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The Rum Howler 2013-14 Top 10 NHL Defencemen

NHL_LOGO_grandeThe strength of any good NHL teams should begin with a solid core of  defensemen. If you peruse the list of the last 5 Stanley Cup Winners, I would argue that all but one of these teams owed their success to the play of their key defensemen. The lone exception to this rule are the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins although even with that star-studded team, the steady play of Brooks Orpik and the rest of their defense should not be overlooked. Forwards tend to receive all the glory: but it is the shutdown  D-men who log all the important minutes.

With that in mind, I have constructed my top ten list of the NHL’s best defenders.

10) P.K. Suban – Montreal Canadiens

I have loved the way P.K. Subban plays ever since a string of veteran players started whining about his rough in your face agitating style during his rookie campaign. I do not think it was a coincidence that Philly shipped out their Captain, Mike Richards after he publicly complained that a Rookie was hitting him too hard.)  Subban hasn’t curtailed his agitating style, and he has built up impressive offensive stats to go with it. His Norris Trophy last year was no fluke, and Montreal has a stud they can build around.

9) Alex Pietrangelo – St Louis Blues

Alex Pietrangelo has one of the best passing games of any defensemen allowing St. Louis to play a transition game which was not part of their arsenal before Alex began to blossom. He also logs 25 minutes a night against the NHL’s best forwards as St. Louis’ best shut down man. His future looks bright and it no coincidence that the rise of the Blues in the standing coincided with the arrival of Alex.

8) Drew Doughty – Los Angeles Kings

Drew Doughty’s star began to tarnish last year as he seemed out of shape and ill prepared for the shortened 2013 hockey season. By season’s end he was rounding into form. If he starts the season in the form which he ended last year, he will move up this list by year’s end. But if he allows himself to be distracted, his star will diminish further.

7) Niklas Kronwall – Detroit Red Wings

An unheralded D-man who just plays every important minute for Detroit Red Wings. Niklas is tough as they come making opponents pay the price to go to the tough areas. He can log up to 25 minutes a night consistently which allows Detroit the luxury of keeping the ice time of their bottom D-men to a minimum.

6) Shea Webber

I used to consider Shea Weber not only the best D-man in the game, but also the best player in the game. Then last year he seemed to struggle without Ryan Suter at his side. Then again it wasn’t just Suter who was missing, Nashville also lost their top forward and it seemed like the season rested entirely upon Shea Weber’s back. His back didn’t break and Weber’s game turned around after mid-season. I predict a return to form, and I predict Nashville will on the strength of Weber’s play make a run for a playoff spot this year.

5) Brent Seabrook

Strength on the defense wins championships, and last year in the playoffs, Brent Seabrook stepped up big time with several clutch performances. His shot on the powerplay is lethal and accurate, and his play in his own end is topnotch. Duncan Keith receives more of the accolades (deservedly so); but on almost any other team in the NHL Seabrook would play number one minutes.

4) Ryan Suter

People wondered whether Ryan Suter’s star would diminish without his longtime defensive partner Shea Weber at his side. The opposite occurred as last year Ryan solidified his status as one of the league’s best D-men. In Minnesota he played over 27 minutes a game, and was the third highest scoring defenseman. Another performance like that, and he may move up the list ahead of his old partner.

3) Duncan Keith

Duncan proved he belongs with the very best with his steady play in not one Stanley Cup run, but two. Keith is a special player who can play the game any way you want him to. He can pass the puck out of his zone as well as anyone, and his physical play doesn’t suffer despite this finesse. What makes Duncan Keith really special though is that you hardly notice his effectiveness until you study the tapes. Opposing forwards avoid his side of the ice, and when he retrieves a puck the first pass is always quick off his stick.

2) Zdeno Chara

Zdeno is a beast of a hockey player who strikes fear in the hearts of his opponents filling the defensive zone with his long tall frame. Despite this awesome physical presence, the Big Z has a surprisingly effective finesse game. He is more likely to use his incredible wingspan to poke the puck safely off of an opponents stick than he is to crush them into the boards. Perhaps it is the fear of the crushing that allows Chara to be so effective with his stick. Offensively Chara is a threat as well, using the NHL’s hardest slapshot to help him quarterback the offensive zone.

1) Erik Karlsson Ottawa Senators

It hurts me not to have Zdeno Chara as number one, but up in Ottawa there is a d-man who plays his offensive game at an entirely different level than the rest of the NHL. Last year his season was curtailed by a sliced Achilles tendon at a time when Eric Karrlson was dominating NHL games through sheer skill. This year with his injury healed, I expect Erik to not only be the best D-man, I expect him to be in the running for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.

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