Backchecking: A look at each team's defence corps

Scott Cullen
4/4/2009 11:24:42 AM
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Does the defence rest?  Not if you want to win, it doesn't.

The Player Rankings are generated using a statistical formula that includes the following stats: goals per game, assists per game, plus-minus, power play goals, shorthanded goals, game-winning goals, shots on goal, blocked shots, hits, giveaways, takeaways, faceoff won-loss and penalty differential (drawn - taken).

With those individual rankings to act as a guide, here is a ranking of the each team's defensive unit, with more importance placed on the value of the top four defencemen, since they are the ones who will log the majority of -- and most important -- ice time.

As analyst Keith Jones has mentioned several times this season on TSN, the new NHL is driven by teams with a strong defence.  Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the best teams tend to have a strong defence corps.

Zdeno Chara
Dennis Wideman
Andrew Ference
Aaron Ward
Cumulative Rating: 322.01

Matt Hunwick
Mark Stuart
Steve Montador
Cumulative Rating: 222.77

Comment: Shane Hnidy has been bumped down with the acquisition of Montador and the emergence of Hunwick and it's that depth that helps set the Bruins apart, but it doesn't hurt having two Norris Trophy candidates, Chara and Wideman, at the top of the depth chart.

Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Christian Ehrhoff
Rob Blake
Cumulative Rating: 325.30

Brad Lukowich
Douglas Murray
Alexei Semenov
Cumulative Rating: 200.90

Comment: This of course assumes that Blake will be return from his latest injury, but the Sharks have compiled a strong unit that will lean on the Stanley Cup experience of Blake, Boyle and Lukowich.  Vlasic just continues to get better and even a depth guy like Semenov has been a valuable contributor.

Nicklas Lidstrom
Brian Rafalski
Niklas Kronwall
Brad Stuart
Cumulative Rating: 322.23

Jonathan Ericsson
Brett Lebda
Chris Chelios
Cumulative Rating: 194.57

Comment: The depth would be better with Andreas Lilja healthy, but there's no need to cry for the Red Wings, who have a perennial Norris Trophy winner leading the way and the next generation is led by Niklas Kronwall and towering Jonathan Ericsson, finally getting his chance to play.

Duncan Keith
Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell
Cam Barker
Cumulative Rating: 315.62

Niklas Hjalmarsson
Matt Walker
Aaron Johnson
Cumulative Rating: 202.93

Comment: A young group that might need a more stabilizing veteran presence than Campbell, who has slumped.  Even so, the Blackhawks have enviable mobility and puckhandling skills on D.

Sergei Gonchar
Brooks Orpik
Kris Letang
Rob Scuderi
Cumulative Rating: 310.72

Mark Eaton
Hal Gill
Alex Goligoski
Cumulative Rating: 207.53

Comment: Getting Gonchar back really lifted the Penguins' D, but the development of Letang has also played a big part.  The rest of the top six aren't flashy, by any means, but they are safe and reliable.

Joe Corvo
Joni Pitkanen
Anton Babchuk
Dennis Seidenberg
Cumulative Rating: 310.48

Tim Gleason
Niclas Wallin
Tim Conboy
Cumulative Rating: 198.45

Comment: The sudden development of Babchuk late in the season made the group much better as he provides insurance for the other offensive defencemen, Corvo and Pitkanen, who both run hot and cold.  Veterans Seidenberg, Gleason and Wallin aren't flashy, but solid and the 'Canes are strangely effective when Conboy is in the lineup.

Mike Green
Tom Poti
Jeff Schultz
Shaone Morrisonn
Cumulative Rating: 308.09

John Erskine
Milan Jurcina
Brian Pothier
Cumulative Rating: 199.62

Comment: Green is the only standout, but he stands out from every other defenceman in the league, scoring 30 goals in just 63 games and ranking second on the team with a plus-24.  The rest are solid, unspectacular and, in some cases, mediocre.

