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Blue Line Buzz: Who Got Better in the Back?

Jason Chen

Consistently fires muffins. Blue Line Buzz on Mondays, Daily Puck and DFS on Sundays.

If you hadnít noticed yet, defensemen were hot commodities this season. This column has been saying that all along, which made for some juicy writing material over the course of the season.

Despite a flurry of trades over the weekend, which sent Canadian TV stations into a cold sweat for fear of a transaction-less Monday, some big moves were still made. A few teams landed the coveted A-list player, but the few that struck out made do with a couple of B-list or C-list additions. Either way, the key for most teams was adding bodies on defense.

What follows below is a 30-team primer of each teamís defense, ranked loosely by even-strength goals against (ES GA) and then moved up or down a couple spots depending on the teamís activity. Teams that have added big guns will give a big offensive boost to their teammates, while others that have sold off their players will fare worse defensively as they look ahead to the next season.

Edmonton Oilers
ES GA: 151, 30th
PK: 78.3%, 26th
GA/GP: 3.24, 27th

The reasons why the Oilers were so willing to part with Jeff Petry remain perplexing, but the mind is more at peace when not thinking about the Oilers. At least the teamís young defensemen, Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin, will get to play lots of minutes.

Columbus Blue Jackets
ES GA: 136, 27th
PK: 80.4%, 19th
GA/GP: 3.13, 26th

What a season to forget. Still, despite an initial impasse when James Wisniewski refused to be moved, Jarmo Kekalainen managed to flip him to Anaheim while getting a good return. Despite his short reign, Kekalainen has made some shrewd moves to get his team out of binds. The defense wonít get any better this season, but second-round pick Dillon Heatherington just signed his rookie contract.

Buffalo Sabres
ES GA: 135, 26th
PK: 75.1%, 29th
GA/GP: 3.32, 29th

Tim Murray moved a few forwards but left the blue line intact, electing to keep impending UFAs Andrej Meszaros, Andre Benoit and Tyson Strachan. Okay, yeah, maybe itís easier to tank with Meszaros in the lineup. Either way, the Sabres are saved from the bottom spot due to two dynamos: Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, who are poised to be the franchiseís pillars on defense. Theyíll get a lot of ice time and make a lot of mistakes, but they also possess a lot of potential.

Carolina Hurricanes
ES GA: 125, 24th
PK: 88.2%, 1st
GA/GP: 2.57, 14th

Justin Faulk is the only reason the Hurricanes defense maintains some sort of respectability. Heís been their MVP and will have to lug this team through the finish line after losing Andrej Sekera to the Kings. Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin will form a tag team as the punching bag for opposing pucks. Roland McKeown is a good piece for the future, though.

Colorado Avalanche
ES GA: 125, 23rd
PK: 83.8%, 7th
GA/GP: 2.82, 24th

The Avs were the awkward kids standing on the sidelines Monday, dipping their toes but afraid to go for the big cannonball. The Avs were either unwilling or unable to turn impending UFAs Jan Hejda and Danny Briere into future assets, and also left the questions surrounding Ryan OíReilly unresolved. What direction are the Avs going? They shouldíve been sellers and they werenít. Itíll be very curious if Hejda doesnít re-sign. The team remains without Erik Johnson (knee) as well.

Arizona Coyotes
ES GA: 146, 29th
PK: 77.4%, 27th
GA/GP: 3.32, 30th

Can you believe it? Don Maloney traded Keith Yandle and Zbynek Michalek and still managed to ice a defense that looks competent? Oliver Ekman-Larsson becomes the undisputed alpha Desert Dog, but the rest of the pack has some talent of their own, too. John Moore is the kind of skating defenseman the Coyotes love, while Klas Dahlbeck is a dependable two-way defenseman. The biggest beneficiaries of the combined 45 minutes of ice time Yandle and Michalek left behind will be picked up by Moore (15:06 w/ NYR), Brandon Gormley (15:47) and Connor Murphy (17:00). Mike Smith is the problem, not the defense.

Calgary Flames
ES GA: 114, 15th
PK: 80.4%, 20th
GA/GP: 2.56, 12th

Plucking David Schlemko off waivers wonít be adequate in replacing Mark Giordano (bicep; out for the season), but the Flames didnít have much to sell, and impending UFA Raphael Diaz was kept around because the team needed bodies. Dennis Wideman was a player of interest but wasnít moved. How far off the cliff has the Flames defense fallen? (Rhetorical question). T.J. Brodie will have to shoulder the load, but can he do it?

