Original Post via: Philadelphia Sports Nation
In what’s bound to be another competitive year in the Metropolitan Division, we’re looking at how each team matches up in player talent.
This week, a look at all eight Metropolitan teams’ defensemen.
8) New Jersey Devils
P.K. Subban, Ryan Murray, Will Butcher, Damon Severson, Connor Carrick, Dmitry Kulikov
The Devils made a big splash at last year’s draft when they traded for P.K. Subban during the 2019 NHL Draft. The three-time All-Star was expected to come in and be their top defenseman. While he was certainly paid like a top defenseman in 2019-20, Subban’s first year in New Jersey was a dud. As a defenseman who’s always been an offensively-minded, powerplay specialist, Subban’s 18 points with just 6 on the powerplay are both career-lows for the 31-year-old.
Maybe new head coach Lindy Ruff’s scheme can help Subban turn it around but ultimately, it seems as if the former Norris Trophy winner’s best days are behind him.
Another player who seems to fall off in New Jersey is Will Butcher.
For the rest of the defense, The Devils made a flurry of moves this offseason after a terrible defensive showing last season but didn’t really seem to make any large improvements, adding Ryan Murray and Dmitry Kulikov. Murray, a former second overall pick, can be a decent second-pairing addition but has been plagued with injuries since he entered the league, missing 107 games over the last three seasons. In Kulikov, the Devils just gave themselves an average third-pairing defender but did not fill their huge holes in the top-four.
7) Pittsburgh Penguins
Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Petersson, John Marino, Michael Matheson, Cody Ceci
With the signings of Cody Ceci and Michael Matheson, the Penguins’ defense looks to be set.
They finally rid themselves of Jack Johnson’s contract but replaced him with a much-maligned defenseman in Ceci who will almost certainly be the new scapegoat for Penguins.
The two new signings will likely form their third pairing, replacing Johnson and Justin Schultz, and while they are a little cheaper and younger, are they really much better?
According to @JFreshHockey, Ceci has graded out as a subreplacement level defenseman.
Cody Ceci, signed 1x$1.25M by PIT, is a subreplacement defenceman who consistently gets played in much higher minutes than he deserves. It's been a while since the Pens had someone like that, eh? pic.twitter.com/kisudWDw7w
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) October 17, 2020
While the bottom-pairing is certainly a huge question mark, the Penguins’ top two pairings should be decent.
Dumoulin and Letang have the top pairing taken care of if they can stay healthy. While the young pairing of Marcus Petersson and John Marino both performed very well last year together.
6) New York Rangers
Jacob Trouba, Anthony DeAngelo, Brendan Smith, Adam Fox, Jack Johnson
The Rangers will likely roll out much of the same defensive group as last year but will swap Marc Staal for the newly-signed Jack Johnson.
New York went out and made a long-term commitment to Jacob Trouba, but have not been able to find him an ideal partner just yet. The Rangers defense is full of offensive talent with Adam Fox, Trouba, and Deangelo but they lack a good defensively-minded partner to pair with their Trouba on their top pairing which would allow him to focus on offense.
As of now, the Rangers look like they’ll be relying on Brendan Smith to play top pairing minutes which certainly isn’t ideal.
Overall, the Rangers have a lot of talent, but the balance of offense and defense is not there just yet.
5) Philadelphia Flyers
Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Phil Myers, Erik Gustafsson, Justin Braun, Robert Hagg/Shayne Gostisbehere
The Flyers’ offseason plans took a huge detour when Matt Niskanen unexpectedly retired. Niskanen and Ivan Provorov formed a very formidable top pairing for the Flyers with both showing the ability to succeed on both ends of the ice.
Without Niskanen, the Flyers will likely rely on one of Travis Sanheim or Phil Myers to move up to the top line and play with Provorov.
Assuming that’s the case, free-agent signing Erik Gustafsson will slide into a second-pairing role. Gustafsson has been an excellent offensive player in the past, posting 60 points in 2017-18, but is not nearly the defensive player that Niskanen was.