Ryan Suter
Shea Weber
Dan Hamhuis
Greg Zanon
Cumulative Rating: 305.02

Greg de Vries
Kevin Klein
Ville Koistinen
Cumulative Rating: 193.09

Comment: The strength of the team, to the point that Koistinen is terminally underused (or left out of the lineup altogether).  Weber and Suter are two rising stars while Hamhuis is steady and Zanon lays it all on the line, blocking shots like few others.  If only they had some help (and health) up front.

Paul Martin
Johnny Oduya
Niclas Havelid
Colin White
Cumulative Rating: 301.09

Bryce Salvador
Mike Mottau
Andy Greene
Cumulative Rating: 207.26

Comment: While the Devils lack the big-name workhorse that they had in the days of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, the unit has been quietly effective, with Oduya, Martin, White and Mottau all better than plus-20 on the season.

Willie Mitchell
Kevin Bieksa
Mattias Ohlund
Sami Salo
Cumulative Rating: 298.78

Alexander Edler
Shane O'Brien
Ossi Vaananen
Cumulative Rating: 209.70

Comment: The Canucks have five legitimate "Top Four" defencemen, and big Willie Mitchell is having a tremendous season, leading the team at plus-30.  Bieksa, Ohlund, Salo and Edler can all handle the puck and work the power play, giving head coach Alain Vigneault flexibility.

Jay Bouwmeester
Bryan McCabe
Keith Ballard
Karlis Skrastins
Cumulative Rating: 301.69

Jassen Cullimore
Nick Boynton
Steve Eminger
Cumulative Rating: 201.31

Comment: Bouwmeester play has slipped in the second half, but Ballard has been a force and McCabe has been surprisingly effective all season.  Skrastins and Boynton are solid, so long as Boynton is in the lineup and not getting suspended by the team.

Scott Niedermayer
Chris Pronger
Ryan Whitney
James Wisniewski
Cumulative Rating: 300.20

Sheldon Brookbank
Brendan Mikkelson
Brett Festerling
Cumulative Rating: 191.73

Comment: The early loss of Francois Beauchemin left the Ducks short-staffed on the blueline, but they made a pair of quality additions when they got Ryan Whitney from Pittsburgh and virtually stole James Wisniewski from Chicago and they are a strong complement to workhorse veterans Niedermayer and Pronger.

Andrei Markov
Roman Hamrlik
Mathieu Schneider
Mike Komisarek
Cumulative Rating: 296.65

Josh Gorges
Patrice Brisebois
Ryan O'Byrne
Cumulative Rating: 202.18

Comment: Markov is the Habs' leading scorer and the arrival of Schneider has helped lift the power play, but the unit would be better if Komisarek was as physically dominating as he was in 2007-2008.  On the plus side (literally, since he shares the team lead), Josh Gorges has developed into a strong defensive presence.

Fedor Tyutin
Jan Hejda
Mike Commodore
Rostislav Klesla
Cumulative Rating: 296.12

Marc Methot
Kris Russell
Christian Backman
Cumulative Rating: 205.56

Comment: While the Blue Jackets don't have the prototypical No. 1 defenceman, Fedor Tyutin has quietly been very effective and the shutdown tandem of Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda is terrific.  Klesla can't seem to stay healthy this year, but youngsters Methot and Russell have picked up the slack and it doesn't hurt the unit to have star rookie goaltender Steve Mason covering for them.

Sheldon Souray
Denis Grebeshkov
Tom Gilbert
Steve Staios
Cumulative Rating: 297.04

Jason Strudwick
Ladislav Smid
Theo Peckham
Cumulative Rating: 185.87

Comment: The injury to Lubomir Visnovsky has been troubling overall, thought it has given Grebeshkov more opportunities and he's responded well.  With Ladislav Smid also going down to injury, the Oilers are trying to make their playoff bid with a shorthanded defence corps, so maybe it's not altogether surprising that it's not working.

