Hall Monitor: When will Carbonneau’s defensive greatness be recognized?

Brian Costello
Guy Carbonneau

With the Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee scheduled to get together next Monday to determine the 2014 induction class, let’s take a look at one worthy candidate who continues to get overlooked.

Guy Carbonneau never played on the top line, never scored 30 goals or 60 points in a season and was never called the best player in hockey by a Russian coach. Yet his playing attributes and individual awards so closely resemble those of Hall of Famer Bob Gainey, you have to wonder why Carbonneau keeps getting short shrift.

Carbonneau was largely a defensive specialist through most of his 18 seasons in the NHL, even though he had 134 goals and an astounding 323 points during his final two seasons for Chicoutimi in the Quebec League.

He was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1979 at the tail end of their four-Cups-in-four-years dynasty. In order to make the grade, he had to sharpen his defensive play. His first seven seasons with the Canadiens were spent playing with and alongside defensive forward ace Gainey, called the most complete player in the game by Russian coach Anatoli Tarasov in 1979.

Gainey was such a dominant two-way player, the league created an award in 1978 to recognize his excellence. The Frank J. Selke Trophy, for best defensive forward, went to Gainey the first four years it was handed out.

Carbonneau was a better offensive player than Gainey and over the years became the game’s top defensive forward as well. Carbonneau won the Selke Trophy three times and finished as runner-up twice. He was a big reason why the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1986 and 1993, and made it to the final in 1989.

Carbonneau was strictly a defensive specialist his final two seasons in the league when the Dallas Stars won the Cup in 1999 and lost in the final in 2000 to the Devils. His 231 career NHL playoff games ranks top 10 all-time and is a credit to how vital defensive awareness becomes in the post-season.

Statistically, Carbonneau out-shone Gainey in goals (260-239) and points (663-501), but not Stanley Cups. Gainey won five to Carbonneau’s three.

The intention here isn’t to suggest Carbonneau should be placed on a pedestal above Gainey. The Hockey News ranked Gainey the No. 88 player on the list of the greatest 100 players of all-time. It’s simply to state the Hall of Fame should consider another of the game’s greatest two-way players of all-time for induction.

There’s nothing sexy about being an exceptional defensive forward in the NHL. You rarely see yourself on a highlight package and you never challenge for scoring titles.

But when it comes to winning titles of a team nature when games matter the most, defensive specialists are all the rage. The Hall of Fame’s selection committee should know that, too.

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This is the eighth in a series of Hall Monitor blogs. Others have been on:

Martin St-Louis

Daniel Alfredsson

Jarome Iginla

Eric Lindros

Joe Thornton

Tim Thomas

Dave Andreychuk

 

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN