Defense in the Eastern Conference
A couple days ago I asked who were the best defensemen in the eastern conference and which teams had the best group of defensemen in the conference. The results are in and it seems Zdeno Chara is the consensus pick for the best defenseman in the eastern conference. After him Sergei Gonchar, Jay Bouwmeester, Andrei Markov, Tomas Kaberle, and Mike Green seemed to get the most recognition with Kimmo Timonen, Chris Phillips, Pavel Kubina, Bryan McCabe, Wade Redden, Ryan Whitney, Mike Komisarek, and Marc Staal getting considered as well.
It seemed much more difficult for us to pick the teams with the best defense. The NY Rangers, Boston, Ottawa, Montreal, Pittsburgh seemed to be popular picks with Florida, Philadelphia and Toronto considered by some as well.
Now for a few of my thoughts. First I was a bit surprised at how many people picked Boston as having a top 5 defense. Clearly they did so because they have Zdeno Chara but to me after him they have a lot of average at best players.
People obviously chose Boston because of Chara because after him I really don’t see a lot of top end talent. They certainly have some decent players but nothing too special. It is interesting that the Leafs were the only team where 3 defensemen were considered by at least one person to be in the top 5 and yet most people didn’t consider them as a top 5 team. Dennis Wideman has some offensive puck moving ability but defensively is average at best and Mark Stuart has some promise but neither of the are what you would call top level defensemen. The rest of them are pretty much 3rd pairing or depth guys. I guess having Chara means a lot but I am not convinced they should be a top 5 team.
Another team that surprised me to get as much top 5 consideration as they did is the Ottawa Senators. They seem to still be getting a lot of recongnition for their defensive play during their run to the finals in 2006-07. But the current defense is significantly different. Gone from the cup run defense are Wade Redden, Joe Corvo, and Tom Preissing, their top 3 scoring defensemen from that season. It also shouldn’t be over looked that the Senators had the 7th worst goals against average in the NHL last season. This coming season they will feature an unproven rookie (Brian Lee) and a guy who has played mostly forward over the past couple seasons (Schubert) in their top 6. As of right now I view them as having a below average defense and barring a trade or surprising seasons by Brian Lee and Schubert will be a weak spot for the Senators.
Toronto is almost the opposite of the Senators. The Leafs are awash with offensive defenseman but have really been hurt by not developing a true shutdown defense pairing. Part of that I believe is coaching but part of that is just not having that one pure defensive defenseman on the team. The Leafs are hoping the addition of Jeff Finger and Jonas Frogren will help address that concern and further down the road 2008 first round pick Luke Schenn should be that guy. Since the lockout Tomas Kaberle has the 3rd most points by a defenseman trailing only Nik Lidstrom and Sergei Gonchar and Bryan McCabe is 14th on that list. When considering points per game, Kaberle is 5th post lockout (behind Lidstrom, Gonchar, Zubov and Niedermayer) and McCabe sits in 10th spot just behind Dan Boyle. Pavel Kubina is no slouch with the puck either finishing 18th in scoring by defensemen last season. So while they may not have the defensive shutdown defenseman like some teams do their overall skill and depth is good enough to get them in the top 5 in the eastern conference in my opinion.
So with that said, here are who I consider top 5 defensemen and teams in the east.
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Sergei Gonchar, Tomas Kaberle, Kimmo Timonen, and Jay Bouwmeester
Teams: Pittsburgh, NY Rangers, Montreal, Toronto, Philadelphia