Countdown: Which NHL team has the deepest defense corps?

Nashville’s ‘Big Four’ becomes a ‘Big Three,’ opening door for ‘Bunch of Jerks’ to claim throne as the league’s best, deepest blueline brigade in 2019-20.
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We used to call the Carolina Hurricanes’ defense ‘Nashville East.’ Now the Preds are ‘Carolina West.’ The Canes’ blueline is second to none.

You can take any of Carolina’s top five defensemen and build a tandem that could be a top pair on some teams. The Canes have two high-end puck-movers in Dougie Hamilton and UFA signee Jake Gardiner. They have great shutdown options in Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and new addition Joel Edmundson, acquired from St. Louis in the Justin Faulk trade. Last season, 55 ‘D’ pairs played 500 or more minutes together at 5-on-5, and Slavin-Hamilton ranked third in Corsi. The Canes have youngsters Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean ready for bigger roles, while Trevor van Riemsdyk is a safe stay-at-home option. Once his shoulder heals, the Canes will have more viable NHL D-men than available lineup spots.

The reason Nashville relinquished its top spot in these rankings? The P.K. Subban trade turned the ‘Big Four’ into a ‘Big Three.’ Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm keep the Predators elite, and a Dante Fabbro breakout could help them reclaim No. 1. But don’t sleep on the Dallas Stars, led by rising star Miro Heiskanen.

Disclaimers: (a) names alternate left-right from top to bottom pair; and, (b) players with short-term injuries qualify, but players out long-term do not.

1. Carolina Hurricanes
J. Slavin, D. Hamilton, J. Edmundson,
B. Pesce, J. Gardiner, T. van Riemsdyk
League’s best, most balanced top-six blends mobility and shutdown skill, and bottom pair isn’t a throwaway.

2. Dallas Stars
E. Lindell, J. Klingberg, M. Heiskanen,
A. Sekera, S. Johns, R. Polak
Lindell’s a PK whiz, Klingberg runs PP, Heiskanen has best of both. If Johns gets healthy, this group could be No. 1.

3. Nashville Predators
R. Josi, R. Ellis, M. Ekholm,
D. Fabbro, D. Hamhuis, Y. Weber
As strong as anyone at Nos. 1 through 3, but we can’t automatically anoint rookie Fabbro as a perfect Subban replacement.

4. Boston Bruins
Z. Chara, C. McAvoy, T. Krug,
B. Carlo, M. Grzelcyk, C. Clifton
Even as Chara reaches middle age, this group is deep and well-rounded. Can McAvoy become an elite No. 1 this year?

5. Tampa Bay Lightning
V. Hedman, M. Sergachev, R. McDonagh,
E. Cernak, B. Coburn, K. Shattenkirk
Bolts lean on Hedman and McDonagh. Need step forward from Sergachev. Shattenkirk an underrated addition.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets
Z. Werenski, S. Jones, R. Murray,
D. Savard, M. Nutivaara, V. Gavrikov
Werenski-Jones is the envy of league as top pair. Murray still brittle but has shed bust status. Reliable second-pair guy.

7. San Jose Sharks
M-E Vlasic, E. Karlsson, R. Simek,
B. Burns, B. Dillon, D. Prout
Burns-Karlsson-Vlasic a magical trio, though Vlasic coming off down year. The depth behind them has taken a hit.

8. Calgary Flames
M. Giordano, T. Brodie, N. Hanifin,
T. Hamonic, O. Kylington, R. Andersson
Giordano best in biz last year, but he’s 36. Brodie always better with him. Valimaki’s torn ACL hurts badly.

9. Philadelphia Flyers
I. Provorov, M. Niskanen, T. Sanheim,
J. Braun, R. Hagg, S. Gostisbehere
Deep group with young upside adds veteran poise with Niskanen, Braun. Can coach Vigneault get Provorov on track?

10. Florida Panthers
M. Matheson, A. Ekblad, K. Yandle,
J. Brown, M. Weegar, A. Stralman
There’s still time for Ekblad to become elite; he’s only 23. Will we ever appreciate durable puck-mover Yandle enough?

11. St. Louis Blues
A. Pietrangelo, J. Faulk, J. Bouwmeester,
C. Parayko, V. Dunn, R. Bortuzzo
Cup champs have great size and range on ‘D.’ Faulk, Dunn bring some nice QB skills to the power play, too.

12. Minnesota Wild
R. Suter, M. Dumba, J. Brodin,
J. Spurgeon, N. Seeler, G. Pateryn
One of league’s best groups at limiting shot attempts last season. But can Suter keep playing 26 minutes a night at 34?

13. Washington Capitals
M. Kempny, J. Carlson, D. Orlov,
N. Jensen, J. Siegenthaler, R. Gudas
Carlson’s a horse. Kempny has great chemistry with him. Advanced stats say Gudas is much more than a goon.

