Last week I took a look at the crop of 1012 NHL free agent forwards and today I will take a look at the group of free agent defensemen. As I did with forwards, I will use my HARO+ (offensive), HARD+ (defensive) and HART+ (total/overall) rating system which takes into account on-ice performance, quality of teammates, and quality of opposition. Generally speaking, a rating over 1.00 is an above average rating and a rating below 1.00 is a below average rating. By that I mean, if a player had a HARO+ rating of 1.10 it would mean if he played with and against perfectly average players his team would score 10% more goals than the average team. In this example the player would drive goal scoring to a level 10% above average. A HARO+ rating of 0.90 would mean the player would drive (or hinder) goal scoring to a level 10% below average. As usual, my preference is to use 3 year 5v5 zone start adjusted ratings and that is what I will do here. Let’s first look at the group of defensemen under age 30.
HARO+, or offensive rating, is along horizontal axis and the vertical axis is HARD+, or defensive rating. Players to the right are good offensive players and players towards the top are good defensive players. The size of the circle is indicative of the players 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past 3 teams relative to the other players in this table. Matt Carle is the top offensive player available and is a solid defensive player as well and is quite likely the best defenseman available, though everyone believes he will re-sign in Philadelphia and may already have a deal agreed upon but can’t sign it until July 1st due to salary cap issues. Ryan Suter doesn’t have the offense of Carle but is a better defensive player and can also play big minutes. After those two top end big minute defensemen you get a group of lesser minute guys who seem to be quite capable defensively. These include Lepisto, Garrison, Woywitka, Colaiacovo, O’Brien, and Gilroy. If Garrison can repeat his offensive season of 2011-12 then he is probably the top defenseman after Suter and Carle and Colaiacovo would be right there as well. Guys to avoid include Bruno Gervais, Milan Jurcina, Aaron Johnson, Dylan Reese, and Dennis Wideman. If you are looking for a guy who can play secondary offensive minutes maybe Shaone Morrisonn is your guy, but don’t expect him to contribute defensively.
Now, let’s take a look at the age 30-34 crowd.
There aren’t really any elite level offensive defensemen in this group but there are a few solid defensive and second tier defensemen. The guy hidden at the far top right is Kent Huskins who always seems to have good offensive and excellent defensive ratings but never gets the recognition I feel he deserves. He might be the best ‘unknown’ defenseman in the NHL. Michal Roszival is a pretty solid 2-way defenseman as well and Sarich, Jackman, White and Zanon are solid defensive contributors. Brad Stuart would be a decent addition as a 4-5-6 guy but I would probably avoid Hannan, Allen, Foster and Mottau.
Now for the older 35+ crowd.
There are some pretty decent veteran players here. I have included Lidstrom for reference but as you know he has retired. Kuba is a solid offensive defenseman but has a lot of holes in his game defensively. Spacek is probably nearing the end of his career but may still be a useful depth defenseman at the right price. Kubina isn’t as good defensively but probably has a little more left in the tank. Bryce Salvador, Willie Mitchell (both still playing in the Stanley Cup finals) and Adrian Aucoin are quality defensive defensemen who can still play a solid shut down role on any team. Staios, Eaton, Commodore, Gill are definitely in the can no longer contribute category and probably should retire while everyone else might be able to contribute as depth defensemen on a team looking to add some veteran experience.
In the interest of comparing the age groups above, here is the somewhat cluttered chart showing all defensemen colored according to age group.
When all factors are considered, the top unrestricted free agent defensemen are Matt Carle, Ryan Suter, Michal Rozsival, Carlo Colaiacovo and Barrett Jackman while older players such as Willie Mitchell, Adrian Aucoin, Cory Sarich and Bryce Salvador can contribute in defensive roles while Filip Kuba is a solid offensive defenseman but a defensive liability.