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Backchecking: Ranking NHL Defensive Units

Scott Cullen
3/31/2010 5:27:10 PM
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The old axiom is that defence is what wins championships and while it's certainly debatable, given the offensive impact of the league's best teams, there is no denying that teams that expect to win in the postseason need to be able to count on their blueliners.

Breaking down each team's defence corps, I've tried to go with the seven-man unit that they are most likely to have available to them. This means a ding against teams like Chicago (minus Brian Campbell) and Ottawa (without Filip Kuba), among others.

In any case, I've measured each unit of seven's goals, goals per game, assists, assists per game, cumulative plus-minus, hits, hits per game, blocked shots, blocked shots per game, games played and both cumulative and average TSN.ca rating.

(More information on the methodology for arriving at the TSN.ca Rating can be found here.)

While the pure numbers provide some useful information, it's also worth noting that, when ranking the entire units, the value of the top four defencemen is more important than those further down the depth chart. Thus, the cumulative rating isn't necessarily representative of the value of the entire unit.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Washington Capitals have the defence corps that has made the greatest impact this season. Surely the team's explosive offence helps, and Mike Green (the first defenceman since Ray Bourque in 1995-1996 to have a point-per-game and better than a plus-30 rating) plays a big part in that anyway, but the Capitals blueliners have had the most positive impact this season and could be getting even better with trade-deadline addition Joe Corvo and the promotion of John Carlson from the AHL. 

Defending-champion Pittsburgh has also bolstered their defence, with the acquisition of veteran Jordan Leopold, giving them a nice mix of veteran depth and high-end talent led, most notably, by power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar.

A team that could very easily contended for top spot in the rankings, the Chicago Blackhawks lose some ground while Brian Campbell is injured (and Kim Johnsson's questionable status doesn't help either), but the top pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook may be as good as any in the league.

The Philadelphia Flyers are a little surprising as a top ten unit, particularly considering the drop-off from the top to the bottom of the depth chart, but the Flyers' top four is good enough to make up for suspect role players.

Whether they make the playoffs or not, the Atlanta Thrashers are getting production from their blueline, with Tobias Enstrom and Pavel Kubina leading the way, though Ron Hainsey, Zach Bogosian and ex-Devil Johnny Oduya lend support.

There's no need to worry about the Toronto Maple Leafs reaching the postseason, but their current defensive unit isn't bad. Dion Phaneuf and call-up Carl Gunnarsson have helped upgrade a unit that started the season very slowly.

New Jersey's defence ranks below average, in some respects because the Devils don't ask for any kind of offensive production from the blueline. Andy Greene is the only Devils D-man with more than 16 points on the season.

Though they are ranked in the bottom third, the Carolina Hurricanes have a reasonably productive group right now, though it's hard to imagie rookie Jamie McBain (six points, plus3 in eight games) continuing at the pace at which he's started his NHL career.

At the bottom of the list, the Islanders, Lightning and Oilers are injury-depleted and, in the cases of the Islanders and Oilers, dealt away veteran defencemen at the trade deadline, providing opportunity for younger defencemen to sink or swim in a late-season audition.

Heading towards the postseason, then, here are the defence rankings for each NHL team:

(Note: Players listed in parentheses are either lower on the depth chart or injured and not counted in the statistics for the top seven).

1. WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Unit: Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Tom Poti, Shaone Morrisonn, Joe Corvo, John Erskine, John Carlson, (Milan Jurcina), (Tyler Sloan).
Goals/Per Game: 34/.09
Assists/Per Game: 121/.32
Plus-Minus: 122
Hits/Per Game: 516/1.37
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 578/1.53
Games Played: 378
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 512.39/73.20

2. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Unit: Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski, Jordan Leopold, Mark Eaton, Jay McKee.
Goals/Per Game: 32/.07
Assists/Per Game: 140/.30
Plus-Minus: 18
Hits/Per Game: 602/1.30
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 761/1.65
Games Played: 462
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 492.14/70.30

3. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Unit: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Sopel, Nick Boynton, Jordan Hendry, Kim Johnsson, (Brian Campbell).
Goals/Per Game: 29/.07
Assists/Per Game: 114/.27
Plus-Minus: 54
Hits/Per Game: 470/1.10
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 648/1.52
Games Played: 427
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 480.80/68.69

4. PHOENIX COYOTES
Unit: Ed Jovanovski, Keith Yandle, Adrian Aucoin, Zbynek Michalek, Derek Morris, Mathieu Schneider, Sami Lepisto, (Jim Vandermeer).
Goals/Per Game: 40/.09
Assists/Per Game: 122/.28
Plus-Minus: 26
Hits/Per Game: 475/1.08
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 580/1.32
Games Played: 440
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 485.67/69.38

5. SAN JOSE SHARKS
Unit: Dan Boyle, Rob Blake, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Douglas Murray, Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin, Jay Leach.
Goals/Per Game: 31/.07
Assists/Per Game: 110/.25
Plus-Minus: 41
Hits/Per Game: 588/1.33
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 640/1.45
Games Played: 442
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 476.91/68.13

6. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Unit: Alexander Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Andrew Alberts, Aaron Rome, Shane O'Brien, (Willie Mitchell).
Goals/Per Game: 31/.07
Assists/Per Game: 111/.25
Plus-Minus: 66
Hits/Per Game: 589/1.35
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 462/1.06
Games Played: 436
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 479.64/68.52

7. DETROIT RED WINGS
Unit: Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Jonathan Ericsson, Andreas Lilja, Brett Lebda, (Derek Meech).
Goals/Per Game: 30/.08
Assists/Per Game: 115/.29
Plus-Minus: 21
Hits/Per Game: 492/1.23
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 447/1.12
Games Played: 399
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 470.48/67.21

8. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Unit: Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent, Oskars Bartulis, Lukas Krajicek.
Goals/Per Game: 28/.06
Assists/Per Game: 127/.29
Plus-Minus: -1
Hits/Per Game: 400/0.91
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 729/1.66
Games Played: 439
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 455.13/65.02

9. NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Unit: Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Klein, Francis Bouillon, Cody Franson, Alexander Sulzer, (Denis Grebeshkov).
Goals/Per Game: 32/.07
Assists/Per Game: 108/.24
Plus-Minus: 19
Hits/Per Game: 650/1.42
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 588/1.29
Games Played: 457
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 471.64/67.38

10. LOS ANGELES KINGS
Unit: Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Matt Greene, Rob Scuderi, Sean O'Donnell, Randy Jones, Peter Harrold, (Davis Drewiske).
Goals/Per Game: 32/.07
Assists/Per Game: 106/.24
Plus-Minus: 21
Hits/Per Game: 706/1.61
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 535/1.22
Games Played: 439
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 468.17/66.88

11. MONTREAL CANADIENS
Unit: Andrei Markov, Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik, Josh Gorges, Ryan O'Byrne, Hal Gill, Marc-Andre Bergeron, (Paul Mara).
Goals/Per Game: 29/.07
Assists/Per Game: 99/.24
Plus-Minus: 6
Hits/Per Game: 449/1.07
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 743/1.77
Games Played: 420
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 470.97/67.28

12. BOSTON BRUINS
Unit: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Mark Stuart, Matt Hunwick, Andrew Ference.
Goals/Per Game: 28/.06
Assists/Per Game: 112/.25
Plus-Minus: -10
Hits/Per Game: 700/1.58
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 657/1.48
Games Played: 443
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 467.69/66.81

13. ATLANTA THRASHERS
Unit: Tobias Enstrom, Pavel Kubina, Zach Bogosian, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya, Mark Popovic, Chris Chelios, (Christoph Schubert), (Boris Valabik).
Goals/Per Game: 32/.08
Assists/Per Game: 119/.30
Plus-Minus: -10
Hits/Per Game: 452/1.12
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 626/1.56
Games Played: 402
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 462.77/66.11

14. CALGARY FLAMES
Unit: Mark Giordano, Jay Bouwmeester, Ian White, Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich, Steve Staios, Adam Pardy.
Goals/Per Game: 30/.06
Assists/Per Game: 101/.22
Plus-Minus: 9
Hits/Per Game: 582/1.25
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 661/1.42
Games Played: 464
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 455.60/65.09

15. BUFFALO SABRES
Unit: Tyler Myers, Toni Lydman, Henrik Tallinder, Chris Butler, Andrej Sekera, Craig Rivet, Steve Montador.
Goals/Per Game: 27/.06
Assists/Per Game: 119/.26
Plus-Minus: 17
Hits/Per Game: 440/.97
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 535/1.18
Games Played: 453
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 465.49/66.50

16. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Unit: Dion Phaneuf, Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson, Jeff Finger, Garnet Exelby, (Mike Komisarek).
Goals/Per Game: 31/.07
Assists/Per Game: 113/.26
Plus-Minus: -35
Hits/Per Game: 645/1.51
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 630/1.48
Games Played: 427
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 462.95/66.14

17. COLORADO AVALANCHE
Unit: Brett Clark, Kyle Quincey, Scott Hannan, Adam Foote, Kyle Cumiskey, Ruslan Salei, John-Michael Liles, (Ryan Wilson).
Goals/Per Game: 23/.06
Assists/Per Game: 98/.25
Plus-Minus: 36
Hits/Per Game: 406/1.04
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 707/1.81
Games Played: 390
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 481.77/68.82

18. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Unit: Paul Martin, Andy Greene, Colin White, Bryce Salvador, Mike Mottau, Martin Skoula, Mark Fraser, (Anssi Salmela).
Goals/Per Game: 22/.05
Assists/Per Game: 74/.18
Plus-Minus: 25
Hits/Per Game: 506/1.22
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 588/1.41
Games Played: 416
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 459.17/65.60