14. Vancouver Canucks
A. Edler, C. Tanev, Q. Hughes,
T. Myers, J. Benn, T. Stecher
Edler reviving career in mid-30s. Myers a pricey add but still helps. Hughes one of league’s most dynamic young talents.

15. Buffalo Sabres
R. Dahlin, R. Ristolainen, J. McCabe,
B. Montour, M. Scandella, C. Miller
Significantly improved on right side. Even if Ristolainen gets traded, Bogosian slides in. Dahlin is a monster.

16. Colorado Avalanche
S. Girard, E. Johnson, N. Zadorov,
C. Makar, I. Cole, C. Timmins
Improving every year. Rookie phenom Makar replaces Barrie on PP. Swift puck-mover Girard losing underrated tag.

17. Arizona Coyotes
O. Ekman-Larsson, J. Demers, A. Goligoski,
N. Hjalmarsson, J. Chychrun, J. Oesterle
‘OEL’ is lone true stud in a group that has good depth and decent mobility but lacks top-end offensive talent aside from his.

18. Toronto Maple Leafs
J. Muzzin, T. Barrie, M. Rielly,
C. Ceci, R. Sandin, T. Dermott
Barrie trade indicates Leafs will play “defense” by having puck a lot. Dermott (shoulder) to miss first month of season.

19. Vegas Golden Knights
B. McNabb, N. Schmidt, J. Merrill,
S. Theodore, N. Holden, D. Engelland
They don’t wow in talent department but work well together. Schmidt can fly. Theodore has another gear on offense.

20. Anaheim Ducks
H. Lindholm, J. Manson, B. Guhle,
C. Fowler, J. Larsson, M. Del Zotto
Not the elite group of a few years back. Lindholm a sturdy, modern-style shutdown ‘D.’ Fowler must stay healthy.

21. Chicago Blackhawks
D. Keith, E. Gustafsson, O. Maatta,
B. Seabrook, C. de Haan, C. Murphy
GM Bowman improved weak D-corps a lot this off-season with low-upside vets to keep seats warm for prospects.

22. Winnipeg Jets
N. Beaulieu, D. Byfuglien, J. Morrissey,
N. Pionk, D. Kulikov, V. Heinola
Lost Trouba, Myers, Chiarot in catastrophic summer. For now, Jets ranked as if Byfuglien will return from his leave.

23. Pittsburgh Penguins
B. Dumoulin, K. Letang, M. Pettersson,
J. Schultz, J. Johnson, E. Gudbranson
Strong top pair, OK second pair, but old-school Johnson-Gudbranson combo drags Pens down like an anchor.

24. Montreal Canadiens
V. Mete, S. Weber, B. Chiarot,
J. Petry, B. Kulak, C. Fleury
Weber rediscovered vintage form. Petry can chew up minutes. Mete epitomizes the rest: not flashy but fairly effective.

25. New York Islanders
A. Pelech, R. Pulock, D. Toews,
J. Boychuk, N. Leddy, S. Mayfield
Isles lack a star until Dobson ready to take that role. Pulock can bomb it. Toews a sneaky-good puck-mover.

26. New Jersey Devils
A. Greene, P.K. Subban, W. Butcher,
S. Vatanen, M. Mueller, D. Severson
Even with Subban, their ‘D’ lacks snarl. Greene blocks a million shots, but that means other team has puck all the time.

27. New York Rangers
B. Skjei, J. Trouba, M. Staal,
T. DeAngelo, L. Hajek, A. Fox
Trouba the lead dog. This group has an exciting ceiling, but we can’t assume Fox is ready. He has no pro experience.

28. Edmonton Oilers
O. Klefbom, E. Bear, D. Nurse,
A. Larsson, K. Russell, M. Benning
Maligned, but chance for rebirth under defense-minded coach Tippett. Bouchard has upside to alter Oilers’ fate.

29. Ottawa Senators
T. Chabot, N. Zaitsev, E. Brannstrom, 
R. Hainsey, M. Borowiecki, D. DeMelo
Hainsey, Zaitsev arrive to help PK but were part of a bad ‘D’ in Toronto. Chabot and Brannstrom are sublime rushers.

30. Los Angeles Kings
T. Bjornfot, D. Doughty, A. Martinez,
M. Roy, b. hutton, D. Forbort
At this point, it’s mostly just Doughty carrying an otherwise ragtag group. Kings need some higher-ceiling youth.

31. Detroit Red Wings
D. DeKeyser, F. Hronek, P. Nemeth,
M. Green, D. Cholowski, T. Daley
Hronek made strides last season, but every member of this ‘D’ would play at least one pair lower on good team.

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