Toronto Maple Leafs
ES GA: 130, 25th
PK: 81.7%, 14th
GA/GP: 3.02, 25th

Trading Dion Phaneuf would serve as a material and symbolic gesture that the Leafs are going to re-build in earnest, but that clearly didnít happen Monday. Phaneuf is talented but heís the wrong man for the job. This is now the Morgan Rielly (and maybe Jake Gardiner?) show in the Big Smoke. Newcomers T.J. Brennan and Tim Erixon will have to audition for their roles next year. Both have some upside, though it's limited.

Philadelphia Flyers
ES GA: 109, 12th
PK: 76.3%, 28th
GA/GP: 2.79, 22nd

Ron Hextall may not have wanted to trade Braydon Coburn but the Lightningís package was just too good. The Flyers didnít have many trade pieces at the deadline, but all eyes will now be on Michael Del Zotto. Radko Gudas (knee; out for the season) was a good bonus pickup and he can protect some of the teamís young defensemen coming up next year, including Shayne Gostisbehere.

New Jersey Devils
ES GA: 97, 2nd
PK: 80.0%, 22nd
GA/GP: 2.51, 11th

Lou Lamoriello knows some dark magic because no matter what he does, he seems to get the most out of nothing. Despite featuring a patchwork defense, the Devils play strong defensively, but they will be without a key component in Marek Zidlicky, though Damon Severson (ankle) will return soon. Severson, Andy Greene, Adam Larsson (finally!) and Jon Merrill will be the top four next season.

Dallas Stars
ES GA: 144, 28th
PK: 79.7%, 24th
GA/GP: 3.29, 28th

Based on talent alone, John Klingberg belongs in the leagueís top tier of young defensemen, but overall the Starsí group remains weak. Mattias Backman, acquired from Detroit, is a two-way player with potential but will need to be convinced to give North America another chance after leaving the AHL mid-season. Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley are sorely miscast as No. 1 defensemen, but their stats look much worse than they should because Kari Lehtonen (more, like, Kari Let-more-in) tends the nets.

San Jose Sharks
ES GA: 124, 22nd
PK: 79.5%, 25th
GA/GP: 2.79, 23rd

That cry coming out of the Bay Area wasnít Brent Burnsí mating call; it was the collective groan of the Sharks defense realizing theyíre stuck playing in front of Antti Niemi for the rest of the season. And that eye-roll was Niemi realizing he has to play behind this defense the rest of the season. The Sharks seem to forever be at crossroads, and despite a clear need for defensemen to make a playoff push, they decided to just tread water.

Ottawa Senators
ES GA: 109, 13th
PK: 82.7%, 11th
GA/GP: 2.63, 17th

Once Marc Methot was re-signed, the Sens werenít going to be big sellers. The team had no other impending UFA defensemen of note and stood pat at the deadline. Erik Karlsson is a gem of a player, but like Allen Iverson in the early 2000s, heís dragging the rest of the guys to the finish line. Maybe thatís not a fair assessment of Methot, clearly the teamís No. 2, but thereís no denying the gap in talent is huge. Karlsson needs help. Either the Sens sign a guy or they wait and see what Cody Ceci can do.

Florida Panthers
ES GA: 116, 16th
PK: 79.9%, 23rd
GA/GP: 2.68, 19th

The Panthers were one of the few borderline playoff teams that never tipped their hand to reveal their goals on deadline day. Dale Tallon sold off his impending UFAs but acquired a couple in return, and never seemed all too concerned about making a big push for the playoffs. Nevertheless, the future is in good shape with Aaron Ekblad, and that's all that really matters at the moment.

Vancouver Canucks
ES GA: 121, 20th
PK: 85.8%, 4th
GA/GP: 2.68, 18th

The Canucks didnít add any bodies on defense at the deadline, and they donít need to with the impending returns of Kevin Bieksa (hand), Alex Edler (upper body) and Chris Tanev (upper body), three of their top-four defensemen. When healthy, the Canucks' defense is dependable and mobile, but that hasnít been the case this year. Dan Hamhuis continues to pull the weight but Adam Clendening has a chance to contribute offensively.

New York Islanders
ES GA: 122, 21st
PK: 74.4%, 30th
GA/GP: 2.77, 21st

Garth Snow didnít add anyone but he certainly sent a message re-signing Nick Leddy to a big seven-year extension. The Isles are talented on defense but not consistently good at playing it. The time isnít right for the Isles to go all in, but donít expect a long playoff run with a defense that is quite young (save Johnny Boychuk) and hasnít played together that long. It looks like Snow will try and extend Boychuk in the offseason.

