Countdown: Sharks defense rises in rankings, but they don't boast best blueline

The Karlsson deal shook up the hockey world, but it isn’t enough to give San Jose the NHL’s top ‘D’
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The Erik Karlsson trade was a blockbuster and, as such, there will be obvious ramifications. The Ottawa Senators, naturally, look like locks for last overall in the NHL this season. The Sharks find themselves in the top tier of Stanley Cup contenders, and their defense corps is a big reason why. With Karlsson in the fold, San Jose boasts the two most offensively dangerous blueliners in the world, with Brent Burns already patrolling the back end for the Sharks. Not only that, but shutdown ace Marc-Edouard Vlasic is also in San Jose, giving the franchise three elite defenders.

Does that give the Sharks the best blueline in the league? Not so fast. We’ve put together our ranking of all 31 NHL teams, with an eye on both statistics and depth. Nashville, for example, has been the gold standard on defense for years, and the Preds’ ability to roll out two full pairings of excellence makes them a force to be reckoned with every night.

On the other side of the equation, Ottawa’s defense corps looks badly depleted now that Karlsson’s nearly 27 minutes of nightly service and point-per-game potential have flown west. Similarly, an already weak Montreal will be inconvenienced again by Shea Weber’s absence due to injury.

So who goes No. 1? It was a tough choice, but when you bring your best defenders to the poker table, we believe that four kings beat three aces.

