norris Trophies. One Conn Smythe. One Olympic gold. But somehow, perhaps because he was understated personally, perhaps because he didn't fight, perhaps because he quietly and efficiently went about his job, perhaps because he didn't often score on spectacular end-to-end rushes, he sometimes slides under the radar when "all-time greatest" conversations are held about defensemen. All he did was put up a bunch of points -- including more than 50 an amazing 15 times. The dude scored 11 goals in his rookie season -- after being a third-round draft pick -- and once scored 20, for crying out loud. All he did was win, making the playoffs in every one of his 20 seasons. All he did was contain opposing forwards with smart thinking and positioning rather than crippling bodychecks or illegal maneuvers (never topped 50 PIMs in a season). And he seemed to keep reinventing himself: He became the oldest player in league history to score his first hat trick when he pulled it off in 2010. Or perhaps his most valuable skill was his calm under pressure, which had a trickle-down effect on his teammates. It's safe to say, considering his success and the way he was able to read the play, that he was the Wayne Gretzky of defensemen.
Which player would you rather have in his prime? Give us your specific thoughts in the comments section below. Out on a limb, people!