The third pairing is still up for discussion with Shayne Gostisbehere on the team, but his inability to play with Justin Braun during the playoffs last year makes Robert Hagg a more likely option.
Without Niskanen, the Flyers will certainly be taking a hit on defense next year but with their great young talent in Provorov, Sanheim, and Myers, they still have a great chance at being one of the better defensive teams in the league.
4) Washington Capitals
John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Justin Schultz, Brendan Dillon, Joonas Seigenthaler, Nick Jensen
With a new head coach in Peter Laviolette, the Capitals will look to rebound after a lopsided 5-game series loss to the Islanders where they struggle mightily on the defensive end.
Led by John Carlson, the Capitals have a Norris Trophy finalist who is a superstar on both ends of the ice. They will, however, be missing his partner Michal Kempny who will miss 6-8 months with an Achilles injury which leaves a huge hole in their defense.
With Kempny out for the foreseeable future, the Caps were able to sign Brendan Dillon and Justin Schultz who are both capable top-four players but can either prove to be a worthy partner with Justin Schultz? Probably not, but they do have enviable veteran depth on the blue line and emerging young talent in Siegenthaler.
3) New York Islanders
Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Nick Leddy, Scott Mayfield, Noah Dobson, Johnny Boychuk/Andy Greene
The Islanders made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals on the back of their extremely stingy defense. They traded Devon Toews and as of now, have not re-signed Andy Greene which gives them a different look going into the 2021 season.
But even without Green and Toews, the Islanders still have a decent group led by Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and Nick Leddy who all averaged over 20 minutes a game and were key cogs to the Islanders’ deep playoff run.
To round out their defense, 20-year-old Noah Dobson will be the likely beneficiary of the Devon Toews trade and will likely get a third-pairing role after appearing in 34 games last season where he posted 7 points and showed potential on both sides of the ice.
2) Carolina Hurricanes
Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Jake Gardiner, Brady Skjei, Hadyn Fleury
The Hurricanes have one of the most enviable defensive cores in the league and boast three top-pairing players in Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce who all averaged over 21 minutes a game.
Slavin and Hamilton made up one of the best top pairings in the league over the past year and a half and Hamilton may have won the Norris Trophy if he hadn’t missed 21 games last season.
Behind their strong top three, Carolina brought in a great skater in Brady Skjei to play with Pesce who they hope can improve from his underwhelming play with the Rangers.
That leaves the oft-maligned Jake Gardiner as one of the team’s third-pairing defenseman where he’ll be paired up with former first-round pick Hadyn Fleury. There’s no way around the fact that Gardiner had a rough first season in Carolina where he finished last in plus/minus at -24 with the next closest player at -7 but with the quick development of Fleury, the two could turn into a decent third pairing.
1) Columbus Blue Jackets
Seth Jones, Zach Werekenski, David Savard, Vladislav Gavrikov, Dean Kukan, Andrew Peeke/Scott Harrington
The biggest strength of the Blue Jackets is their top pairing of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Few teams have defensemen of this caliber and even fewer have two of them. In Jones and Werenski, Columbus has two elite two-way players who they can rely on to play 20-plus minutes a night in any situation.
While Jones and Werenski usually play about half the game, Columbus also boasts a fine second pairing of veteran David Savard and Vladislav Gavrikov. While neither are superstars, both pride themselves on the defensive end and excel when it comes to blocking shots with Savard ranking second in the NHL with 163 in 2019-20 while Gavrikov was 59th with 92.
With a top-four that is among the leagues best, the Blue Jackets have plenty of options to round out their defense. With so many injuries plaguing the Blue Jackets last season, they got to see Dean Kukan, Andrew Peeke, and Scott Harrington all get meaningful time in the NHL and potentially take over after the departure of Ryan Murray.
Featured Image: Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer