The Pacific Arms Race: Defense

It’s been a busy few weeks for the Pacific Division teams in regards to defensemen. Nearly every team has made significant moves to alter their groups, particularly from what they rolled with throughout much of last season.

Continuing on with our look at the Pacific Division Arms Race, we look at how blueline groups stack up across the seven-team grouping.

For a “performance” benchmark, I chose high-danger scoring chances as defined by War On Ice. Basically, it’s chances from the low slot. In short: chances you don’t want your defensive group to give up too often.

ANAHEIM

Last Season: The six most-used defenders for Anaheim were Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Francois Beauchemin, Sami Vatanen, Clayton Stoner and a combination of Ben Lovejoy and Josh Manson.

High-Danger Scoring Chances Against: 640 (8th in NHL)

Changes: Added Kevin Bieksa from Vancouver, lost Beauchemin to free agency.

Breakdown: The Ducks were one of the better defensive teams in the division, likely by virtue of the club having three good pairings and an offensive attack that kept the puck in the other team’s end a lot. They do have a pretty good mix of bigger guys that can skate, but nobody that will contend for a Norris anytime soon. They lost a veteran in Beauchemin and gained one in Bieksa.

The Verdict: The Ducks downgraded. Beauchemin’s one of the league’s better defensive players, while Bieksa is slowing down and getting older.

ARIZONA

Last Season: The six most-used defenders were Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Michael Stone, Keith Yandle, Connor Murphy, Zbynek Michalek and a combination of Andrew Campbell and Brandon Gormley. Klaus Dahlbeck functionally replaced Yandle after the trade deadline.

High-Danger Scoring Chances Against: 789 (26th in NHL)

Changes: Added Nicklas Grossmann from Philadelphia.

Breakdown: Woof. On a certain level you have to feel bad for Ekman-Larsson. He’s far-and-away the best defender on the team, though Stone and Murphy aren’t horrible. But because of how shallow they are, Ekman-Larsson sees all of the top match-ups all the time.

The Verdict: The Coyotes weren’t very good last year. An argument could be made that they’ll be worse next year.

CALGARY

Last Season: The six most-used defenders were T.J. Brodie, Dennis Wideman, Kris Russell, Mark Giordano, Deryk Engelland and Raphael Diaz.

High-Danger Scoring Chances Against: 779 (25th in NHL)

Changes: Added Dougie Hamilton from Boston. Raphael Diaz left via free agency.

Breakdown: Last year, it was T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano against the world! And then Giordano got hurt and the team white-knuckled their way into the playoffs. The addition of Dougie Hamilton spreads out the tough minutes and gives Calgary a lot more depth. Look for them to move into the middle of the pack next season in terms of high-danger chances against.

The Verdict: Big upgrade from last season.

EDMONTON

Last Season: Justin Schultz, Andrew Ference, Oscar Klefbom, Mark Fayne, Jeff Petry and a combination of Martin Marincin and Nikita Nikitin.

High-Danger Scoring Chances Against: 854 (28th in NHL)

Changes: Added Andrej Sekera via free agency, Eric Gryba from Ottawa and Griffin Reinhart from the Islanders. Martin Marincin was traded to Toronto.

Breakdown: Edmonton sure did make a lot of changes. Reinhart’s nowhere near a finished product yet, and he gets a chance to break a much shallower team. But man, it’s like the Oilers are trying to make a team out of the depth blueliners from better teams. They’ll probably be a bit improved from last season nonetheless.

The Verdict: Slight upgrade over last season.

LOS ANGELES

Last Season: Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Matt Greene, Robyn Regehr, Brayden McNabb & Alec Martinez

High-Danger Scoring Chances Against: 605 (5th in NHL)

Changes: Regehr retired, so presumably Jamie McBain gets used more. No real big changes, though.

Breakdown: The Kings were the division’s best defensive team last season. They replace an old, slow Regehr with McBain, who is less old and less slow. At worst, it’s a lateral move. And it’s completely unclear what happens with Slava Voynov. If he comes back, this is a deeper group than last season.

The Verdict: The Kings will be about the same defensively as they were last year.

SAN JOSE

Last Season: Brent Burns, Justin Braun, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brenden Dillan, Scott Hannan & Matt Irwin

High-Danger Scoring Chances Against: 738 (T19th in NHL)

Changes: Added Paul Martin as a free agent. Hannan & Irwin are UFAs and haven’t signed anywhere yet.

Breakdown: So presumably Martin and Mirco Mueller take over for Hannan and Irwin, which is definitely an upgrade. The Sharks were a middle of the pack defensive team last season and they probably end up being towards the top half of that middle group this season, barring injuries.

