The best defensive group in the league


 (Cam Charron continues to look at general NHL issues for us here at the Nations. This week, he investigates the Sharks new top-four defense rotation and wonders if it’s one of the best in the league)

There has been a lot of chatter dealing with analysis of the trade made between the San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota Wild that sent Dany Heatley to St. Paul in exchange for Martin Havlat. The earlier trade, made draft day, that sent Brent Burns to the Bay Area, may have larger repurcussions. Part of the reason is that there was a such a keen divide in the hockey blogosphere over the Heatley and Havlat trade. It included the bigger name in Heatley, even if he wasn’t the best player involved in the two trades.

Jonathan Willis wrote recently at The Score about Mike Weaver and Jason Garrison in Florida, who were one of the top purely defensive pairings in hockey last season. For good reason, I find. Weaver and Garrison were well up in my own defensive ranking which adjusts the number of Fenwick events ( goals, saved shots and missed shots) given up while the player was on the ice for the number of starts a player had in the opposing zone.

While Weaver and Garrison were the top pairing, the top four defensemen should probably at this point be San Jose’s remarkably strong unit. Jason Demers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were seen as San Jose’s second pairing last season, despite being the team’s onlyduo to start more shifts in their own end than the opposing end. While they didn’t play against consistently top competition (that was the Dan Boyle-Douglas Murray combination) they outshot their opponents by a fair margin. In fact, they were #1 and #3 among regular defensemen in the entire NHL.

With the addition of Brent Burns, who was Minnesota’s top defenseman in adjusted Fenwick (shots for and against at the net minus blocked shot) and third in quality of competition and other defensive metrics, the Sharks have added another strong number two defenseman to that group. Like Dan Boyle, Burns is known primarily for his offensive instincts. He was 14th in points among defensemen last season and third in goals with 17. Unlike some scoring defensemen who sacrifice defensive aptitude for a few goals, Burns doesn’t. He was fine in his own end last season. He’s a regular for Team Canada’s World Championship team for good reason.

Boyle, Burns, Demers and Vlasic provide a top four that balances scoring punch with defensive strength. Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson no doubt has recognized that his goaltender Antti Niemi is likely the weak link on the team and has made sure to give the Sharks a lot of defensive depth to keep the puck at the other end of the ice. He has given 31 per cent of the Sharks money to his top six defensemen (who include Murray and Jim Vandermeer to round out the corps) which is actually less than the percentage dished out by, among others, Florida’s Dale Tallon and Vancouver’s Mike Gillis to their top sixes. 

  • Love Monkey

    Do we really need comments like Toro’s? I know we’re hockey fans here and I don’t expect a high level of dialogue, but can we at least avoid the absolutely inane crassness that is the first post in this thread?

  • This is one of the few times in my life where I actually heard a regular NHLers name and went “WHO?”. Who is Jason Garrison, and how did he slip so badly under my radar?

    What’s that? Ah, the Florida Panthers. Now it makes sense.

  • SuntanOil

    Anyone else here leery of letting their hockey crazy kids read through the comments?

    Good looking D there. Although as much as I like Vandie for OUR #6, you almost hear the old Sesame Street song going through the head as you read that list

    –‘one of these things is not like the others. Can you guess before my song is done?’–

  • Love Monkey

    The addition of Burns is huge. It was noticeable against Vancouver that they needed more depth there. Already a back-to-back Conference Finals team and they’ve gotten better (on paper at least).

  • Love Monkey

    And who really cares about the ‘fist’ thing? If some “mouth breather”, as Robin likes to say, gets his jollies trolling this blog so that he can write “fist” before all the other morons write it, what’s the big deal?

  • RKD

    All I know is that the Flames D is going to be tested even more so with the loss of Reg and a much tougher Western Conference.

    Play Columbus, you face Carter and Nash. Play LA, you face Kopitar and Richards. Play the Wild you face Heatley and Setoguchi who we will see a lot of in the NW division. Plus those Oiler kids who are fast are getting better.

  • Cripes, San Jose got Havlat and now Dog Murray is their 5th defenceman?! The rich just get richer.

    The only weak spot I see in their line up is their forward depth is a little suspect. Other than that…look out Vancouver.

    Cam, any thoughts on the odds of Vandermeer or one of their kids in the 6th hole?

  • What constently amazes me is that when you start to look through the whole western conference its seems that almost every team is becoming stronger and stronger every year. I have a feeling that the playoff races are going to continue to be tight like last season. The only team off the top of my head that I felt got weaker in the west was the Calgry Flames. Cut their D down and didn’t really add any offense. This year will be interesting.

  • I agree with what’s being said here about some of the western teams getting stronger. LA, SJ, VAN, MIN, CLB are all a lot stronger. For a flames fan that isn’t good news. I agree that we are a little weaker this year but hopefully that’ll be the catalyst to convince the owners the need for REAL change. not just the illusion of change (which has been happening). I’ll admit that managment has been doing good things for the HEAT but so far it’s been at the expense of the flames. It’s going to be a painful year for the flames. But hopefully for the best in the end … right?…

  • justDOit

    I’ll agree that SJ’s d-core is mightily improved, but best in the league?

    How about Carle, Coburn, Lilja, Mezaros, Pronger and Timonen? If Pronger can avoid injury, that’s a scary group of d-men.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    The sharks have been on the verge for years they are so due to go all the way. This may be the piece that does it. Sending Heatly away is just as big a deal as he is not in the room or taking up space on ice during playoffs. If injury is not a factor they will be in the west final in 10 months.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    SuntanOil, most blogs you can`t let your kid read I find anyways. You have 90 percent of good bloggers, but there is the 10 percent who have to get themselves heard by childish dribble and filth. The moderators tolerate it because they obviously want people to have a freedom to post freely, and the rest of bloggisphere have to resort to making comments like this to make the posters feel like ignoramuses.

    As for the article, you know your depth is solid when their projections of their d-corps have Murray as their fifth defencemen. Theres gotta be 10-15 teams out there that would have him in their top shut down pair and play him 20-22 mins a night. SJ gone and done a nice job retooling, and balancing out their team. Looks like another top 4 finish for the team in teal.