Smooth-skating Paul Coffey embodied everything an offensive defenseman could be -- lightning fast, a skilled playmaker, a booming shot and savvy, yet still able to defend his team's zone employing blinding speed.
Born June 1, 1961 in Weston, Ontario, the seventeen-year-old Coffey joined the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League for the 1978-79 season, contributing 89 points to the Soo's offense as a rookie defenseman. During his second season of junior, Paul was sent to the Kitchener Rangers. That season, between the Greyhounds and Rangers, Coffey tallied 29 goals and 102 points, and was named to the Ontario Hockey Association's Second All-Star Team. That summer, the Edmonton Oilers used their first pick, the sixth selection overall, to choose Paul Coffey in the 1980 Entry Draft. It was perfect timing for both sides -- the Oilers were developing into a highly skilled, offensively explosive club and Coffey's skill set meshed perfectly as the quarterback of the dynamic young team.
As an NHL rookie, Paul scored nine goals and 32 points, but it was in 1981-82 as a sophomore that Coffey really hit his stride. In his second season, Paul led all NHL defensemen with 89 points and was chosen for the NHL's Second All-Star Team. In 1982-83, he collected 96 points (29 goals and 67 assists), but it was his 126 points in 1983-84 that put him second only to teammate Wayne Gretzky in the NHL scoring race that year. That same season, the high-flying Edmonton Oilers won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
In 1984-85, on his way to helping lead the Oilers to their second straight Stanley Cup, Paul Coffey won the Norris Trophy as the National Hockey League's best defenseman and was selected to the First All-Star Team, a feat he replicated in 1985-86 in a season that can only be considered extraordinary. Coffey finished third in scoring with 138 points, including 48 goals and 90 assists.
Prior to the 1987-88 season, Coffey was traded to Pittsburgh, heading east with Wayne Van Dorp and Dave Hunter while Craig Simpson, Dave Hannan, Moe Mantha and Chris Joseph moved to Alberta. In both 1988-89 and '89-90 while with the Penguins, Paul cracked the 100-point plateau for the fourth and fifth times. The blueliner helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win their first Stanley Cup championship in 1990-91.
On February 19, 1992, Coffey was moved to the Los Angeles Kings in return for Brian Benning, Jeff Chychrun and a first round draft pick. L.A. would be the third of nine teams Paul would list on his NHL resume. In January 1993, Coffey was packaged with Jim Hiller and Sylvain Couturier and sent to Detroit for Jimmy Carson, Marc Potvin and Gary Shuchuk, but an injured knee hampered his play that season. By the following season, he had rebounded and not only led the Red Wings in scoring but was once again awarded the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman. Paul scored 14 goals in three consecutive seasons as a Red Wing, starting in 1993-94.
Paul's stay in Detroit lasted until October 1996 when he was traded with Keith Primeau and a first round draft selection to Hartford for Brendan Shanahan and Brian Glynn. Midway through the season, Coffey landed in Philadelphia, sent to the Flyers with a third round draft pick for Kevin Haller and two draft picks. During the summer of 1998, the Flyers traded Paul to the Chicago Blackhawks for a draft choice, but after ten games, he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Coffey's last stop was with the Boston Bruins, where he signed as a free agent in 2000. After eighteen games, Paul ended his terrific National Hockey League career; one in which he reached pinnacles seldom even dreamed of -- 396 goals and 1,135 assists gave the skilled defenseman 1,531 points in 1,409 regular season games. Paul also contributed 196 points, comprised of 59 goals and 137 assists, in 194 playoff contests.
Through twenty-one NHL seasons, Paul Coffey was named to either the First or Second All-Star Team eight times, and as the Norris Trophy winner on three occasions. He also appeared in fourteen NHL All-Star Games and represented Canada at four Canada/World Cup tournaments. Paul retired as the highest scoring defenseman in NHL playoff history and the second most proficient defenseman in NHL regular season history, sitting behind Raymond Bourque in career goals, assists, and points.
In 2004, the spectacularly gifted Paul Coffey was selected to be an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. "I had a chance to see Grant get elected to the Hall last year (2003) and it's a tremendous honour to join all of my Oilers teammates," said Coffey after being notified of his election to the Hall. "When we beat the Islanders to win our first Stanley Cup and later watched the stars from that team get into the Hall, it's amazing to receive the telephone call that Grant, Wayne, Jari and Slats got."
Scotty Bowman, writing in The Hockey News in November 2004, stated, "Coffey was one of the most unique defensemen to ever play in the league. He was often referred to as a 'rover.' The biggest thing about Coffey was his tremendous speed. If he couldn't skate like he did, he would not have been able to move up and play like he did. He was like a fourth forward on most attacks."