Chris Chelios vs. Scott Stevens: Who was the better player?

There's really nothing like a good player-based hockey debate. Like the old "healthy Mario" vs. Gretzky career numbers discussion, or the annual "one player to build a team around" arguments. After Chris Chelios of the Detroit Red Wings passed Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens for career wins (880) this week, TSN sparked another great hockey dispute: Who ranks higher on the list of all-time D-men?

The answers from TSN's hockey panelists:

Bob McKenzie: Boy, that's a tough one but I'll say Stevens. Just because he was a more impact player, because of the way that he hit, and that he was feared throughout the league for the way that he hit. Chelios is the ultimate warrior but for me, nobody hit like Stevens and was a fearsome player.

John Tortorella: I will go with Chelios. It's tough to pick between those two - it's a lousy question to be honest with you. Just Chelios' conditioning that he's in and stayed in and what he's done for his team, plus he's an American.

Ray Ferraro: I'm going to say Stevens because he could change the course of the game with one hit. Let's not remember Chelios and compare Chelios as the player he is now, he's obviously far older. When he was young, he was a terrific player but Stevens could change a game in an instant.

Coming up, Red Wings blogger George James Malik states his case for Chelios while a guy who still wears Devils pajamas yours truly will make the argument for Stevens. But more importantly, what do you think: When it comes to Chris Chelios vs. Scott Stevens, who ranks higher all-time for defensemen?

First, here's the statistic comparison between the two heading into tonight's game. Chelios played for the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks and the Red Wings; Stevens played for the Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and the New Jersey Devils:






















Both players have three Stanley Cup rings. Chelios won the Norris three times, Stevens won the Conn Smythe once. Stevens was named to 13 all-star teams; Chelios was named to 11. Chelios has 144 postseason points in 260 games; Stevens has 118 in 223.

Here's Malik's argument for Chelios from his Snapshots post:

Stevens was a vicious player, someone you knew had no compunctions about the fact that he was out there to hunt you down, but Chelios's ability to grind you down over the course of the game--the analogy suggesting that, when the Wings acquired Chelios, Tomas Holmstrom still had chips of Chelios's Sher-Wood stick embedded in his neck weren't far from the truth. Chris Chelios still has more passion and more competitive desire than any other NHL'er, and he will outlast you every time. To me, you go into the corner with Chris Chelios knowing that you've already lost, and that's unbelievably demoralizing.

Sharks will eat you if you present an easy target. A wolverine (and anybody who's lucky enough to have seen one, in a zoo or otherwise, knows this) will attack you and those around you because you're there.

Saving this compelling shark vs. wolverine debate for our next 12-pack (Does the wolverine have SCUBA gear? Is it a land-shark?), I think it's a push in the war of attrition. Both Chelios and Stevens were like starting pitchers who still have their best fastball in the seventh inning; they could both wear you down for three periods.

The mischaracterization of Stevens as simply a zero-to-60 booming hitter does a disservice to one of his greatest skills, which was the ability to shadow some of the best players in hockey in the last 20 years. We're talking guys like Jaromir Jagr. Stevens would draw that assignment and then make life hell for them.

There's virtually no way I can separate my feelings for Stevens as a Devils fan from this debate. The guy helped win three Stanley Cups for Jersey, and it can be successfully argued that he's the single most transformative player in the franchise's history -- even more so than Martin Brodeur.

Intangibles aside, here's what Stevens was: A game-changing defenseman, not only in his ability to shut down the opposition's best but in his ability to literally knock opponents out the game with his physical play. He was the prototypical NHL captain: A steadying influence in the locker room and leading by example as the most important position player on the ice, in the game's most critical moments.

Much of the same could probably be said of Chelios. Add in the fact that Stevens and Chelios both had similar career paths: From undisciplined wild men with an offensive flair to more mechanical and efficient players later in their careers.

It's a very, very tough call here.

I give the nod to Stevens over Chelios, with the admission that I watched one much more than the other. If you're going with the top defensemen of the last 25 years, you probably go Ray Bourque, Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Stevens, Chris Chelios and then ... huh ... Paul Coffey? Al MacInnis? Brian Leetch? Scott Niedermayer? (Gulp) Chris Pronger?

Great debate, this one.

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