Anaheim Ducks
ES GA: 119, 17th
PK: 81.6%, 15th
GA/GP: 2.69, 20th

Are the Ducks deep on defense? Yes. Are they as good as they are deep? No. Bob Murray shouldíve been looking at veteran defensemen to help shield the teamís young kids, but instead got younger by swapping the slightly more polished Ben Lovejoy for the promising Simon Despres, splurged on a turnover artist in James Wisniewski and got another body Korbinian Holzer. The Ducks arenít great defensively but theyíll try and probably succeed in outscoring you.

Boston Bruins
ES GA: 106, 8th
PK: 82.1%, 13th
GA/GP: 2.50, 10th

The Bruins were one of the more curious teams at the deadline, making a lot of moves but ended up not moving the needle a whole lot. Despite losing Kevan Miller (shoulder surgery) for the season, Peter Chiarelli opted to trade for underperforming forwards (Brett Connolly, Zack Phillips) rather than shore up the blue line. In years past, having Chara and three other guys was good enough, but this isnít the Chara of old.

Minnesota Wild
ES GA: 120, 19th
PK: 86.7%, 2nd
GA/GP: 2.56, 13th

Grabbing Jordan Leopold seemed like a sentimental move and with the team on a roll, perhaps the best move is the one Chuck Fletcher didnít make. The balance the Wild have on offense isnít reflected on defense, where Ryan Suter (29:05 TOI) is a workhorse with the bottom pairing averaging 15 minutes a night. Teams donít go very far with top-four heavy defenses. Christian Folin or Mat Dumba would have to step up their play considerably.

Winnipeg Jets
ES GA: 102, 6th
PK: 81.1%, 17th
GA/GP: 2.61, 16th

The Jets elected to get more help on offense (Jiri Tlusty, Lee Stempniak), but it becomes a far less pressing need when Tyler Myers has six points in eight games. When healthy, the Jets' defense is fearsome, led by Dustin Byfuglien, the leagueís most unstoppable player. Unfortunately, the drop-off after the top-four guys is pretty steep.

Tampa Bay Lightning
ES GA: 120, 18th
PK: 83.5%, 8th
GA/GP: 2.61, 15th

Steve Yzerman had to pay a steep price for Braydon Coburn, but he offers something they didnít have before: an imposing yet physical defenseman with plenty of experience. Matt Carle, a former Flyer teammate, is only a few weeks from returning, and itís likely the two will form a pair. Now the team only needs one of Andrej Sustr, Mark Barberio or even Nikita Nesterov, to nail down the sixth spot.

Washington Capitals
ES GA: 111, 14th
PK: 81.4%, 16th
GA/GP: 2.42, 6th

Barry Trotz will love the dependable Tim Gleason, who now gives the Caps a very neat and tidy six-man group. If the Caps go with Orpik-Niskanen, Alzner-Carlson and Gleason-Green, itíll give Trotz three very good lefty-righty pairings. Green is the X-factor because of his scoring abilities, and having a defensive player like Gleason could help turn him loose. The only criticism is that the team lacks a clear No. 1, though John Carlson may come closest.

Pittsburgh Penguins
ES GA: 101, 5th
PK: 85.3%, 6th
GA/GP: 2.42, 5th

Itís true that the Pens have a chance to win every year, but that doesnít mean they should be buyers every year, and if they keep mortgaging the future, pretty soon there wonít be any more pieces left to mortgage. Jim Rutherford wanted more polish so he got 31-year-old Ben Lovejoy, but was it worth such a promising prospect in Simon Despres? How long is Rutherfordís window, and why the big push? Wouldnít it be more prudent to stick with Despres, play him in the playoffs and develop him? Ian Cole was a solid pickup, but Rutherford is lucky he still has Olli Maatta, Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliot in the system so he can afford to be so cavalier when throwing away prospects.

Chicago Blackhawks
ES GA: 107, 10th
PK: 85.6%, 5th
GA/GP: 2.33, 2nd

In any other season, a second-round pick for Kimmo Timonen is a bargain, but the 39-year-old hasnít played all season, which makes him a pretty big gamble. If Timonen can get up to speed, he gives the team much-needed depth, but thatís a big question mark. The Hawks have paired Timonen with Brent Seabrook but Joel Quenneville will try different things.