Braydon Coburn
Kimmo Timonen
Matt Carle
Ryan Parent
Cumulative Rating: 289.25

Randy Jones
Andrew Alberts
Danny Syvret
Cumulative Rating: 195.41

Comment: Even if Coburn hasn't developed as expected this year, this is still a unit with untapped potential as Coburn, Carle and Parent are all young and can get better.  Timonen has been effective, but only has three goals on the season, not quite what the Flyers would have anticipated after getting him from Nashville in the summer of 2008.

Dion Phaneuf
Adrian Aucoin
Robyn Regehr
Jordan Leopold
Cumulative Rating: 285.45

Cory Sarich
Jim Vandermeer
Adam Pardy
Cumulative Rating: 199.80

Comment: If Phaneuf was playing well, the group would be much better, because veterans like Sarich and Regehr are physical and difficult to play against and Leopold was a solid addition at the deadline, but Phaneuf and Aucoin have both had defensive issues.

Tomas Kaberle
Ian White
Pavel Kubina
Luke Schenn
Cumulative Rating: 287.79

Jeff Finger
Anton Stralman
Phil Oreskovic
Cumulative Rating: 203.91

Comment: For all of the Leafs' shortcomings in this rebuilding season, they have a decent group on the blueline and it would be even better if Mike Van Ryn could stay healthy or they received strong goaltending support.  Whether they're all back again next season is another matter...

Tobias Enstrom
Zach Bogosian
Ron Hainsey
Anssi Salmela
Cumulative Rating: 288.71

Garnet Exelby
Boris Valabik
Nathan Oystrick
Cumulative Rating: 191.78

Comment: Since the return of rookie Zach Bogosian, and the departure of Mathieu Schneider which paved the way for Tobias Enstrom to re-establish his place at the top of the depth chart, the Thrashers have been much better on the back end.

Marc Staal
Wade Redden
Daniel Girardi
Derek Morris
Cumulative Rating: 275.34

Michal Rozsival
Paul Mara
Corey Potter
Cumulative Rating: 212.94

Comment: According to his paycheque, Redden is supposed to be anchoring this unit, but he hasn't been particularly effective, so the Rangers' fate this year may depend on whether the young guys, Staal and Girardi, can rise to the occasion.  There is no shortage of experience otherwise, as Morris, Mara and Rozsival have all been around the block a few times.

Stephane Robidas
Trevor Daley
Matt Niskanen
Darryl Sydor
Cumulative Rating: 285.23

Niklas Grossman
Mark Fistric
Andrew Hutchinson
Cumulative Rating: 192.80

Comment: Late-season injuries have decimated the group, but it's been an ongoing problem for the Stars this year, with Sergei Zubov limited to just ten games.  Robidas has elevated his game and young guys Daley, Niskanen and Grossman all show promise, but they're not yet where they need to be to anchor a playoff-calibre blueline.

Filip Kuba
Chris Phillips
Anton Volchenkov
Chris Campoli
Cumulative Rating: 278.37

Brendan Bell
Brian Lee
Christoph Schubert
Cumulative Rating: 197.23

Comment: It's not a terrible unit, particularly considering Jason Smith and Alexandre Picard are out with injuries.  There isn't a bona fide number one, but Kuba has had a strong season and Campoli has been a good addition and Bell and Lee are getting ample opportunity to prove they are NHL-calibre.

Toni Lydman
Jaroslav Spacek
Henrik Tallinder
Craig Rivet
Cumulative Rating: 275.52

Andrej Sekera
Chris Butler
Teppo Numminen
Cumulative Rating: 195.61

Comment: There's good depth on the blueline, but no legitimate number one (or possibly even number two) to be the leader of the group.  Perhaps young guys like Sekera and Butler can develop into more prominent roles, but they aren't there yet.

Zbynek Michalek
Ed Jovanovski
Kurt Sauer
Dmitri Kalinin
Cumulative Rating: 269.76

Keith Yandle
Ken Klee
David Hale
Cumulative Rating: 204.90

Comment: It hasn't been an easy season for the Coyotes, as one might expect when the top two defencemen are a combined minus-26.  Yandle has the most upside and Sauer is effective in a strictly defensive role, but there are clearly holes.