  1. Nashville Predators
    Fantastic collective led by P.K. Subban also features Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, all of whom would get more pub if they played on another team. This group can move the puck.
  2. San Jose Sharks
    The only team in the NHL with two Norris Trophy winners (Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson), the Sharks also boast shutdown stud Marc-Edouard Vlasic, giving them unparalleled coverage.
  3. Carolina Hurricanes
    The Canes weren’t quite “Nashville East” last year, but with Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan coming in, they get even better. Jaccob Slavin had a great second half and Carolina’s ‘D’ depth is excellent.
  4.  Tampa Bay Lightning
    Reigning Norris winner Victor Hedman leads a group that also includes savvy vets Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh. Mikhail Sergachev showed great promise in limited minutes.
  5. Winnipeg Jets
    Starting with Dustin Byfuglien and including – but not limited to – Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey, the Jets are thick on the back end, while also blessed with various different skill sets.
  6. Calgary Flames
    Dougie’s gone, but so is coach Glen Gulutzan. Can Mark Giordano’s crew right the ship with Noah Hanifin subbing in for Hamilton? With their talent, the quick answer is a definitive “yes.”
  7. Minnesota Wild
    A little top-heavy, but Ryan Suter just can’t stop playing big minutes with great efficiency. Mathew Dumba proved his elite credentials, while Jared Spurgeon is solid. Depth is a slight question.
  8. Boston Bruins
    Apparently Zdeno Chara will never be too old to be effective. In the meantime, Torey Krug is still statistically better than he gets credit for, while Charlie McAvoy is well on his way to beast territory.
  9. Anaheim Ducks
    Hampus Lindholm is the most underrated defenseman in the league, but Ducks fans know that. Cam Fowler is a mobile minute-muncher, and Josh Manson is Lindholm’s perfect foil.
  10. Columbus Blue Jackets
    Seth Jones is the The Truth and a Norris Trophy is coming soon. Zach Werenski isn’t far behind, but depth is not a strength. Can Ryan Murray finally break through and make a difference?
  11. Washington Capitals
    Defense was Todd Reirden’s specialty as an assistant before taking over as coach and in that time, John Carlson became elite. Dmitry Orlov continues to grow while Brooks Orpik was repatriated.
  12. Los Angeles Kings
    The Kings are a great all-around team defensively, but the blueliners aren’t slacking. Led by Norris winner and minute-muncher Drew Doughty, this crew gets it done.
  13. St. Louis Blues
    It’s all about Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko now. Jay Bouwmeester can still help and Joel Edmundson is ready for more, but the depth isn’t what it used to be. Next generation is key.
  14. Vegas Golden Knights
    Like the forwards, Vegas’ defense plays at a rapid pace and can really push the puck. The Knights have no stars, but Shea Theodore has plenty of potential. Nate Schmidt’s suspension hurts.
  15. Philadelphia Flyers
    Ivan Provorov will be the No. 1 very soon, while Shayne Gostisbehere is the type of rushing D-man that teams covet. Internal competition will help youngsters Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers.
  16. Pittsburgh Penguins
    Kris Letang is still an offensive threat, though subtlety has been the team’s ‘D’ strength: just get the puck up to Sid and Geno. Brian Dumoulin is solid. Jack Johnson signing was curious.
  17. Toronto Maple Leafs
    Morgan Rielly takes a lot of undue flak, as he’s a very good two-way defender. Leafs are trying to get better from within, and Travis Dermott is one answer. Nikita Zaitsev should bounce back.
  18. Florida Panthers
    Aaron Ekblad is the focal point and Keith Yandle has been a great asset for him as he grows. Michael Matheson has traction now, but who else will step up? Bogdan Kiselevich is intriguing.
  19. Colorado Avalanche
    Erik Johnson has matured into the top-end D-man he was forecast as when he went first overall in 2006, while Tyson Barrie remains a great mobile threat. Rookie Samuel Girard finished strong.
  20. Dallas Stars
    John Klingberg is the undisputed No. 1, but he’s still better with the puck than without it. Miro Heiskanen will be a big help, despite being a teenage rookie. Can Julius Honka finally seize a spot?
  21. New York Rangers
    Most of the flash is gone as the Rangers strip it down, but Kevin Shattenkirk and Brady Skjei can move the puck. Marc Staal brings a veteran presence while the next generation grows.
  22. Arizona Coyotes
    New captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson has established himself as elite, but he doesn’t have a lot of help. Niklas Hjalmarsson has been through the wars, while Jakob Chychrun has potential.
  23. New Jersey Devils
    Quietly efficient, the Devils’ defense corps got a couple of great boosts from rookie Will Butcher and trade acquisition Sami Vatanen last year. But the ceiling is only so high with this group.
  24. Edmonton Oilers
    Last season was a disaster for Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom, and the Oilers didn’t have the depth to cover up. On the bright side, Darnell Nurse took his game to the next level.
  25. Buffalo Sabres
    Rasmus Dahlin is a big X-factor, but this group suffered last year. Will Dahlin help Rasmus Ristolainen’s usage? And what will a healthy Zach Bogosian mean – assuming he stays healthy?
  26. Vancouver Canucks
    With Chris Tanev, the Canucks won’t be putrid, but they won’t be good, either. This unit is all over the place with a motley assortment of vets. Quinn Hughes rules, but he’s still at Michigan.
  27. New York Islanders
    Things have to be better than last year, when the Isles’ back end got crumpled up on a nightly basis, though losing de Haan was an ominous sign. Can Ryan Pulock or Sebastian Aho step up?
  28. Chicago Blackhawks
    You hear the names Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and you think Stanley Cups, but that was a long time ago in hockey years. The Hawks are rebuilding, and the young generation isn’t ready yet.
  29. Montreal Canadiens
    Losing Shea Weber before the season began is brutal, but at least expectations for Montreal are low. Victor Mete has the chance to build on an impressive rookie season, but he needs help.
  30. Detroit Red Wings
    The Wings have a cohort of youngsters on the cusp, but spots must be earned. Mike Green returns as a vet, while Danny DeKeyser needs to get back on track after a couple down years.
  31. Ottawa Senators
    Without Karlsson, the Sens are left with the other guys – and that’s frightening. Thomas Chabot is an up-and-comer, but now he has no cover. How do you feel about 25 minutes a night for Cody Ceci?

This story appears in the November 5, 2018 issue of The Hockey News magazine.

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