Keeping with this week's Southeast theme at The Rink (and with nary a mention of Tim Tebow... oops), today we're going to take a look at the division's top ten defensemen. It's a list that was a heck of a lot more impressive thirteen months ago, when Dan Boyle and Jay Bouwmeester were still on Sunshine State rosters, and one that should come into its own again in a couple of years when prospects Victor Hedman, Karl Alzner, John Carlson join some of the youngsters who made the list below. But for now, it's a list that makes you realize that the impressive list of forwards we counted down yesterday haven't necessarily been facing top-notch intra-divisional opponents. Let's dive right in and you'll see what we mean.
Just missing the cut (I'd call this "Honorable Mention," but there's not much honor in not being able to crack this Top Ten): Joe Corvo, Tom Poti, Andrej Meszaros, Ron Hainsey, Tim Gleason, Aaron Ward.
The 6'5", 25-year-old Babchuk had a breakout season in 2008-09, scoring 16 goals (tied for fifth in the League), posting the best plus-minus on the Division's best defensive team and taking just eight minor penalties in 72 games. He might be higher on this list if he got more ice time, though more responsibility may not necessarily agree with Babs.
Eat it, haters. Last time we checked, the point of hockey was to score more goals than your opponent does, and Sarge has the best plus-minus of any defenseman in the division since he entered the League in 2006-07.
8. Bryan McCabe (Florida Panthers)
McCabe pumped in another 15 goals in 2008-09, and scored 'em at the sixth-best rate among NHL defensemen. He created goals at the eleventh-highest rate among the League's blueliners and while he's never going to wow anyone with his defense... well, let's just leave it at that.
7. Mattias Ohlund ( )
The miles seem to be catching up with Ohlund a bit (2008-09 was the worst offensive campaign of his career), but he is still a solid rearguard. At least that's what the Bolts are hoping.
6. Pavel Kubina ( )
Kubina's atrocious minus-15 rating jumps off the screen at you, but he was plus-12 over the previous two seasons. Then again, he is minus-102 over his eleven-year NHL career. Seriously, $5 million for this guy?
5. Tobias Enstrom ( )
Enstrom's sophomore campaign started out a little rocky, but ended strong, as he posted 21 points and a plus-14 rating in his final 25 games of the season (a 62-point/plus-45 pace). Enstrom got monster special teams minutes - 3:23 per game shorthanded and 3:18 on the power play - and hasn't yet missed a game in his two-year NHL career.
4. Zach Bogosian (Atlanta Thrashers)
Can Zach Bogosian be this high on the list already, just 47 games into his NHL career? Yep. From January on, the rookie had nine goals, ten assists and a plus-14 rating (for the Thrashers, mind you) in 38 games played. Pro rate those numbers and you're looking at a 19-goal/21-assist/plus-30 rookie campaign. He played against the toughest competition of all Atlanta defensemen at five-on-five and had 67 hits and 50 blocked shots in those 47 games... and he just turned nineteen.
3. Joni Pitkanen (Carolina Hurricanes)
Pitkanen led the Division's best defensive team in ice time and posted the second-best plus-minus among the team's blueliners. He had a bit of an up-and-down season in 2008-09 - 21 points and a minus-three rating before the All-Star game and just 12 points but a plus-14 rating from that point on. If he puts it all together, look out.
2. Keith Ballard (Florida Panthers)
Ballard played every game in 2008-09 and posted the best plus-minus on the Florida blueline, while leading the group in hits and blocked shots. And despite modest offensive totals, Ballard was tied for sixth among NHL defensemen in even strength points. Solid, solid rearguard.
1. Mike Green ( )
Biggest no-brainer in the history of earth. Norris finalist, NHL First-Team All-Star, and so on and so forth. Honestly, picking Alex Ovechkin as the top forward in the division yesterday was probably a tougher call. All hail Greenie.
So there you have it - the top ten Southeast Division defensemen. Alright, now tell us where we're wrong.