Kim Johnsson
Marek Zidlicky
Martin Skoula
Nick Schultz
Cumulative Rating: 269.41

Marc-Andre Bergeron
Kurtis Foster
John Scott
Cumulative Rating: 197.71

Comment: Even if he wasn't matching his play of last season, the loss of Brent Burns has been crushing as the Wild battle for the final playoff spot in the West.  Johnsson logs a lot of minutes and Zidlicky and Bergeron can both move the puck and work the power play, but it's a unit that is missing a leader without Burns.

Barret Jackman
Roman Polak
Carlo Colaiacovo
Mike Weaver
Cumulative Rating: 265.65

Jeff Woywitka
Jay McKee
Tyson Strachan
Cumulative Rating: 201.44

Comment: Colaiacovo has been a terrific addition as the Blues don't have a lot of accomplished puck-movers on defence, particularly with Erik Johnson and Eric Brewer injured.  The surprise has been undersized journeyman Mike Weaver, who is working his way into more minutes.

Mark Streit
Radek Martinek
Bruno Gervais
Brendan Witt
Cumulative Rating: 272.38

Jack Hillen
Thomas Pock
Joe Callahan
Cumulative Rating: 188.28

Comment: If not for the surprising Streit, this could be the worst unit in the league (thanks in part to Witt's minus-32), but Streit's been fantastic.  There are a few young guys with potential to get better, but none of them has a high ceiling, so change will be needed to dramatically alter the course.

Drew Doughty
Kyle Quincey
Sean O'Donnell
Matt Greene
Cumulative Rating: 269.46

Jack Johnson
Denis Gauthier
Peter Harrold
Cumulative Rating: 186.83

Comment: The future should be bright with Doughty, Johnson and Quincey leading the youthful charge, but they're learning on the job now and that means mistakes.

Scott Hannan
John-Michael Liles
Brett Clark
Ruslan Salei
Cumulative Rating: 267.52

Mike Vernace
Derek Peltier
Lawrence Nycholat
Cumulative Rating: 178.14

Comment: Injuries to Adam Foote and Daniel Tjarnqvist don't help, but this is a unit that was in trouble anyway.  The top four have all enjoyed success previously, but it's been tough for the defence to overcome injuries up front and poor goaltending behind them.

Matt Lashoff
Lukas Krajicek
Matt Smaby
Richard Petiot
Cumulative Rating: 254.86

Josef Melichar
Noah Welch
David Koci
Cumulative Rating: 179.28

Comment: A ridiculous run of injuries (Paul Ranger, Andrej Meszaros, Marek Malik and Cory Murphy) depleted a unit that wasn't anything to write home about in the first place.  At least they are getting to see whether Lashoff has a chance to be a part of their future and who knew that they'd get this much out of Richard Petiot?

"MacT is not going anywhere" - A text message from Oilers owner Daryl Katz, supporting his coach.

"We maybe underachieved but even though we're 77 games into it, the season is still young and we can still make some good things happen." - Canadiens LW Alex Tanguay.

"If you're running the Boston Marathon and you're leading after 20 miles, you don't stop to say, 'Man, I'm leading.'" - Bruins G Tim Thomas.

"One of those games where you kind of black out and then they're patting you on the back." - Blues RW David Backes, after scoring four goals against the Red Wings.

"I gave their best player a breakaway to lose the game for us.  It's disappointing. It's tough when you let your teammates down like that." - Sabres LW Thomas Vanek, after an OT goal by Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk.

"Anytime you don't have nine players, you want the other guys to step up and play well." - Sharks G Evgeni Nabokov.

No matter what team you cheer for, please think good thoughts for Canucks winger Taylor Pyatt at this tragic time in his life.  What he's going through won't be easy and anyone in his situation needs all the support they can get.

Scott Cullen can be reached at

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