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NHL top ten defensemen

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  • NHL top ten defensemen

    What with the Olympics going on and having the very best players in the world playing on a best-on-best world-stage, I felt like rating some of the very best of the best. Maybe next we can discuss top players at forward or goalie or other more specific positions, but I like looking at defensemen, since it's something that so many people just seem to get wrong.

    I started thinking about this when I was talking to friends about the Subban situation, and when I said that he's obviously not going to get in ahead of Weber or Doughty, my friend said "How is he not?! He's the reigning Norris winner!" It was hard not to laugh out louod at this comment. The Norris Trophy is voted on by the PHWA... look at some of the voting members: nobody takes Elliot Friedman or Adrian Dater or anybody from Sportsnet seriously on an individual level, yet when we take their votes, combined with those of a bunch of other (often terrible) hockey writers' (probably some even worse), and then with those of a small minority of very good hockey writers like Bob McKenzie, Kevin Allen and Pierre Lebrun, for some ludicrous, inexplicable, preposterous reason, we tend to take the results dead seriously and are tempted to accept that P.K. Subban is literally the best defenseman in the NHL, and use that as an argument against the fact that some of the very best minds in hockey - like Claude Julien, Mike Babcock, Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock - have Subban ranked behind Weber, Doughty, Pietrangelo. So anyways, with that said, here's my list:

    1. Shea Weber - 'Nuff said.
    2. Duncan Keith - Two Stanley Cups and on pace to win his second Norris this year (assuming they get it right).
    3. Drew Doughty - Will never win a Norris as long as Sutter is coaching L.A., but there's nobody better on the biggest stages: he was one of the best defenseman at the last Olympics, playing a key role in shutting down Ovechkin, was the MVP of the Cup finals in 2012 and has been the top defenseman so far at this Olympics.
    4. Erik Karlsson - Before Karlsson's injury I probably would have had him #2, and I think he may get back there, but he's been up and down since, and the others have been consistently outstanding.
    5. Ryan Suter - As safe and mistake-free as defensemen come. For a guy who leads the league in ToI with 30 minutes per game and has a pretty impressive 32 points to only have 28 giveaways is simply unreal. Lidstrom-esque.
    6. Alex Pietrangelo - Pretty close between him and Subban. I think the big reason he gets the 3rd right spot for Canada over P.K. is his chemistry with J-Bo. The way they hold the line and make smart pinches in the offensive zone, whether it's with St. Louis or with Canada, when they're on the ice together their team often stays in the O-zone for minutes at a time.
    7. P.K. Subban - I remember way back in the early days of the Sensforum, somebody, maybe Rayzor, was arguing that Subban would someday be a top seven defenseman in the NHL. All I remember thinking about it was, "seven? why seven, of all numbers?" Anyways, whoever it was, they were right.
    8. Oliver Ekman-Larsson - I surprised myself by having him this low, but OEL is still young and needs to improve his consistency in order to move up the list.
    9. Niklas Kronwall - The heir apparent to Nick Lidstrom in Detroit, Kronwall may never put up the numbers he showed potential for early in his career, but he's settled in as one of the best all-round defensemen in the league.
    10. Brent Seabrook - Yet another right-shooting Canadian defenseman. After seeing how dead serious Canada is about three rights and three lefts by their use of Subban, no wonder Seabrook didn't make the team this year.

  • #2
    Re: NHL top ten defensemen

    i was rayzor btw lel

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    • #3
      Re: NHL top ten defensemen

      You'll always be Rayzor to me

      Good list Matches, I might have a couple additions/substractions that I'll post a bit later.

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      • #4
        Re: NHL top ten defensemen

        Victor Hedman will be there soon.

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        • #5
          Re: NHL top ten defensemen

          I know everyone will call me crazy, but based on this season alone, I'd replace Ryan Suter, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Niklas Kronwall with Victor Hedman, Mark Giordano, and Dennis Wideman. Dustin Byfuglien deserves honest consideration too. There are some young guys coming up who I could honestly see challenging for top-ten spots in two years. Guys like Jacob Trouba, Roman Josi, Radko Gudas, Olli Maatta, and Torey Krug are the Norris winners of the future.

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          • #6
            Re: NHL top ten defensemen

            I don't think any of those guys will ever win the Norris, but Trouba and Maatta will be closest.

            Hell, Hedman will probably never win the trophy. Too many good, young defensemen today like Subban, Karlsson, Doughty, Pietrangelo, OEL... actually, Hedman can get in there. Adam Larsson possibly, too, if NJD doesn't fuck up his development.

            What do I know, though? I thought Gudbranson would be a top defenseman in his draft year too.

            Interested in seeing how Ekblad does in the NHL.

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            • #7
              Re: NHL top ten defensemen

              Karlsson's probably the most exciting to watch, but he's still not 100% from his injury.

              I also feel like sometimes he's in the mood to dominate games and sometimes not. Dunno if this is injury related or if I'm just making this up in my head, but when EK wants to take control, he does. It should just happen more often.