The Verdict: A slight upgrade.

VANCOUVER

Last Season: Alex Edler, Luca Sbisa, Chris Tanev, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis & Yannick Weber

High-Danger Scoring Chances Against: 738 (T19th in NHL)

Changes: Traded Bieksa to Anaheim. Signed Matt Bartkowski as a free agent.

Breakdown: The Canucks weren’t amazing defensive last year, but they get a bit faster by swapping Bieksa for Bartkowski. It’s an entire team made up of middle-pairing defenders, though Edler is really good and they have a few guys with room to grow.

The Verdict: The Canucks are about as good as they were last year defensively, though if some of their young guys can continue to improve you could say it’s a very slight upgrade.

  • Parallex

    “The Verdict: The Coyotes weren’t very good last year. An argument could be made that they’ll be worse next year.”

    Frankly I think the ‘Yotes are the odds on favorite for Austin Matthews.

    • fretsey

      Hopefully so, perhaps after Thursday’s scrimmage. Until then go to Flames NHL site and look in the Message Boards. There are lots of early posts there already…

    • Parallex

      Just got home from the morning session. Again they are just doing drills so it’s hard to access but here are may takes.

      First they had instruction in power skating prior to the session. Drills were fast paced and the players worked very hard. Transition is the name of the game.

      Yesterday I was critical of Bennett in a drill but today he was way more focused. Who looked good: again I was pleased with Janko, Sieloff, Nakladal and Hickey. Others who impressed me today were Klimchuk, Ollas Mattsson, Smith and Marcotte. Again it’s drills and such but these were the guys who caught my attention in drills. A number of the invitees seemed to be significantly behind.

      • MWflames

        Thanks for that, it seems you only saw the first grouping? That’s OK, I pretty much only saw the second.

        My take is similar to yesterday. Kanzig was definitely the best of the small D group I saw on the last drill of the first grouping. A bit surprising, but quick, good on edges and control of the puck.

        In the second grouping, I mostly watched the D as the Forwards were at the other end on the segregated drills. Morrison(speedy, crisp skating, good D), Kulak(several good D and shot), Kylington(very fast!) and Tyson Baillie(edge control, several good plays) stood out to me, with Deblouw, Gilmour and Culkin also noted. On the end to end drills Kylington’s speed really showed as he often beat out guys on his drill…. On the downside(minor) the puck sometimes bounces off his stick…. I’d also agree the invitees were pretty much behind with the odd exceptions(Baillie).

        They had 10 drills overall:
        1. 4 men Passsing across a face-off circle
        2. Back and forth skating around a circle
        3. Stickhandling around a circle
        4. Passing through a player in a circle
        5. Puck retrieval and a Breakaway Pass
        6. Breakout from the corner into a 3-man rush
        7. 2 versus 2
        8. Puck retrieval drills
        9. Face-offs
        10. Puck possession focusing on edges and turns

  • fretsey

    Calgary a HUGE upgrade and the rest treading water or a slight downgrade. Should bode well for the Flames, and if the late season signings can come in and replace/upgrade Engelland/Smid/Potter it’ll be even more so.

    Early looks at Development Camp seems positive for that possibility.

    Still a lot of Summer left and I’d expect several deals from BT yet to come…

  • Big Ell

    1. Anaheim , 2. Calgary , 3. Edmonton , 4. L.A. (turmoil continues) ,5.San Jose ( core getting older not better , and loss of Niemi ) , 6.Vanc.( Sedins getting less effective ) , 7th Arizona . Oilers will be pressing Flames for 2nd spot due to vast upgrade of McDavid , defence from last season , better goaltending and coaching . Biggest drop to non playoff team will be Vancouver , they need to rebuild .

  • Parallex

    Question:

    Presuming that the Kings don’t bring back Voynov (because… you know) but they’re forced to bring back Richards (and then subsequently buy him out)… what is their cap situation like.

  • Reidja

    I would disagree on the assessment of the Ducks blueline. Given the youth and performance of Vatenen, Fowler and Lindholm, I like that group moving forward.

  • freelancer

    Donèt get how you call Calgary having a big upgrade and Edmonton having a slight upgrade. Yes Calgary brought in a fantastic player in Dougie Hamilton. While I don’t think Edmonton has a defence nearly as good as the Flames, Sekera was a great pick up, Gryba is a solid 5/6 guy. Reinhart and Nurse will both push for a spot. Not having Nikitin as a regular player and Justin Schultz not playing 22 minutes a night are both huge upgrades from last season.

    • DoubleDIon

      Reinhart isn’t very good at hockey, that’s how. Sekera equals Petry, he might be a bit better. Nurse will give you about what Marincin did and Klefbom will be better, but Ference will be worse. That’s why it’s at best a slight improvement. Although it will be a large improvement from the Oilers without Petry. I don’t think a rookie defenseman who is prone to mistakes in junior like Nurse is going to develop into a top pairing guy this season. He’ll make things happen for both teams. The guy gets caught up the ice and on bad pinches a lot. His athleticism makes up for it in junior, it won’t in the NHL.

      • Reidja

        Sekera is easily knocked off the puck, provides no physicality and is known to lose his confidence. When the game is not physical, he is a very good puck mover. Gryba is big but slow and gets caught out of position. He is physical though. Reinhart is slow and not physical. Good puck mover when he has time. Nurse is an excellent skater with potential if his hockey IQ improves. Right now he gets caught out of position a lot. Although Oiler fans like to say he was the OHLs best def, he was in fact only a second team all star two years after his draft year. It wil be interesting to see how he does at the next level. I’ve often compared him to Keaton Ellerby but think he will be better than that.

        • Parallex

          I think Nurse will be like Phaneaf in that he’ll be an easy 2nd pairing guy on almost every team in the league and a top pairing guy on a bad team.

          Oiler fans ought to be hoping that they resist the urge to put him in the NHL this year and let him get a year in the AHL first.

          • DoubleDIon

            Nurse and Reinhart are prospects at this point. and I think one of them will play at least 40 games in the NHL this year.

            Nurse is physically ready, not sure about mentally, but if he rips up the AHL he wont be there for long.

            Havent seen Reinhart since he was an Oilking so cannot comment how he will look. but he already has a 1 year of PRO on him.

      • Parallex

        Hmmm… I think Sekera is better then Petry (not magnatudes better but better). I also think he fit’s better into their line-up then Petry did since he’s left-shooting (and thus better compliments Fayne).

        • DoubleDIon

          I agree. Sekera is a slightly better player, but is he a better hard-minutes defender? I don’t think so. He’s a better offensive player which will help their transition game, but I still wonder how they plan on slowing down top lines. Especially without Boyd Gordon who is criminally underrated.

    • Reidja

      Pretty much what @DoubleDion said, Calgary added one of the games great young defensemen and Edmonton is still missing a legit 1/2 guy. Having Sekera on the Oilers is good, yes, but it was a slight overpay for a 3/4 guy. Very similar to when the Flames signed Wideman in fact. The Oilers are loaded with bottom 4 guys still. Maybe they make a move to bring in a legit leader on the backend, but for now it looks like a modest upgrade to me. The story might change in a few years with Nurse though.

    • mk

      A lot of the continuing skepticism about the Oilers’ defense has to do with their inexperience. Is it possible that Nurse comes in and becomes a top-pairing guy right away? Of course, but its much more likely he takes a season (even 2 or 3) to grow into a big role. Defensemen in general seem to mature as players a bit later than forwards (it is a more strategic position, vs. the tactical decisions required of a forward).

      Oilers’ D vs. last season (probable changes):

      Petry -> replaced by Sekara (minor upgrade)
      * Klefbom -> probably improves his game (minor upgrade)
      * Schultz -> could improve his game (possible upgrade)
      Fayne -> in his prime (no change)
      Ference -> getting old and slow (minor downgrade)
      * Nurse -> rookie w/2 NHL games experience (big ??? for now)
      * Reinhart -> struggled in the AHL last season (big ??? for now)
      Gryba -> an okay depth player (almost no change)
      Nikitin -> has he been bought out yet?

      Any major change in the d-core will come from the 4 guys marked with a *, who are young players who’s development is not certain. Nurse, Klefbom & Reinhart could be solid-to-excellent players down the road, but it would take a signification leap for the group as a whole to really improve.

      For now, the D core is slightly upgraded. For the future, it could be great – but its not there yet.

      • freelancer

        Fair enough. I appreciate the civil responses all you guys gave. The way I look at it is comparing the end of the season to what it is now. At the end of the season we didn’t have Petry. We were forced to play Klefbom and Schultz as a top pairing which they most definitely should not. As of right now I see Sekera and Fayne being utilized as a shut down role against the opposing teams best. Klef and Schultz would get the easy offensive starts, and a combination of Gryba, Reinhart, Ference, Nurse, etc would get the rest.

        All that being said, to use an arbitrary number system the Flamnes D went from being a 7 to an 8.5. Whereas the Oilers went from a 2 to a 5.5. Not great by any means, but a stark difference from what it was.

