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 list of the top 10 performers of 2015-16.
1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators (40 GP | 9G | 33A | 42P)
Karlsson isn’t running away with the scoring lead among defencemen, but with a four-point lead on John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars he’s doing all right. That lead becomes more impressive once one realizes that Klingberg trails his club’s leading scorer by 14 points while Karlsson is six points ahead of the next best Senator.
The impact of Karlsson’s presence in Ottawa is hard to overstate. When he’s been on the ice at even-strength this year, the Senators have an ever-so-slight advantage in shot attempts; they manage one more shot at the net than their opponents in an average hour. When he’s off the ice, things get ugly, as Ottawa surrenders 17 more shot attempts than it manages over the same amount of time.
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings (39GP | 7G | 17A | 24P)
Doughty will undoubtedly win the Norris Trophy exactly as soon as he has a big point production year. As it is, he scores enough to be in the conversation but not enough to take the prize. Even so, that shouldn’t diminish his other accomplishments. He’s averaging more than five minutes more per game than any other Kings defenceman, playing 22 minutes per contest at five-on-five and still finding time to chip in three minutes each night on both special teams.
Incredibly, Los Angeles has outscored the opposition by a 3:2 margin when he has been on the ice this year; even more incredibly, that’s basically what the shot metrics say should be happening.
3. T.J. Brodie, Calgary Flames (30GP | 4G | 17A | 21P)
A hand injury sidelined Brodie for the year’s first nine games, during which time the Flames went 2-7-0. Since his return to the lineup, Calgary’s record sits at an impressive 17-11-2. That isn’t all Brodie, of course, but the Flames’ No. 1 defenceman has been averaging nearly 26 minutes per game and has helped immensely in getting the season on track.
Brodie is the only regular Flames defenceman to have been on the ice for more goals for than against at five-on-five this year and his 16 even-strength points on the season tie him for fifth in the NHL despite the time lost while on the sidelines.
4. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars (42GP | 6G | 32A | 38P)
Klingberg is the second leading point-getter among NHL defenceman and has good possession numbers, though his ranking here is hurt somewhat by his omission from the Stars’ penalty kill.
5. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild (39GP | 5G | 22A | 27P)
Suter is enjoying great chemistry with partner Jared Spurgeon and partially as a result is having his best season in ages. The 30-year-old is on pace to set to top 50 points for the first time in his career and he and Spurgeon are the only Wild defencemen with positive Corsi numbers on the season.
6. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks (31GP | 7G | 17A | 24P)
Chicago is actually being outscored at even-strength this year, but the club has been saved by special teams. Keith’s 6.2 points/hour is better than any regular Blackhawk other than Patrick Kane, and he’s logging 2:37 per night on the penalty kill, too.
7. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes (39GP | 10G | 16A | 26P)
Larsson is presently on pace to top the 20-goal mark for the second consecutive year and the 50-point mark for the first time ever. By the shot metrics he’s far-and-away the best defenceman the Coyotes have, but playing well in Arizona is a good way to fly under the radar.
8. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens (41GP | 1G | 26A | 27P)
Subban’s playing customarily strong two-way hockey, but has been snake bit as a shooter this season. He’s on pace for a career-high 218 shots but has just one goal on the year as his shooting percentage is plodding along at just one-sixth of his career average.
9. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning (39GP | 2G | 16A | 18P)
The Lightning could stand to play Hedman more. By any metric he and partner Anton Stralman have been by far the best Lightning defencemen and yet he’s averaging less than 23 minutes per game, a shockingly low figure.
10. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks (37GP | 16G | 18A | 34P)
Burns has his faults to be sure, but it’s hard to ignore the league’s goals leader on the blue-line, especially when that leader is scoring at so close to a point-per-game pace.