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              • #8
                Re: NHL top ten defensemen

                While I would disagree with much of Josh's analysis, I like the list of youngsters. I'd be surprised if Gudas or Krug were to ever win a Norris, but I think Josi and Trouba could be right in the mix, I'd also include Seth Jones and Hampus Lindholm. Looking to this years world juniors, I think Ristolainen and Zadorov both have a chance to be the best defensemen to ever come out of their respective countries. Ristolainen has shades of his countryman Joni Pitkanen, who would have been the best Finnish D-man ever if not for injuries. Zadorov reminds me in a lot of ways of Dustin Byfuglien: the size, the skating, the shot, the hitting, the eagerness to join the rush. Lets just hope he can defend better than Byfuglien at the NHL level.

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                • #9
                  Re: NHL top ten defensemen

                  I'm not going to do a full top ten because it all shifts around so often.

                  I think the best two defensemen in the league are head and shoulders above the rest, honestly. They are Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson. I think they're impossible to rank for many reasons. They play on polar opposite teams: LA is defensive, while Ottawa is offensive. As Matches said, it's very hard for a defenseman to look elite offensively in LA. However, I also believe it's very hard for a defenseman to look elite defensively in Ottawa (except last season where we played a tight game). But both of these players have an incredible ability to completely take over a game that no other defensemen in the league has. I think, because they're so similar yet so different, it's impossible to rank them. By preference some will have Karlsson first, and some will have Doughty first. But to me, they're both pretty easily #1 and #2. Shea Weber gets my vote for #3. I don't see him taking over games to the extent Karlsson and Doughty do, but he's a very consistent defenseman who's been elite every year. I guess if we're voting for this exact moment, one could make a case for Weber at #1 (although, personally, I wouldn't agree). But coming into the next couple years, when Karlsson and Doughty get more consistent, watch out.

                  Anyways, as I said, I'm not gonna do a full top ten. For the record, Subban would probably be pretty high on my list. Like #4 or #5. As I mentioned in the other Olympic thread, people definitely put Subban and Karlsson on a much shorter leash for defensive play because they score a lot of points. Keith or Pietrangelo round out my top five. Keith is a great defenseman but I feel he only truly becomes elite once every few years. And by truly elite I mean where people are saying "you gotta tune in to watch Keith this year." Pietrangelo is a wonderful two-way defenseman with size, he can probably jump the ranks eventually if he keeps growing.

                  I like your list, Matches. Obviously I don't agree with the order for it all, but it's a very solid list backed with good reasoning. Josh, you make some good points, too. My only question is do you believe defensemen such as Gudas or Krug can win a Norris against guys in the same age range, such as Subban, Karlsson, Pietrangelo and Doughty?

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                  • #10
                    Re: NHL top ten defensemen

                    Gudas will never win the Norris lol. Neither will Krug. Not unless Krug scores 80 points one season and Subban, Karlsson, Pietrangelo, Doughty, Keith, Weber and Suter all go down with injuries for the entire season.

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                    • #11
                      Re: NHL top ten defensemen

                      Alfie, for myself, Weber is in a league of his own. Some are as good or better on defense or on offense, but nobody combines the two quite like Weber. Doughty got all the attention this year for his dynamic puck moving and offensive game, but even at the Olympics, it led to him making a few mistakes. Weber had a few goals himself, and played a much smarter, safer game. Babcock and friends would also agree with me as Weber was consistently the top minute D-man for Canada. Even in L.A., where Doughty plays a safer game and doesn't produce much offense, his turnover numbers are fairly high. Weber always has assist and minute per giveaway stats that are among the best in the league. Karlsson is amazing offensively, but 81 turnovers already at this point in the season?!?! His Norris season he had 84 all season - even that is a little high for my liking, but right now he is on pace to lead the league with 110 giveaways.

                      I certainly don't see Gudas ever winning a Norris. More of a Girardi type, only meaner. Krug will likely be comparable to someone like Ehrhoff or Wisnieswki - good offensively and pretty good defensively.

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                      • #12
                        Re: NHL top ten defensemen

                        Originally posted by matchesmalone
                        Alfie, for myself, Weber is in a league of his own. Some are as good or better on defense or on offense, but nobody combines the two quite like Weber. Doughty got all the attention this year for his dynamic puck moving and offensive game, but even at the Olympics, it led to him making a few mistakes. Weber had a few goals himself, and played a much smarter, safer game. Babcock and friends would also agree with me as Weber was consistently the top minute D-man for Canada. Even in L.A., where Doughty plays a safer game and doesn't produce much offense, his turnover numbers are fairly high. Weber always has assist and minute per giveaway stats that are among the best in the league. Karlsson is amazing offensively, but 81 turnovers already at this point in the season?!?! His Norris season he had 84 all season - even that is a little high for my liking, but right now he is on pace to lead the league with 110 giveaways.