Los Angeles Kings
ES GA: 104, 7th
PK: 80.4%, 21st
GA/GP: 2.50, 9th

The biggest trump card the Kings have is Drew Doughty. When the pressure gets turned up he is the leagueís best defenseman, capable of logging more minutes (29:27 TOI) than two guys combined and routinely makes his above-average defensive partners look pretty darn good (Sorry, Jake Muzzin). Andrej Sekera was a good addition but came at a steep price, and heís off to a so-so start. The Kings play well defensively but the drop off after Doughty is huge, and thereís an even bigger one after Muzzin, Sekera and Alec Martinez.

Detroit Red Wings
ES GA: 98, 3rd
PK: 82.9%, 10th
GA/GP: 2.46, 7th

At the end of the day, Ken Holland deserves applause for accomplishing what he needed to do and doing it the cheapest. The Wings didnít need to change much, but they needed another defenseman on the right side badly. One by one, all the big names were plucked off the board, but Holland waited and waited, and then snuck in a deal for the right-shooting Marek Zidlicky for a conditional third-round pick when everyone else was coughing up first-round picks and top prospects. Detroitís puck-possession game should cater very well for Zidlicky, who might offer the best value post-deadline.

Montreal Canadiens
ES GA: 95, 1st
PK: 86.0%, 3rd
GA/GP: 2.14, 1st

You think with a league-best 135 goals allowed the Habs would feature the leagueís best defense, and that would be true if by ďdefenseĒ you meant ďCarey PriceJeff Petry was a very good pickup, though, and filled a desperate need for a skating defenseman. However, beyond P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin, the rest of the group is shaky. The Habs are fast and play defense by keeping the puck out of their zone.

New York Rangers
ES GA: 106, 8th
PK: 83.0%, 9th
GA/GP: 2.39, 4th

If Alain Vigneault can coax nine goals out of Kevin Klein this season after scoring nine in his past three seasons, imagine what he can do with Keith Yandle. The only fear would be an injury to one of the six defensemen, which would force the Rangers to use Mike Kostka or Chris Summers. Yandle will bring a whole new offensive dimension to the Rangers, which should rub off on Ryan McDonagh too.

Nashville Predators
ES GA: 99, 4th
PK: 82.2%, 12th
GA/GP: 2.34, 3rd

Now that Cody Franson is playing a more manageable 17 minutes per game rather than the 20-plus he was pulling in Toronto, heís become a more effective player. Ryan Ellis did not play Saturday (Victor Bartley played 7:26) and once he returns the Preds will have a very, very good six-man group. Each of them can play at least 18 solid minutes. Anton Volchenkov (lower body) can switch in if the Preds need someone meaner but otherwise heís a capable No. 7 guy.

St. Louis Blues
ES GA: 108, 11th
PK: 81.0%, 18th
GA/GP: 2.48, 8th

Once Kevin Shattenkirk (abdominal surgery) and newly-acquired Zbynek Michalek (concussion) return from their ailments, thereís little doubt that the Blues have the deepest and best defense. Alex Pietrangelo is a perpetual All-Star, Jay Bouwmeester eats minutes like Gollum at a fish buffet, Carl Gunnarsson is criminally underrated and Barret Jackman is a wily vet. The team will also carry Roberto Bortuzzo, Chris Butler and Petteri Lindbohm as insurance. The Blues defense is very good and quite versatile.

Hot

Justin Faulk, Hurricanes Ė With four points in his past three games and 40 points on the year, if it isnít obvious yet, Faulk has become one of the leagueís best offensive defenseman. If he wasnít stuck in Carolina heíd be a much bigger household name.

Andrej Meszaros, Sabres Ė Meszaros is playing his best hockey of the season, with three points in his past three games, including goals in consecutive outings. Donít expect it to last because on some nights Meszaros barely looks better than your average beer leaguer.

P.K. Subban, Canadiens Ė Carey Price is shutting the door but Subbanís doing his part as well with a three-game point streak during which heís totaled six points. His 48 points on the season is a little disappointing, but his explosiveness is what sets him apart, and he can still rack up points in a hurry.

Cold

John Klingberg, Stars Ė The points and ice time are nice, but over the past six games, Klingberg has registered a minus-12 rating with just three assists in that span. The Stars arenít good defensively but Klingberg should be scoring more on offense to help offset that.

T.J. Brodie, Flames Ė Heís been having a very quiet second half and scored just one goal in his past five games. Things will get tougher with Giordano sidelined with an injury.

Jan Hejda, Avalanche Ė He hasnít scored since Feb. 12 and has a minus-7 rating in his past five games. Heís going through a rough patch but should be able to help out a team defensively.