Top 10 penalty killing defensemen in the League
Alexander Monaghan as well as Brandon Macdonald, Jeff Quirin, Dave Strehle and Anthony Curatolo handle the defensive side of penalty killing, as previously done for forwards. Expect some bigger names than the last time out as star defensemen tend to shine in this role more than the average grinding forward.
About two weeks ago we wrote up our top ten penalty killing forwards. We thought we gave most of the League a fair chance in showing off their best threats on the penalty kill and decided to do the same for those warrior defensemen. The criteria for our penalty killers will be toi, blocked shots, shorthanded points and penalty kill percentage. We chose to stick to more of a statistical analysis because of how controversial most picks seem to be, but ensure you we do actually watch hockey. Debate is expected, feel free to use the comments section in regards to it.
Compiling a list the size of this takes an exorbitant amount of time and effort as we find ourselves finding more and more excellent candidates as we delve deeper and deeper into the subject. Before we list our top ten we have to start with the players who did not make the cut, the honorable mention.
Dan Girardi – Girardi blocks enough shots to make the selection, finishing in the top ten for the second year in a row in that category. Last season, he led all New York Rangers defensemen in shorthanded time of ice and finished second to only Marc Staal the season before. During the offseason the Rangers’ GM Glen Sather realized his potential and value by signing the undrafted d-man to a four year contract with a 3.25 million cap hit. Expect Girardi to continue his solid play in his own end for the next few seasons of his new contract. He considers himself a defensive defenseman by trade who only jumps into the play when it is the smart move but his true asset would be stability. Since his rookie season, his calming presence has helped his team gain composure in order to succeed.
Josh Gorges – Gorges finally stepped out of the shadows and established himself as an excellent defender last year. Although not flashy, the 26-year-old led all Montreal Canadiens defensemen in shorthanded time of ice and averaged over 21 minutes of ice time per game. The playoffs may have been a coming out for the underrated Gorges but the Canadiens had high hopes for him when they sent Craig Rivet to the Sharks.
Nick Schultz – His Minnesota Wild was one of the best penalty killing units two years ago mostly due to their leader on the blue line. One of the few holdovers from the glory years under Jacques Lemaire, Schultz continues to display his rugged play against the rest of the league but fails to make the actual list because of his failure to flawlessly adapt to his team’s new system. Schultz led the Wild two seasons ago in hits and blocked shots while adding the most shorthanded time of ice. He seems, however, to have met his replacement in…
Greg Zanon took all of Schultz’s accolades last season even though the Wild regressed immensely defensively. New coach Todd Richards instilled a new, offensive system which may have fit Zanon more than the longtime favorite. The former Nashville Predator blocked a whopping 196 shots, and led his team in hits and shorthanded time of ice while playing through numerous injuries. With both of these two on the blue line you can expect a tighter defense than most offensively charged teams. Zanon even broke out in points scored, putting up a career-high 15 on the season.
Dennis Seidenberg – As a trade deadline pickup last season, the majority of the League failed to see just how underrated Seidenberg could be. Despite his injury history, the Germanic defenseman earned enough value to go to a contender from a terrible Florida Panthers team. In the shadows he managed to post decent offensive stats while leading the league in blocked shots with 215. Even though he would miss the final two games and all of the postseason he has shown the ability to play well with Zdeno Chara and become a steady presence to the back end as he did with the Carolina Hurricanes the season before when they made it to the Eastern Conference finals.
Tyler Myers – Pretty difficult to rank a player on a list based on one year, which probably explains putting Myers in the honorable mention slot. Towering over forwards at 6’8″, the Calder Trophy winner led his blue line in blocked shots, takeaways, shorthanded time of ice, goals, assists, points, plus/minus and powerplay points. In other words, Myers 1 Everyone else 0. His emergence likely led to the team not pursuing either of Toni Lydman or Henrik Tallinder– who led the team in those categories the year before. Instead the team chose cheaper options in Shaone Morrissonn and Jordan Leopold, and will likely rely on this monstrous defenseman in all situations moving forward.
Chris Pronger – At 6′ 6″ and 220 pounds, there are numerous reasons that make Philadelphia Flyers Chris Pronger one of the best penalty-killing defensemen in the NHL. With the combination of a long reach, hockey instincts that keep him one step ahead of his opponents, and a fierce disposition that keeps the front of the net clear for the netminders that wear the Orange-and-Black, Pronger regularly logs huge amounts of ice time when his team is down a man. With the big body, Pronger also blocks many shots, as he finished fifth in the NHL last year with 189. Not so coincidentally, success follows wherever Pronger plays, as he has participated in three of the past five Stanley Cup Finals, and for three different teams (EDM, ANA, PHI).
Brent Seabrook - Both Seabrook and his superstar defensive partner Duncan Keith have taken turns rotating in and out of the top shorthanded ice time slot over the past two years. The fact that the Chicago Blackhawks improved their penalty kill this season gives Keith the slight edge in making the top ten while Seabrook will look on the outside in.
Ron Hainsey - The former product of the Montreal Canadiens logged the sixth-most ice time in the League last season, proving his value to the team. Hainsey came to the Atlanta Thrashers to become one of their top point producers but showed his ability to play at both ends of the ice. Only Tobias Enstrom logged more minutes on the team as he finished third amongst defensemen in actual points. He led the team in blocked shots which proves to be an excellent asset while on the kill and showed he could be a reliable partner to the young Zach Bogosian. It takes players like this — the type who can adapt their roles — to win games and Hainsey should continue to do so.
