Same is true for NHL defensemen. Point men on the power play, who pile up gaudy offensive stats, often come away with the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman.
So, where does a player like Glen Wesley fit into his generation of defensemen?
Wesley’s totals of 20 seasons and 1,457 games certainly get his foot into the discussion door, as does his Stanley Cup ring in 2006. But how will Hockey Hall of Fame voters judge Wesley’s defensive skills, penalty-killing prowess and his consistent play?
That’s the difficult rub.
With 128 goals and 409 assists – which averages out to about one point every three games he played – does Wesley have the credentials worthy of a spot alongside hockey’s all-time greats?
“Winning a Stanley Cup really beefs up his resume,” Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said. “There are a lot of great players the Hall of Fame committee has to choose from, but as an organization we are making our statement by retiring his jersey, which is well deserved. Everybody Glen played with he made a better player.”
“The biggest thing about his game was he was so, so consistent,” added Canes Hall of Fame radio voice Chuck Kaiton. “He fit a niche of not being overly flashy but he moved the puck well. He’ll probably be in the shadow of all those other defensemen who put up more points. Glen minimized his mistakes, whether he was in there killing penalties or keying on the other team’s best players. He could play against guys like Jaromir Jagr, even in the late stages of his career. I admired that about Glen because of the physical toll this game takes on your body.”
Wesley’s leadership as an alternate captain in the locker room is an immeasurable portion of his career that can’t be overlooked. His dead-pan, dry sense of humor provided light moments when needed, and he had his own unique way of making players accountable on the ice.
“Guys like Glen are underappreciated by everybody except his teammates. That’s why you see a guy like Glen play for one team so long, because he’s appreciated on a nightly basis,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You can’t see it on TV, you’ve got to be behind the bench or upstairs in the press box watching every game to realize how steady and how consistent he was with his game.”
Peter Laviolette, who coached Wesley during the team’s Cup run of 2006, had equal praise for his go-to penalty killer.
“If you play that long you’ve got to be professional,” Laviolette said. “From a coaching point of view Glen was an effortless player to coach because he knows his job, he knows his assignment, he knows how to play the game, he knows how to prepare himself, he knows how to take care of himself. There never were any antics with Glen. It was just true professionalism. I never had to come in and throw my hands up in the air and say, ‘All right, what am I going to do with this guy today?’ It was always the same. It was a real pleasure to work with him.”
Rutherford thought so much of Wesley’s talents – on and off the ice -- that he created a new coaching position for him upon his retirement last season --- Director of Defenseman Development – which puts Wesley at the center of helping the organization’s young D-men mature into NHL players.
“Glen has a certain way about him and he carried that in a very positive manner in the dressing room,” Rutherford said. “He wasn’t a guy who was going to yell and scream or a rah-rah guy, but he was a guy players always knew they could come to for advice -- and he always gave them good advice.”
Carolina’s young defensemen should soak up every ounce of advice from Wesley – from his overall temperament as a person to his enormous desire to work hard and do things the right way.
“He’s the model of consistency at this position,” Kaiton said. “That’s the biggest tribute you can give him. He was like Old Man River, he just kept flowing. And I didn’t see any diminishing of his skills, if anything he got smarter and smarter. You’ve got to be ready mentally to play 82 games and the playoffs. He’s just like Rod (Brind’Amour) - when he spoke, people listened.”
Brind’Amour and Wesley sat next to each other on the team plane and often took in an early dinner together on the road. “You know, the old guys who got back to the room,” Brind’Amour said.
But the two rarely talked hockey, instead sharing stories of their children and the fruits of life.
“On the ice, you never had to worry about Glen giving it his best,” Brind’Amour said. “We knew what to expect out of him. He was like a calming influence. A guy you could count on. He enjoyed his time for sure. He played a long time, but he always seemed to love what he was doing.
“You have to come prepared to play every night. That’s the challenge in this sport because you play so many games. And there is so much emphasis on every game being an important game. As soon as the game is over we’re talking about the next one so there is always that mental battle. Glen was just really good at being able to come every day and leave what is behind behind and prepare for that next game. I guess you can say it was true professionalism.”
Wesley never expected to play two decades as an NHL defenseman, a rare feat for one of the most demanding positions in the sport. Several times it looked as if Wesley would retire, only to play on at a high level.
“If you would have asked me my first 4 or 5 years in, if I would be playing for 20 years, never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought that,” Wesley said.
“I loved playing the game. I enjoyed the passion of winning. And what makes it fun is seeing guys develop, seeing guys mature. One of the neatest things was watching Eric Staal develop into a great two-way center. He has learned to play the game and have more responsibility. Guys like Tim Gleason, how he’s come along the last few years.
“It has been a lot of fun. No complaints.”
Matter of fact, I don’t think I ever heard Glen Wesley complain in the dozen or so years I’ve been honored to cover the man as a journalist.
The cheering will be long and loud on Feb. 17 when No. 2 is raised to the RBC Center roof, probably as long and loud as a game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup finals.