Season Preview: Ranking the Eastern Conference Defensemen
Dear Lou Lamoriello,
Way back in the day, (we’re talking pre-Fresh Prince of Bel Air days), I was a fan of the New Jersey Devils.
There were a few reasons for this. One, Oshawa-native John Maclean was your go-to scorer at the time. Another reason was, well, I was a fan of Christmas, and your team colours happened to match the season.
The biggest reason though was that I wanted to be one of those fans who bragged after winning a championship that he’d “been there” through the lean years.
In reality, by the time your Devils won the Cup I’d moved on. You see, I realized I was using your squad just for bragging rights – my true allegiances fell elsewhere in the NHL.
I raise this because there’s a buzz that this is a “Cup or bust” season for Martin Brodeur and company.
Therefore, as a former (brief) die-hard, I thought I’d offer you a piece of free advice.
Your defense isn’t good enough to win a thing.
Of the last 20 Stanley Cup winning teams, did you know 17 of them featured an elite, puck-moving/scoring defenseman as a key part of their top-4?
The only exceptions were the Carolina Hurricanes (2005-06), Montreal Canadiens (1992-93) and Edmonton Oilers (1989-90). I think it’s fair to say these teams were also the most unlikely Cup winners of the past two decades.
So “Double L”, congrats on signing Ilya Kovalchuk.
But don’t forget the back-end, because Andy Greene is just not going to cut it.
P.S., for comparison’s sake, here’s my evaluation of the Eastern Conference’s defense corps.
Nice mix of puck-movers and defensive guys, young and old. Chris Pronger seems to have figured out how to dominate again after losing a step.
Solid top-4, particularly if Johnny Boychuk takes another step. With an improved forward group adding to his stat-line, Zdeno Chara could win the Norris this year.
There appears to be real depth here although, when (if?) they move Tomas Kaberle, their offensive IQ as a group will plummet. Discipline is also an issue.
No real top-end guy, although Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek and Brooks Orpik are a solid nucleus. Real offensive promise in Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski, although consistency is a concern.
Mike Green is the best offensive defensemen in the league. A rookie-of-the year-type campaign from John Carlson is expected, but don’t overlook Karl Alzner either as a youngster who could impact.
This rating is based on two assumptions: Andrei Markov returns to form from injury and P.K. Subban is the real-deal.
If Tyler Myres suffers the sophomore slump, this unit is in a lot of trouble. Craig Rivet and Steve Montador are not guys who can play big minutes, while the jury’s out on Chris Butler and Andrej Sekera as NHL defensemen.
An underrated group that could rank higher if Zack Bogosian takes another step. You could argue that Tobias Enstrom is the second-best offensive defenseman in the Conference (behind Mike Green).
Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov make this a formidable squad in their own zone. Exiting their zone is a whole other matter. There’ll be some interesting first-passes on the Devils this year.
Got to wonder how good Sergei Gonchar’s numbers will look without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to feed on the powerplay. His presence should help Erik Karlsson’s development, although both players need a map to find their own zone.
Okay at the top-end (Joni Pitkanen has improved; Tim Gleason is underrated; Jamie McBain has strong puck-mover potential), but spots 4-7 could be a nightmare. I wouldn’t trust Joe Corvo to park my car, let alone play defense.
Could move up these standings depending on the impact Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov and Keaton Ellerby have. Each could become very strong NHL defensemen. Dennis Wideman and Bryan McCabe are as shaky as it gets defensively.
New York Rangers
A young, inconsistent group anchored, and I mean bottom-of-the-ocean anchored, by two terrible vets (Michal Rozsival, Wade Redden). They really need Dan Girardi to continue improving; otherwise Marc Staal is the only guy with defensive zone presence.
New York Islanders
An average, young group with a bit of upside, although none of it flashy. I’m not sure anyone here could ever break the top-4 on a contending team.
Won’t be the worst for long, as all signs point to Victor Hedman becoming an impact player soon. Pavel Kubina will help the powerplay, and Mattias Ohlund is solid, albeit, piano-on-his-back quick. The rest of the d-corps is journeyman at best.