It wasn’t until the NHL began enforcing
obstruction rules following the 2004-05 lockout that
the position began to evolve (or devolve) back into
more of a skilled and skating style. The tide began
to turn in the 2005 NHL Draft, the same year Letang
was hoping to hear his named called at the podium.
“Going into the lockout the D that were getting
drafted in the first round were all 6-4, 6-3, big
guys,” Letang said. “Gradually in the draft they took
chances in the bottom of the first on a few skill
guys. After that you saw smaller D and faster guys.
Year after year they started taking smaller guys and
The progression of the game has led to faster and
faster players being developed and drafted. The big,
lumbering defensemen are going extinct.
The culmination of this shift was at the 2018 NHL
Draft, which featured nine defensemen drafted in the
first round, and 16 in the first two rounds, that were
6-foot or smaller, but skilled and fast.
A skilled skating defenseman was unique
in Coffey’s era. Now, skating is essential to
play the position.
“You really have to skate. The guys can all skate
now,” Coffey said. “It’s incredible.
“To me, and it’s not because we play that position,
but it is the hardest position. I think the way the
game is now it’s harder on a defenseman. There’s
no help anymore. You can’t even touch a guy in front
of your own net. You’ll get a penalty. You can’t kick
a guy’s laces to get him off balance; you’ll get a
penalty. It’s still a tough position to play.”
Coffey helped revolutionize the defensive
position. And Letang was part of a wave that
returned the position to its glory days. It seems as
though defensemen have come full circle. Though
the style may change over the years, hockey remains
a simple game.
“Hockey is always the same game,” Letang said.
“Mentality is the main thing we talk about. I know my
strengths. I’m going to use my skating. I’m going to
“The mental aspect is the main thing. I think it
plays a big role in hockey.”
It was timing and fate that brought Coffey and
Letang together on this mid-October day. The
Penguins happened to be in Coffey’s hometown of
Toronto a mere two weeks after Letang passed him
in the franchise’s record books.
While his teammates were on the ice for an
optional morning skate, Letang sat in a lounge
chair with Coffey at his side. The two greatest
defensemen in Penguins history spent 40 minutes
that afternoon talking hockey, history and more on
The Scoop podcast.
Eventually the topic turned to Letang skipping
that day’s morning skate.
“You won’t be breaking records if you’re taking
days off,” Coffey joked.
“I didn’t take a day off,” Letang retorted. “I have a
“To me, and it’s not because
we play that position, but it is
the hardest position. I think
the way the game is now it’s
harder on a defenseman.
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