Who has the best group of defensemen in the NHL?

ByESPN.com ESPN logo
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

With more than a month of the 2018-19 NHL season in the books, it's time to re-examine which of the 31 teams has the best batch of blueliners:

Which team has the NHL's best group of defensemen?

Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: It was a bad first month for the San Jose Sharks' blue line after the addition of Erik Karlsson. This is indisputable. But I'm not going to allow one bad month to suddenly turn an incredible collection of defensemen into a bucket of chum. Brent Burns remains Brent Burns, with 20 points in 18 games, just seven of them on the power play. He's been paired with Joakim Ryan. Brenden Dillon has been surprisingly good, with a 61.2 Corsi for percentage at 5-on-5. Justin Braun has been ... not good, with a minus-5.26 relative Corsi.

This brings us to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has been underwhelming, and Karlsson, who has been playing some of the worst hockey of his career with a minus-10 goal differential at 5-on-5, second worst among defensemen in the NHL. I refuse to believe these two are going to remain in this rut. I refuse to believe a defense this good on paper will remain middling IRL. I still believe that the Sharks, with three of the top D-men on the planet when at the height of their powers, can be the NHL's best blue-line corps.

Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Before the season, I picked the Sharks as the top group based off sheer talent alone. An uninspiring start has me hitting pause. My head tells me to select the Nashville Predators, whom I still believe have the most dominant quartet in the league. Through Monday, the Predators have allowed a league-low 20 goals at five-on-five and are allowing a league-low 2.19 goals per game (and tighten up by allowing only nine third-period goals, also a league-low). I also have the Minnesota Wild in consideration for this honor.

In other words, I keep finding reasons not to pick the Carolina Hurricanes, the advanced stat darlings. Carolina has the lowest shot attempts against per 60 minutes in five-on-five play in the league. Among pairings that have played at least 200 minutes together, the Canes boast the top two duos in terms of expected goals plus-minus. Carolina is also allowing a league-low 25.5 shots per game. If it weren't for shoddy goaltending, you wonder where this team might be.

But I also know stats don't tell the whole story, and if I'm entering the playoffs with any defensive group right now, I'd pick Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban & Co. over their younger, pluckier counterparts in Carolina.

Sachin Chandan, ESPN the Magazine researcher: I'm taking the trendy pick in the Carolina Hurricanes. Emily's right, their top pairings of Dougie Hamilton-Jaccob Slavin and Calvin de Haan-Justin Faulk have been two-way forces on the ice, with each pairing having a Corsi for percentage above 60 percent. Their defense group has contributed 244 shots, 53 higher than the next best team, the Sharks. They've combined for 44 shots on the power play, best in the NHL. Third-pairing D-man Trevor van Riemsdyk has seen ample time when the Hurricanes are defending a one-goal lead, delivering a Corsi for percentage of 55.0 in that scenario.

With so many Canes dominating the leaderboards in all situations, I've got to offer up a slow clap for Carolina.