                        I certainly don't see Gudas ever winning a Norris. More of a Girardi type, only meaner. Krug will likely be comparable to someone like Ehrhoff or Wisnieswki - good offensively and pretty good defensively.
                        Fair enough.

                        One thing I think you need to consider is that the stat-trackers at each arena are different. I know right away that Ottawa's are pretty active...lots of giveaways, hits, etc. I don't have the proper numbers on hand to come to the proper conclusion on this, so I don't know what exactly Weber and Doughty are dealing with. For Karlsson, although the numbers are pretty high (even with the Ottawa stat-trackers), Karlsson does give the puck away a lot. There's no disputing some of those giveaways are very untimely. However, at the same time, look how much he has the puck on his stick. I'd say more than any other player in the NHL. He's always looking to create offense. The top giveaway leaders in the NHL are usually the most offensively gifted players. The more you pass the puck, the more you're going to have giveaways. I think Karlsson does a good job covering them up for the most part. He's got great speed which allow him to recover quickly.

                        Basically, I'll try to elaborate on why I like Doughty and Karlsson. First of all, I think I even said at the exact moment, Weber could be considered the best defenseman. But I'm kind of considering age, too, and how Karlsson and Doughty play at their absolute best. But anyways. Karlsson and Doughty are both amazing skating defensemen and I believe they can absolute take over a game in many different ways. I've seen Doughty do it in the 2012 Playoffs, and I've seen Karlsson do it many times. They can just control the pace of the game every time they step on the ice. I've never seen Weber do this, although he's consistently been a steady rock on the back-end.

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                        • #13
                          Re: NHL top ten defensemen

                          Hm, you raise a good point concerning turnover stats. On the one hand, I tend to think they're some of the most valuable stats in the league, far moreso than shots, hits, blocks or +/-. You can use them to grade ratios like assists per giveaway, takeaways per giveaway, and suchforth. But on the other hand there's this blemish and asterisks on them, which I believe is largely a leftover prejudice from the first few years of the stat being compiled. For the most part, I think they are recorded fairly consistently nowadays. Obviously there will be still some discrepancies, but they generally give you about what you expect and sometimes very good insights.

                          For a long time, I found it odd that so many of Chicago's players had such incredibly good takeaway/giveaway ratios. It kind of puts a dint in the theory that the discrepancies are caused by the keepers' sensitivity to what is and isn't a takeaway, with many of Chicago's players having such high takeaway and such low giveaway numbers. This would then imply that if there was any discrepancy, it would be due to intentional bias, not simply systematic error or disagreement. But when you consider the fact that Chicago has won the Cup twice in the past four years, and that there are in fact players there like Hjalmarsson who have incredibly high giveaway numbers, it starts to make more sense to think that most of Chicago's players simply force a lot of turnovers and don't give it away much themselves.

                          It continues to make more sense still when you see that, for the most part, these stats stay fairly consistent with a player from team to team. Mikael Frolik had other-worldly good ratios in the past couple years for Chicago, and those have stayed very as good in Winnipeg. Minnesota is a team with always ridiculously low giveaways, and it's tempting to think that might be on account of stat-tracking, but it's just as easy to believe that that's just the way the team has always played. Like Hjalmarsson, Burns was a great example of one major standout of high giveaways on a very low giveaway team, which also explains why he was so readily moved. And take Ryan Suter, who had just as impressive turnover stats in Nashville as he does in Minnesota, and Nashville doesn't have quite as low numbers as a team as a team as Minnesota does. In fact, Not only did the rest of Nashville's giveaway numbers shoot up when Suter left, Minnesota's players' dropped significantly. This all makes perfect sense because when Suter plays half the game and so often has the puck and so rarely give it away, his teammates won't be giving it away much, and after he left Nashville, other players are forced to carry the puck more, and cough it up more often. Mikko Koivu's giveaways have especially decreased since Suter's arrival, indicating that he isn't the only one on the team having to carry the puck up and make plays all the time, and of course, Weber's giveaways have increased slightly since Suter's departure.

                          And while your point that star players give the puck away a lot because they're trying to create offense is obviously true, there are some who can do this without giving pucks away better than others. For instance, of the top 10 assist-leaders so far this season, only Crosby, Backstrom, Krejci and Kane aren't also in the top 60 for most giveaways, and only Backstrom and Kane aren't in the top 100. Tells you something. Likewise, of the top ten defenseman scoring leaders (not including Byfuglien, who isn't a D anymore), all of Weber, Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, Kronwall, Hedman and Wisniewski have managed to stay out of the top 100 for giveaways, while Karlsson and Subban rank 1st and 6th, even Doughty ranks 8th in giveaways but only 19th in D-scoring.

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                          • #14
                            Re: NHL top ten defensemen

                            Matches, you raise some good points. I think it comes down to personal preference, but I'm not gonna complain about your list. Do you agree that Doughty and Karlsson at their peak are better players than Weber at his peak?

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                            • #15
                              Re: NHL top ten defensemen

                              Karlsson maybe, Doughty no.

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