First of all, I will state that Paul Coffey was a nice hockey player that probably should have been a winger instead of a defenseman. As Scotty Bowman noted, Coffey was a defenseman who chose not to play defense, but got away with it because he was a decent scorer for a forward.
His large point totals throughout his career are also a bit inflated since he was in the perfect place at the perfect time, coming of age playing for a team that played to outscore others, had loads of talent up front, in a era when freewheeling was standard in the NHL. He basically rode the coattails of Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Anderson, Lemieux, Jagr, Francis, Yzerman, Fedorov, Lindros to help amass his large point totals. I suspect Bourque or Chelios or MacInnis on the same teams might have racked up near similar point totals, though they would have also taken their defensive responsibilities seriously.
Yes his point totals are similar to those of Bobby Orr in his prime. However, Orr actually exerted effort in his own end, probably as much effort as he exerted in the offensive zone. Coffey saved all of his energy for offense.
Here are some excerpts of Coffey's best work. I realize these are Detroit heavy, since I did not watch him nearly as closely when he played with other teams, since I was both too young to follow hockey closely, and because I am not an Oilers or Penguins fan. Perhaps Oilers or Penguins fans on the board can provide their own examples of Coffey's brilliance.
1. Coffey skates a duet with Scott Niedermayer, Game 2 1995 Finals:
2. Coffey attempts the first shot block of his career, does a terrible job, takes puck off back of leg where he has no padding, lays on ice while game winning goal is scored, Game 2 1995 Finals:
3. Coffey thinks he is in offensive zone, shows brilliant scoring touch. Game 1, 1996 Western Conference Finals:
4. Coffey chooses not to play defense, allows two Red Wings to skate in on his goaltender untouched (watch at about the 22-26 second mark, where Coffey just stands there when it is obvious the play is going the other way):
It is humorous that Coffey is mentioned in the same breath as players like Bourque and Chelios. I would put Coffey, as a defenseman, behind many of his contemporaries, including Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios, Al MacInnis, Phil Housley, Larry Murphy, perhaps Doug Wilson.
Also note that many teams traded Coffey, and found that losing his services had no impact on their ability to win. See the following:
- Edmonton Oilers win Stanley Cup in 1988, right after trading Coffey
- Pittsburgh Penguins win Stanley Cup in 1992, right after trading Coffey
- LA Kings make Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, right after trading Coffey
- Detroit Red Wings win Stanley Cup in 1997, right after trading Coffey