WASHINGTON DC - FEBRUARY 12: John Carlson #74 and Mike Green #52 of the Washington Capitals warm up before the game against the Los Angeles Kings at the Verizon Center on February 12 2011 in Washington DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
With the centers and wingers taken care of, it's time to look at the guys assigned to shut them down. Moving on down to the blue line, here are the Division's top ten defensemen...
Honorable mention: Zach Bogosian, Ed Jovanovski, Tomas Kaberle, Jamie McBain, Jeff Schultz, Dennis Wideman
A new addition to the Division this year, Campbell brings offensive skill - and a hefty contract - to the Panthers and provides them with the puck-moving defenseman they lost when they traded Wideman to the Caps and then some. A second straight injury-shortened season limited his effectiveness to some extent, resulting in his lowest point total since 2003-04 (a year in which he played just 53 games), but his plus-28 was good enough for 8th among all defensemen and the best plus-minus rating on the Blackhawks.
A veteran of nineteen seasons in the NHL, Hamrlik is a consistent, experienced blueliner who has a knack for boosting a power play and for mentoring young defensemen - two things the Caps could sorely use. Hamrlik may not be the fleetest of foot but is a solid puck-moving defenseman fresh off his highest point total in four years. And at the age of 37, he's not afraid to block a shot or two...or 192.
Acquired a few weeks before the trade deadline last year, Brewer was one of those under-the-radar pick-ups that turned out to be key to his team's stretch run. While capable of chipping in some offense, he's never going to compete with the Mike Greens of the world; what he does bring is a calming, veteran presence and a big body that isn't easily pushed aside. He's had his share of injury troubles in recent years, but his 76 games played last season were the closest he's come to the full 82 since 2007-08.
Everyone's favorite defenseman-turned-forward-turned-defenseman, Byfuglien is a dangerous hybrid of a (really) big, aggressive defender and a power forward with a booming shot. After resuming his "natural" position on the blue line last season, all Byfuglien did was go on to set a career high in goals, points, assists, power play goals and shots on goal. His even strength ice time led all Atlanta defensemen, as did his 53 points, and his 347 shots were second in the NHL, behind only Alex Ovechkin.
6. Tobias Enstrom (Winnipeg Jets)
While Byfuglien was the flashy power forward on the Atlanta blueline, Enstrom was the stealthy, underrated power play quarterback who has quietly been putting together a solid and steadily improving young career. His 51 points were tied for 5th-best among all defensemen, with 28 of those points coming on the power play (a mark that was tied for 4th among blueliners).
5. Karl Alzner (Washington Capitals)
After two years of being shuttled back and forth between Hershey and Washington, Alzner stepped into his first full season as an NHLer and soon established himself as half of DC's new shutdown defensive pair. Despite skating twenty minutes a night and blocking 132 shots, he still played all 82 regular season games (and all 9 in the playoffs) and was a plus-14 on the season, second-best among Caps' defensemen. All this despite being, by his own admission, in less than perfect shape.
4. Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning)
A big, intimidating defenseman fresh off just his second season in the NHL, Hedman has already begun to meet - and exceed - expectations that accompany a top-two draft pick. His sophomore season saw him improve his offense and defense in small but noticeable ways, and he even picked up his first postseason point (plus five more) during Tampa's run to the Conference Finals.
One of the anchors of Carolina's defense, Pitkanen has led all Hurricanes' d-men in average ice time every year since arriving from Edmonton while averaging over four minutes per night with the extra man. If ever there was someone who deserved the "soilid if unspectacular" label, it's Pitkanen, who does a bit of everything you could ask of a blueliner.
2. John Carlson (Washington Capitals)
After dipping his toe in the NHL last season, Caps fans were positively drooling over the idea of having Carlson up with the team full time - and his first full season didn't disappoint. There were some stumbles along the way, owing in large part to the fact that injuries to Mike Green pushed Carlson into a bigger role than expected, but he handled it like a pro and established himself as the guy who, along with Alzner, could shut down the biggest names in the game. And at just 21-years-old, that's nothing to sneeze at.
1. Mike Green (Washington Capitals)
Offensively dynamic and defensively underrated, Green is simply one of the best in the biz... when he's healthy, at least.