From Bobby Orr to Paul Coffey, from Red Kelly to Denis Potvin, the NHL has had its share of dominant defenseman. Most defenseman are good at defending, whether it be blocking shots or making hits, and some excel on offense as well. We know what a great defenseman can do to help a goalie, his fellow teammates and the overall team. However, with so many top notch defensemen in the league in 2009-10, it might be difficult to select the best overall defenseman. We know Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara, Chris Pronger, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Dan Boyle, Ryan Suter, Alex Goligoski, Brent Seabrook and Matt Carle are all in the mix for this year's Norris Trophy, but only one of them can be the best in the game as of today.
Who is currently the best defenseman in the NHL?
Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Detroit Red Wings
Robert Vollman: The league's best defenseman is still Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, regardless of his age (39), and slow start (5 points). Coming into this season, his 271 post-lockout points gives him a big lead over all other defensemen, with unmatched 3-year combined offensive GVT and PCO totals of 42.5 and 132.2 respectively. He consistently scores over 1.1 even-strength points per 60 minutes, and had 6.5 on the power-play last season towards a 10.77 power-play goals-for average.
As for defensive abilities, both Alan Ryder's PC stat (69.8) and Tom Awad's GVT stat (9.8) agreed not only that the future Hall-of-Famer was the league's best defensive player last season BUT that he achieved this in what was actually his worst season defensively in years. Given how few defensemen ever record a relative plus/minus of +20, it's that much more amazing that Lidstrom has combined elite offense and defense together to achieve at least a +23 three seasons in a row.
On a team that has featured solid blueliners like Mathieu Schneider, Niklas Kronwall and Brian Rafalski in recent seasons, the premium power play, penalty killing and key situation ice-time still goes to Nicklas Lidstrom. There are some great defensemen in the league and one day someone will finally replace Lidstrom as the league's best. Just not today.
Alex Goligoski, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Timo Seppa: He’s been the best defenseman in the NHL thus far, yet most fans couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup – the Pittsburgh Penguins super-sophomore Alex Goligoski. Already the 12th best defenseman in 2008-09 by Even Strength Total Rating––+0.64 goals per 60 minutes better than the average skater––Goligoski’s talent was not fully appreciated by his organization, or he might have already made a name for himself during Pittsburgh’s championship run. As it was, Goligoski barely got a sniff of the playoffs.
This season is a different story. Amongst defenseman, the Minnesota native is tied for 1st in Goals (6), 5th in Points (13) and 1st in Plus/Minus rating (+14). Even on the defending Stanley Cup champions, Goligoski only trails Crosby and Malkin in scoring, and he leads the Penguins in plus/minus by a country mile. Next to the injured Sergei Gonchar, he’s logged the most minutes per game for the Pens, with 22:39.
Dangerous on offense and judicious on defense, the 24 year old has consistently drawn more penalties than he has taken, no mean feat for a defenseman. This is one trait that sets him apart from two other early season stars with otherwise comparable stats, Chris Pronger and Matt Carle of the Flyers. Arguably overlooked and undervalued to this point in his career, Alex Goligoski is going to be a major contributor for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they look to repeat, and for years to come.
Chris Pronger, D, Philadelphia Flyers
Richard Pollock: Picking who the best defenseman is in the National Hockey League is a tricky question. Last season, many people would have told you the answer was Mike Green or Zdeno Chara. This season, it is probably too early to say; however, the name Chris Pronger would be my selection so far in 2009-10. Pronger was acquired for a boatload at this summer’s Entry Draft and has so far proven to be a more than worthy acquisition by Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.
So far this season, Pronger has produced 1.86 points-per-60 minutes of even strength ice-time. That is a highly impressive number, which is sure to no doubt come down, but his power play number of 5.94 per-60 minutes is also very impressive. Pronger has clearly been an offensive force; however, he has not only produced lofty offensive numbers but also has stabilized a back-end that was the Flyers’ biggest weakness in 2008-09. Pronger has made Matt Carle look terrific on the team’s blue line and has given the youngster some much-needed confidence. Additionally, he has given the Flyers a very solid top four core of: Pronger, Carle, Coburn and Timonen. The Flyers are no longer a weak team on the blue line and that is another reason Ray Emery has been a top ten effective player so far this season. Combine the fact that his Corsi rating is the best on his team’s defense and respectable compared to the rest of the league and Pronger would be my early season Norris Trophy selection.
Just remember, it is still very, very early.
Duncan Keith, D, Chicago Blackhawks
Andrew Rothstein: The 26 year old southpaw is one of the most explosive defenders and best shutdown defenseman in the game today. His 2.2 Defensive GVT is 4th best in the league, while his overall GVT (4.3) is among the top 20 skaters this year. The Winnepeg native has faced difficult opposition in 2009-10, with a Quality of Competition of 0.113, which is second among Chicago defenseman, and has still managed to score the second most goals on the Blackhawks (4), along with 7 assists and 11 points.
The 54th overall selection in 2002 has played a team high 26:33 minutes per game, including a team high 20:49 minutes per game at even strength, as well as a team high 3:41 minutes per game on the penalty kill. Keith has been improving every year, with a career season last year in which he posted a phenomenal 14.8 GVT. As long as the Blackhawks have the defensive duo of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, their defense will always be top notch, and it should take some of the pressue off of Cristobal Huet. Lidstrom has been the best defenseman over the past decade, but this is the year he finally moves over to make way for the best defenseman currently in the league, Duncan Keith.
This column was authored by the staff of Puck Prospectus.