Rod Langway was the prototypical defensive blueliner - a hard hitter who more often than not cleared the puck from danger. In other words he was a goaltender’s best friend, and the perfect team player.
Craig Laughlin described his former teammate in awe.
“Rod’s presence made a statement to all the other teams. Nobody wanted to play against him when he was in his prime. The statement that I heard most from opponents was that he was like playing against an octopus. He had the size, the reach and the strength.”
Few were better than Langway. He was so good that he won the James Norris Trophy twice, in 1983 and 1984 as the league’s top defenceman. This is an amazing accomplishment when you consider how rare it is for a defensive d-man to win the award since the arrival of Bobby Orr in the late 1960s. Since Orr revolutionized the role of a defenseman from defender to attacker, the trophy almost always went to the best offensive defenseman. For Langway to capture the Norris trophy twice based on his defensive excellence and not his offensive elements is the best tribute to how good he was. And to make it even more impressive, Langway beat out superstars Ray Bourque, Denis Potvin and Paul Coffey. Coffey in particular dared to come close to Orr's offensive exploits, yet the NHL recognized Langway's great play over that. Langway was also the first American player to win the award.
The Montreal Canadiens drafted Langway 37th overall in 1977 after his final year of college. Langway attended the University of New Hampshire where he was on a football scholarship. But hockey soon took over as his love and scouts were noticing him. Rod left school after his sophomore year as he felt he was ready for the professional ranks. The Habs actually urged him to stay in school and develop more as the Habs were in the midst of a dynasty and already boasted a blueline that included Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe.
Langway spent some time in the American Hockey League and with Birmingham of the World Hockey Association before joining Montreal for the 1978-79 season. In his first year in the NHL, he recorded seven points in 45 games and was a member of the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup championship squad.
In his first full season in the NHL with Montreal, 1979-80, Langway scored seven goals and 36 points in 77 games. The following year he set career-highs in goals (11), assists (34) and points (45) and in 1981-82 he notched 39 points.
After four years with the Habs, Langway was part of a blockbuster deal prior to the 1982-83 season that sent the veteran defenceman along with Craig Laughlin, Doug Jarvis and Brian Engblom to the Caps for Ryan Walter and Rick Green. The deal is often considered to be one of the worst trades in Montreal history, mainly because of the level of greatness Langway would achieve in a Washington uniform. Laughlin, Jarvis and Engblom all went to lengthy careers as well. Walter and Green proved to be valuable players and helped the Habs win the 1986 Stanley Cup, but couldn't match the career that Langway had.
Rod made a huge impact on hockey in the US Capital. He won the Norris trophy in each of his first two seasons there, and played with heart and desire that few others could ever match. When Langway arrived in Washington, the Capitals had never made the playoffs. In his 11 seasons with the organization, the club never missed them.Rod was a great leader and a greater teacher. He learned from some of the best while in Montreal - Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe - and he taught some of the best - Scott Stevens, Kevin Hatcher and Larry Murphy.
There was little doubt that Rod Langway was not only the leader of the Capitals, but many believed he was the most valuable player to his team. In 1984, Langway finished second to Wayne Gretzky in Hart trophy balloting. The Hart trophy goes to the league's MVP. Imagine that - in an era dominated by mindboggling offense and The Great One, a defensive d-man was considered by many to be the league's most valuable player.
For Rod it was his single greatest personal achievement.
"People don't remember the guy who came in second but to be considered one plateau below Gretzky that year was a great honor for me, more than the Norris Trophy."
But Langway wasn't worried about personal honors, rather he wanted team success. While Langway was part of a Stanley Cup team in his rookie season in Montreal, Langway never again got his name on the Cup. That would be is his only real regret in hockey.
"I was probably more disappointed every year I didn't win the Cup." he said. "I have my ring and myname on the Stanley Cup. To this day I feel we should have won a couple more in Montreal and truly believe we should have won a couple in Washington."
When Langway left the NHL in 1993, he had career totals of 51 goals, 278 assists and 329 points in 994 regular season games.
Later, the Caps retired Langways jersey to honor him.
"I'd like to be remembered as a player who came to play every night," said Langway. "I remember when the trade happened. I remember 8,000 people who made noise like 18,000."
Langway once again referred to the failed attempts to bring the Cup to Washington.
"The only honor for a player that means more than having his number retired is winning the Stanley Cup. We didn't do that here, and that's a black cloud over my head," Langway said.
Rod remained in hockey after he finished playing in the NHL. In fact he even laced up the skates again, in both the ECHL and IHL. Langway was an assistant coach in both places and actually came out of retirement to be a playing coach. Langway wants to be an assistant coach at the NHL level but doesn't want to be a head coach. He prefers to teach and to be "one of the guys" than to be the head man who has to play mind games with his players in order to get them to work harder.