We've rattled off our lists of the top players by position across the Metropolitan Division, covering centers, goalies, left- and right-wingers. That leaves just one group to rank, the hearty blueliners. Let's count 'em down...
Honorable mention: Johnny Boychuk, Justin Faulk, Travis Hamonic, Andrej Sekera, Kimmo Timonen, Lubomir Visnovsky
10. Nick Leddy, New York Islanders
Last year's rank: Not ranked
One of the newest members of the Metropolitan Division - and we're talking brand new, as he was just traded to the Islanders earlier this week - Leddy is one of those young defensemen with potential you're always hearing about. The 23-year-old won a Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013, and over the past few seasons had established himself as the #2 guy on the power play, with his ten power-play points trailing only Duncan Keith among 'Hawks defensemen. He also became a very good possession player on a very good puck-possession team - now he has to carry that over to his new home with the Islanders, a team that has retooled but isn't up to the Blackhawks' level. Both he and fellow newcomer Boychuk (a Bruin up until this week) will be interesting to watch from a "was it him or the system?" standpoint.
9. Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Last year's rank: 9
Although almost every season has been shortened by injuries of some kind (including last season, which was cut to 39 games due to a broken hand), Martin has become the Penguins' most reliable defenseman. He's not flashy (on a team that has a bit of flash), but has been the anchor for the Pittsburgh blueline, leading the team in even-strengh ice time in three of the last four seasons while often facing the toughest competition. And for a guy who doesn't put up huge point totals, he's averaged a point every 2.5 games over the course of his career - a number that's closer to a point every two games in the postseason.
8. Marc Staal, New York Rangers
Last year's rank: HM
|2013-14 (NY Rangers)||72||3||11||14||-1||24||1||0||0||92||3.3|
Like Martin, Staal has suffered a few season-shortening injuries in the past few seasons, but has turned into a good depth guy on a pretty decent Rangers' blueline. A strong possession player, Staal was among the leaders on the New York defense in both even-strength Fenwick% and Corsi%. He's also been one of the Rangers' better penalty killers, averaging a little over two minutes of shorthanded ice time a night over the past three seasons while being on the ice for just 21 power-play goals-against during that span. And while he's not known for his offensive abilities, he has been known to come up with some timely playoff scoring... as Caps fans well remember.
7. Andy Greene, New Jersey Devils
Last year's rank: Not ranked
|2013-14 (New Jersey)||82||8||24||32||3||32||3||10||3||134||6.0|
Greene has been a member of the Devils' blueline since being brought in as an injury replacement back in 2006-07, but it's only been in the last few years (particularly after the departure of Paul Martin to Pittsburgh) that he's emerged as one of their defensive leaders. He's led or been among the top two defensemen in ice time in three of the last four years, averaging well over 20 minutes a night, and has been a plus or even player in all but one season over the course of his career. Greene's also frequently called upon to face the toughest competition and yet has excellent possession numbers, leading all Devils defensemen in any number of metrics.
6. Matt Niskanen, Washington Capitals
Last year's rank: Not ranked
Niskanen's career has experienced some ups and downs over the years, but 2013-14 saw him emerge as a top offensive defensemen in the NHL, with a career year in which he led all Penguins' defensemen in scoring (and was sixth overall in a potent Pittsburgh lineup). With Kris Letang on the sidelines for much of the season, Niskanen was given loads of time on the League's best power play, averaging close to three minutes a night with the extra man (and being rewarded with 15 power-play points, both career-high totals. He's not likely to approach last year's point totals with his new team (given where he slots on the power-play depth chart) - but he does provide the Caps with one more weapon in a pretty loaded arsenal, and is a very solid all-around rearguard.
5. Mike Green, Washington Capitals
Last year's rank: 4
Injuries have been prevalent among the defensemen on this list, but perhaps none more frequently - and none having more of a consistent impact - than the injuries that have followed Mike Green around in recent years. In fact, he hasn't played a full season since 2007-08, although he came close the following season (75 games played) and again in 2013-14 (70 GP) - and yet he remains one of the League's more dangerous and talented offensive defensemen (at least when he's allowed to be) and has accumulated 315 points in a little over 500 games. This past season he picked up his 100th career goal, part of his 16th-career two-goal game (the only Caps' defenseman to accomplish that feat even more than once since 2005-06) - all while dominating in even-strength possession on a team that often struggled in that department. With a new coaching staff in his corner and a new contract needed, Green could be poised for big things in 2014-15... if he can stay healthy.
4. John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Last year's rank: 3
Carlson is something of an oddity on this list, the only one to have appeared in every game since becoming a regular roster player for the Caps four seasons ago. With that iron-man streak has come consistent point production, as Carlson has averaged around 0.42 points per game over the course of his career. Last season he emerged as a power-play quarterback for the Caps, setting new career-high marks in goals and points with the extra man, and topping 24 minutes of ice time a night for a Caps team in desperate need of a defensive backbone. Along with frequent D partner Karl Alzner, Carlson has been tasked with opponents' top lines (although the results were somewhat mixed last season, both in terms of possession and goals-against). Some of that can be traced back to too much responsibility, but with some reinforcements that burden should lessen... and at just 24, he likely hasn't reached his full potential as a blueliner just yet.
3. Christian Ehrhoff, Pittsburgh Penguins
Last year's rank: Not ranked
Arguably the biggest name among free-agent blueliners this summer, Ehrhoff was a surprise buyout for the Sabres and quickly found a new home in the suddenly-depleted Penguins lineup. Ehrhoff leaves a team that gave up 243 goals last season (105 for which he was on the ice), the sixth-most in the NHL - and yet he led all Sabres blueliners in possession, and was tasked with facing some of the toughest competition on an nightly basis. He's also been a pretty consistent offensive contributor during his career, averaging 0.45 points per game in both the regular season and the playoffs (although he hasn't seen the latter since 2010-11). Whether he'll be able to make up for the loss of both Orpik and Niskanen on the Penguins' blueline remains to be seen, but he definitely is a good first step, and provides them with a strong veteran presence on an increasingly young defensive corps.
2. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Last year's rank: 1
There aren't many comeback stories better than that of Kris Letang. Injuries are commonplace, particularly among defensemen, but for Letang it was something much more difficult - and unexpected - as the 27-year-old suffered a stroke at the end of January and was sidelined for most of the second half. He surprised everyone by returning to the lineup for the final three games of the regular season before suiting up for all 13 playoff games (and picking up five points in the last seven). He's played a key role in the Penguins' power play in recent years, accumulating close to 100 points with the extra man in his seven-plus seasons in Pittsburgh - just part of the 231 points he's scored overall. And while he may sometimes be an adventure in his own zone (as some of the best offensive-minded defensemen are prone to be), he's always a threat with the puck on his stick.
1. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
Last year's rank: 2
McDonagh was once known as the defensive prospect with a ton of potential who was inexplicably swapped for Scott Gomez; today he's one of the game's elite defensemen, dangerous at both ends of the ice... and still only 25 years old. The newly-minted captain of the Rangers has been the backbone of their defense for the last three seasons, logging the second-highest average ice time over the last three seasons (and leading in even-strength ice time) while putting up some of the best possession numbers (behind only Anton Stralman). He's been one of the two top-scoring Rangers' blueliners for each of his four full seasons with the Rangers, and was pivotal in their recent run to the Stanley Cup Final, with a team-leading 17 points in 25 games. Oh, and did we mention that he's still only 25 years old?