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Paul Coffey—Chasing Orr

Paul CoffeyWhen Boston Bruins’ legendary defenceman Bobby Orr played, many believed that no one could come close to his production. Before Orr, no other defenceman had scored more than 100 points in a season. Maybe even more incredible was the 46 goals Orr scored in 1974-75, setting a standard that blue liners have not come close to for the following decade.

Paul Coffey, a young defeceman from the Toronto suburbs, had blinding speed and offensive skills that could challenge Orr in goal production.  The secret to his success was that Coffey wore skates three sizes too tight and would not sharpen his blades.   When he skated, his speed and ability made him look like he was gliding.

Paul CoffeyCoffey was the Oilers’ first-round pick of the 1980 entry draft. He was coming off a 102-point campaign with the Kitchener Rangers of the junior Ontario Hockey League, and general manager and coach Glen Sather believed that Coffey could add speed and offensive skills to the blue line. Coffey’s first NHL season was an unspectacular 32-point campaign.  In the 1981-82 season, his second as an NHLer, Coffey showed hockey fans his offensive talent by registering an 89-point season. It launched a stellar career for Coffey as an Oiler, a time that saw him universally accepted as the best offensive defenceman since Orr to play the game. Coffey would register 669 career points in 532 career games as an Oiler.

Coffey won three Stanley Cups, as an Oiler: in 1984, 1985 and 1987. As League’s top defenceman, he won the Norris Trophy  in 1985 and 1986. He broke the 100-point barrier with regularity, and in 1985-86, he scored 48 times to break Orr’s record of 46 goals in a season by a defenceman. Coffey registered 138 points that season, one shy of Orr’s record. Coffey would have broken the record but Sather benched him late in the year, charging that Coffey focused too much on offence and did not pay enough attention to his own end of the rink.

Paul CoffeyCoffey won the 1987 Cup with the Oilers, but the bitterness between he and Sather continued; that summer, Coffey demanded a contract renegotiation and held out for the first two months of the 1987-88 season. Sather eventually decided the gulf between Coffey and management was too large to bridge, and traded the League’s top defenceman to Pittsburgh in a trade that brought sniper Craig Simpson to Edmonton in return. With the trade, the first sign of economic realities in playing a Canadian small-city would force the team to dismantle its star-studded roster.

The Oilers won two Cups without Coffey, but he continued his outstanding play in Pittsburgh, continuing to top the 100-point mark and helping the team to a Stanley Cup in 1991.  It would be Coffey’s fourth ring.

Pittsburgh traded Coffey to Los Angeles the next season, and even though he spent another 10 years in the League, he would never really stick with another club. He would spend time with Detroit, Hartford, Philadelphia, Chicago, Carolina and Boston before he hung up his skates for good in 2001. In the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, Coffey enjoyed a renaissance with the Red Wings; he became the first defenceman to ever lead the team in scoring, earning him his third career Norris Trophy.

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