Zybnek Michalek – One of the newest Pittsburgh Penguins could be considered a second goaltender on and off the penalty kill. Few players can kill penalties the way Michalek over the years, as he led a stingy Phoenix Coyotes team in shorthanded time of ice both last season and the year before. He finished 15th in blocked shots despite missing ten games for, blocking shots. The season before that he led the League with a whopping 271 blocks, leading Brett Clark by almost 40. Add excellent positioning and an ability to push the puck up the ice and Michalek could be due for a breakout season in his new home.
10. Marc-Eduoard Vlasic – After bursting onto the scene at the ripe age of 19-year-old, Vlasic has started to make a name for himself as one of the game’s potential stars. His coach in Juniors, Patrick Roy, tended to be a pretty excellent penalty killer himself as he led the young Vlasic and Quebec Remparts in winning the Memorial Cup in his final year. In his first few seasons he also fell under the wing of elite defenseman Rob Blake, giving him a hockey degree most players will never experience. He might as well be an honorary Colorado Avalanche for the dynasty years, just ten years younger. Vlasic led the team in shorthanded time-of-ice per game and continued to be an integral part of the team despite only playing 64 games. Had he not missed time he probably would have led the team in blocked shots as he did the year before.
9. Marc Staal - Just like his brother Jordan, this young Staal excels at the defensive end of the game. Perhaps it was having to play defense against both Eric and Jordan growing up, or doing the same thing against the top competition every night for the New York Rangers. Staal uses an excellent amount of balance to attack forwards in the defensive zone. His size, reach and strength helped his team boast one of the better penalty kills for the past couple of years. Breaking into the NHL under defensive specialist Tom Renney seems to have kept his play poised and positionally sound. His 241 penalty minutes killed led the team by a wide margin, proving his worth to the team as both a backbone and foundation for their young defensive core.
8. Duncan Keith - The master of his craft, Keith finally showed the rest of the hockey world he could produce at the highest of levels. Nevertheless, the point of this article would be to talk about his defensive accolades like his over 430 minutes on the penalty kill over the past two seasons. Only his partner, Seabrook, finished higher in blocked shots but Keith far and away led his team in takeaways as he helped create turnovers with his elite speed. At one point they measured the Stanley Cup leading defenseman as having similar endurance to Lance Armstrong, a skill which definitely paid off when needed to kill a long 5 on 3 or double major.
7. Mike Weaver – Need to know why the St. Louis Blues penalty kill was tops in the NHL? Look no further than Mike Weaver. He finished the 2009-10 season with the second most SHTOI/game (3:59) in the league. Even more impressive is his one PPGA per 13.34 SH Minutes played. His superior hockey sense in the defensive aspects of the game allow him to do much more than his 5’9, 186 lbs frame suggests. He will use every inch he has to get in front of a shot. Leading the Blues with 127 blocks in 77 games. The numbers and intangibles don’t lie. Mike Weaver is just that good.
6. Kimmo Timonen – Another Philadelphia rear guard that excels on the penalty kill is Kimmo Timonen. At just 5′ 10″ and 194 pounds, Timonen doesn’t have the size that Pronger possesses, but makes up for it with quickness, elite-level positional play, and a keen hockey sense. Even though Timonen is a smaller blue liner, he was ranked ninth overall in the NHL in blocked shots with 168. Timonen also knows when to join the shorthanded rush and jump into the play, as two of his six goals last season were of the shorthanded variety.
5. Chris Phillips - The quietly considered defender from the Ottawa Senators is a beast in his own right. This former first overall pick may not have ever become a superstar but quietly carved an excellent career . Throughout the years Phillips combined with another defensive defenseman Anton Volchenkov, leading to one of the best shutdown combinations in the League. Having a player his hockey sense and defensive prowess has helped the Sens make the playoffs, in spite of their offensive weapons. Last season alone he led all NHL defensemen in shorthanded time of ice, enduring slightly more time than another workhorse in Jay Bouwmeester.
4. Barret Jackman – To succeed on the penalty kill a defensemen must be fearless. Barret Jackman certainly has no fear. Game in and game out he battles in the trenches to clear forwards and block shots. His 1.60 Blocks per game pace (106 BS in 66 GP) put him just behind Weaver’s team leading 1.64/game pace. Jackman doesn’t mind the
physical abuse of playing in the dirty areas. The stats say he thrives there. Finishing 6th in the NHL with an average of 3:47 SHTOI/game and allowing just one PPGA for every 11.90 SH Minutes played. Barret Jackman is a heart and soul leader who gets the job done a man down.
3. Anton Volchenkov – The “A-train” doesn’t have that name as a sarcastic joke. Known to be one of the League’s finest shot blockers, he’ll patrol the New Jersey blueline in charge of the penalty kill. With solid numbers throughout his entire career, he did dip a bit in the amount of blocked shots last season ending the year with 172. Regardless, he is a machine and a quiet weapon on the blue line and should help Martin Brodeur clear the crease or keep pucks out of the net.
2. Zdeno Chara - It’s no secret that the Boston Bruins play in a defensive-minded system and that allows Big Z to flourish. Chara will continue to log big minutes for the Bruins in his contract season. Playing with the shot blocking phenom Dennis Seidenberg for an entire season could see Chara return to his 2009-09 Norris Trophy winning numbers.
1. Nicklas Lidstrom – What can be said about the ultimate defenseman in the National Hockey League that has not been said already throughout his outstanding 18 year career. Lidstrom is the model d-man in the game today, and though he plays and excels in all occasions on the ice, he averaged 2.56 minutes a game short handed last year with Detroit and earned three short handed points. However, this is the ultimate machine patrolling the blueline and is one reason the Red Wings are constantly competitive.