        • freelancer

          I think the Oilers may have improved but it remains to be seen… (Petry~Sekera). I think the best chance for improvement, and likely is the new coaching staff and the implementation of a more-structured system. If the Oilers buy in they should get better from that alone. The problem I see is that the Oilers don’t really have a Captain that is respected and can lead them as, for instance Gio does for the Flames. Ferrance is not that guy, Hall is not that guy, and now that the “best” player on the team is a raw rookie it seems to me it’ll take some time to sort that issue out. It’ll be interesting to see how that works itself out.

          Due to the above I’d expect the Oilers to be somewhat better, but not substantially so until the leadership issues are resolved.

        • Highlander

          The Oilers have the “advantage” of going from god-awful to simply bad/below-average and can register a huge improvement.

          Calgary goes from a team strength that has gotten stronger.

    • MWflames

      Problem with the Oilers is that the Defense is all 5-6 guys, exception Sekera. Slight upgrade when you consider Calgary’s defence; oilers not on the same ice surface.

  • Highlander

    Great piece Pike (and liking the series).

    Any news on whether Giordano will be fully recovered from the ruptured tendon?

    How much will Hamilton be able to reverse the corsi arrow? Great season for the Flames in terms of W-L but there was Colorado levels of unsustainable possession metrics that aren’t encouraging for a team that needed to rely on the Oilers knocking of the Kings to make the playoffs.

    • Parallex

      Flames will improve in that regard.

      Adding Hamilton will improve both the second and third defensive pairings (by bumping someone… by preference Russell) down to the third pairing (and one member of that gawd awful third pairing to the press box). Adding the possession driving Frolik to the line-up helps, as will (hopefully) maturation of Monahan/Gaudreau and adding Bennett. Some better health by Gio and Backs would be a big help but given their respective histories that’s not something we can bank on.

      I don’t think we’ll be seeing the big jump into being one of the league leaders but I do think the Flames will be better.

      • Highlander

        Agreed, the Kings clinched against the Kings on the Thursday but that had the Kings not lost to the Oilers on the Tuesday, the Flames’ win would have still set up a meaningful game on Sunday against the Jets (didn’t matter for either team and the Jets winning 5-1 was irrelevant).

        You do all remember Flames Nation cheering for the Oilers that last week – no?

  • Parallex

    Gaining Paul Martin and losing Scott Hannan and the other guy is a pretty significant upgrade IMO… UNLESS they decide to use Brent Burns as a forward. Then they downgraded.

    Martin is one of those guys like Andy Greene and Fedor Tyutin who no one seems to realize how good he is. The Penguins will miss Martin, probably a lot.

  • TX Flame

    Ive been hearing “we have the best Dcore” a lot.

    But look at the Ducks.

    Fowler
    Lindholm
    Vatanen
    Depres

    A great young Dcore that should only get better. The Ducks seem well set for the next couple of years.

    • TheoForever

      If you look around most people pick Flames/Ducks d-cores as some of the best in the league. Ducks don’t have Giordano, a noris contender. Edge to Flames in the immediate future.

  • MWflames

    I think Chiarelli is bringing the right approach: selling futures for closer futures. Sekera was a nice get, and Reinhart will probably turn into reliable bottom 3 defenceman (maybe more, but i personally doubt it at this point). And he narrowly missed out on Hamilton which would of been the right play obviously. I find the whole Talbot thing perplexing, but I’m left to assume GMs know more than me, and they’ll be proven right (probably? maybe not?). And of course McDavid is a neat player that will likely make immediate offensive impact. But does he help the teams defensive woes right away? Not likely much imo.

    Generally, they’ve done the right things, and made gains for next year and then some more gains coming in the year after that… BUT I still do not get where people think they’ve jumped into the playoff conversation. They still boast the leagues worst defence, and they don’t have forwards who can play hard minutes (RNH is good at this, but he still needs wingers to help). An injury or two to key players absolutely sinks this team… It certainly sounds a lot like an assessment of the flames last summer (mind you our defence was better), and we made the playoffs, so I guess anything is possible… However, nobody was better on the flames to make the playoffs, so I don’t know why the Oilers will… The only way I see it happening is if McDavid shuts me right up hahah….

  • MWflames

    I still think the Rangers have the best D in the league…McDonagh, Staal, Girardi, Yandle, Boyle, Klein but Tampa is up there as well with their top 6, as are both Anaheim and Calgary.

    The fact we’re in that discussion now is very impressive, we’ve come a long way in a short time…props to Treliving and former management that put some of these pieces in place

  • Omega4

    Reading Pike’s article, he rates Flame’s defence as 25th in the league last year. No where near the top or even 7 out of 10. Hamilton has a lot of work ahead of him to bring the defense up to average.

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