19. NEW YORK RANGERS
Unit: Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Michal Rozsival, Wade Redden, Matt Gilroy, Anders Eriksson.
Goals/Per Game: 30/.07
Assists/Per Game: 104/.23
Plus-Minus: -15
Hits/Per Game: 762/1.68
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 637/1.40
Games Played: 454
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 465.13/66.44

20. OTTAWA SENATORS
Unit: Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Erik Karlsson, Andy Sutton, Matt Carkner, Chris Campoli, Brian Lee, (Filip Kuba).
Goals/Per Game: 26/.06
Assists/Per Game: 76/.18
Plus-Minus: -6
Hits/Per Game: 709/1.69
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 754/1.80
Games Played: 420
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 455.01/65.00

21. DALLAS STARS
Unit: Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, Mark Fistric, Karlis Skrastins, Nicklas Grossman, Matt Niskanen, Jeff Woywitka.
Goals/Per Game: 22/.05
Assists/Per Game: 84/.19
Plus-Minus: -12
Hits/Per Game: 747/1.65
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 709/1.57
Games Played: 452
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 451.10/64.44

22. CAROLINA HURRICANES
Unit: Joni Pitkanen, Jamie McBain, Brian Pothier, Brett Carson, Bryan Rodney, Jay Harrison, Tim Gleason, (Alexandre Picard).
Goals/Per Game: 22/.08
Assists/Per Game: 88/.31
Plus-Minus: -10
Hits/Per Game: 423/1.47
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 462/1.61
Games Played: 287
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 485.70/69.39

23. ST. LOUIS BLUES
Unit: Erik Johnson, Roman Polak, Barret Jackman, Eric Brewer, Carlo Colaiacovo, Mike Weaver, Darryl Sydor.
Goals/Per Game: 27/.06
Assists/Per Game: 104/.24
Plus-Minus: 6
Hits/Per Game: 452/1.03
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 625/1.42
Games Played: 440
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 463.70/66.24

24. ANAHEIM DUCKS
Unit: Scott Niedermayer, Lubomir Visnovsky, Steve Eminger, Aaron Ward, Sheldon Brookbank, Brett Festerling, James Wisniewski.
Goals/Per Game: 30/.07
Assists/Per Game: 120/.28
Plus-Minus: -33
Hits/Per Game: 656/1.52
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 569/1.31
Games Played: 433
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 463.09/66.16

25. MINNESOTA WILD
Unit: Marek Zidlicky, Brent Burns, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz, Shane Hnidy, John Scott, Cam Barker.
Goals/Per Game: 20/.05
Assists/Per Game: 107/.24
Plus-Minus: -35
Hits/Per Game: 566/1.26
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 606/1.37
Games Played: 442
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 451.33/64.48

26. FLORIDA PANTHERS
Unit: Bryan McCabe, Keith Ballard, Bryan Allen, Dmitry Kulikov, Mathieu Roy, Jason Garrison, Keaton Ellerby.
Goals/Per Game: 23/.06
Assists/Per Game: 85/.24
Plus-Minus: -15
Hits/Per Game: 528/1.47
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 591/1.65
Games Played: 358
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 448.15/64.02

27. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Unit: Fedor Tyutin, Kris Russell, Mike Commodore, Anton Stralman, Marc Methot, Nathan Paetsch, Grant Clitsome, (Rostislav Klesla), (Jan Hejda).
Goals/Per Game: 25/.07
Assists/Per Game: 85/.25
Plus-Minus: -38
Hits/Per Game: 515/1.51
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 413/1.21
Games Played: 342
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 455.59/65.08

28. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Unit: Mark Streit, Jack Hillen, Bruno Gervais, Andrew MacDonald, Freddy Meyer, Dylan Reese, Mark Flood, (Radek Martinek), (Dustin Kohn).
Goals/Per Game: 22/.07
Assists/Per Game: 77/.24
Plus-Minus: -12
Hits/Per Game: 357/1.11
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 523/1.63
Games Played: 321
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 448.03/64.00

29. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Unit: Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman, Kurtis Foster, Andrej Meszaros, Mike Lundin, Matt Walker, David Hale, (Matt Smaby), (Vladimir Mihalik), (Paul Ranger).
Goals/Per Game: 22/.05
Assists/Per Game: 81/.19
Plus-Minus: -45
Hits/Per Game: 470/1.12
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 586/1.40
Games Played: 418
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 418.87/59.84

30. EDMONTON OILERS
Unit: Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert, Aaron Johnson, Tayler Chorney, Jason Strudwick, Dean Arsene, (Sheldon Souray), (Ladislav Smid), (Theo Peckham).
Goals/Per Game: 18/.05
Assists/Per Game: 66/.20
Plus-Minus: -66
Hits/Per Game: 333/1.00
Blocked Shots/Per Game: 531/1.60
Games Played: 332
Cumulative/Average TSN.ca Rating: 421.48/60.21

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.

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