If we were voting for this year’s NHL first and second all-star team today, who would the top 10 candidates be on defence? That’s the question we’ll try to answer here, looking solely at statistics from this season. Here’s our current top 10 performers of 2015-16 from the blueline.
1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators (57GP | 11G | 52A | 63PTS)
Karlsson’s performance is frankly ridiculous; with 63 points he’s behind only Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn among all NHL players. He has easily the best shot metrics on a team that routinely gets destroyed on the shot clock. The Senators narrowly outscore the opposition when he’s one the ice. When he’s off it they’re outscored by a 5:4 ratio. Last month: 1
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings (56GP | 11G | 25A | 36PTS)
Doughty is averaging more than 28 minutes per game – and it’s no wonder why. The Kings’ goal and shot differentials improve markedly when he’s on the ice and in the defensive end of the rink in particular the numbers are staggering. The Kings allow an average of just 1.6 goals per hour when Doughty is on the ice. Last month: 2
3. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes (56GP | 17G | 27A | 44PTS)
Ekman-Larsson seems destined to be overlooked once again this year when it comes time to vote on the major awards, but that really isn’t his fault; Arizona is both a bad team and a small-market team and that combination is tough to overcome. The most telling stat with Ekman-Larsson might be the Coyotes’ five-on-five shot rates when he is on and off the ice. When he’s out there Arizona basically breaks even, with 474 shots for and 476 shots against. When he’s one the bench, the Coyotes are out-shot 801 to 601. The team collectively goes from minus-2 to minus-200.
Did I mention that he plays against the toughest opposition and ranks second in the NHL in goals by a defenceman? Last month: 7
4. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks (50GP | 8G | 29A | 37PTS)
Keith has been logging heavy minutes in all situations for Chicago, playing more than 20 minutes per game at even-strength and still finding time to be a top unit penalty killer and power play weapon. He has a blueline-leading 53.0 per cent Fenwick rating at five-on-five despite getting a regular diet of defensive zone starts and playing tougher competition than he usually does; more than any other defenceman he’s helped keep the Blackhawks a strong two-way team at even-strength. Last month: 6
5. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars (58GP | 10G | 38A | 48PTS)
It’s difficult to ignore the third-highest scoring defenceman in the NHL on al ist like this. Klingberg’s lack of work on the penalty kill is a mark against him, however, particularly since he’s playing just 23 minutes per game—there’s room for him to do more. His even-strength possession metrics are very good, even for Dallas; Klingberg has a 54.8 percent Fenwick rating. Last month: 4
6. T.J. Brodie, Calgary Flames (46GP | 4G | 27A | 31PTS)
Brodie ranks fifth in even-strength scoring by defencemen and has both good shot and goal numbers on a bad team, all while playing the toughest available opposition. Last month: 3
7. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks (55GP | 18G | 30A | 48PTS)
No NHL defenceman has more goals and only Karlsson has more points than Burns, who is averaging more than 26 minutes per game in San Jose. Incredibly, he ranks third in even-strength point production despite a miserable on-ice shooting percentage of just 6.6 per cent. Last month: 10
8. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning (55GP | 5G | 30A | 35PTS)
Hedman’s underlying numbers are spectacular. When he’s on the ice at even-strength, Tampa Bay takes 57 per cent of all shots and scores 60 per cent of all goals, both of which represent the best numbers of any Lightning blueliner. He plays in all situations, but weirdly still averages less than 23 minutes per game. Last month: 9
9. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild (56GP | 7G | 30A | 37PTS)
The Wild have leaned heavily on Suter over the last month as their season has slipped away, and while Suter’s play remains strong all the ice time he’s taking on hasn’t been able to stop the bleeding. From a personal standpoint, he’s been caught up in a lot of it; despite decent shot numbers he has a minus-9 rating over his last dozen games. Last month: 5
10. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets (56GP | 15G | 19A | 34PTS)
Byfuglien might seem like an odd addition to this list, but he’s a hard player to ignore and not just because he’s on pace for 20 goals. The Jets out-score the opposition 50-34 when he’s on the ice at five-on-five (plus-16) but are out-scored 41-53 when he’s off it (minus-12). That’s not definitive, but it backs up the impressive shot metrics the Jets post when Byfuglien is on the ice - Winnipeg out-shoots the opposition 554 to 458 (plus-96) when he’s on the ice, but gets out-shot 734 to 713 (minus-21) when he’s on the bench.
Those numbers do need to be taken with some degree of suspicion, as Byfuglien hasn’t been playing tough shutdown minutes at even-strength, but even so they are impressive. Last month: NR