Scott Stevens celebrating a Stanley Cup victory
Every year the top defensemen win the Norris Trophy with large offensive numbers and good defensive play. Think of names like Nick Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermeyer and Zdeno Chara.
But it is the blue-collar defensemen that can also make a big difference in their team's fortunes through much more than goals, assists or plus-minus. These defenders make opposing forwards black and blue with hits by making them pay in the corners or coming across the blue line. They help their goalie by sacrificing their bodies blocking shots, and they take the puck away from skilled forwards and turn the puck around to help their team go on the offensive.
This list is based on statistics from the 2012 NHL regular season. We place value on hits, blocked shots and takeaways on this list.
Let's take a look at the top 20 NHL blue-collar defensemen for the 2012 regular season.
He is a big part of the Boston Bruins defence core and makes life very difficult for opposing forwards. While he may not get many points, the Bruins' Head Coach Claude Julien knows just how valuable he is to their team.
A midseason trade saw the former "Grossman" leave Dallas and end up in Philadelphia as "Grossmann." As reported by csnphilly.com at the time, the Flyers noticed his last name was spelled with two "n's" on his passport. Nicklas knew the Stars had made a mistake, but he did not want to say anything because he was happy just to be in the NHL. The Flyers made a wise choice picking him up, as he should make the Penguins' stars pay the price in their first round series.
Head Coach Ken Hitchcock must really enjoy having a defenseman on his side who plays the way Polak does. He is a team player who is always willing to sacrifice his body in order to help his team.
What would a list of blue-collar defenders be without Volchenkov on it? He was one of the annual leaders in blocked shots during his time with Ottawa. Age seems to have slowed him down in that regard, but he is still a fearless team player who fits perfectly with the Devils' style of play.
While Kronwall has garnered more attention this season for the big hits he provides, it is his overall play that impresses the Red Wings' coaching staff the most. Former Detroit Red Wings bruiser Vladmir Konstantinov should be proud!
He started his career in Montreal, but he has really made a name for himself since his move to Dallas. He is a solid shutdown defender and will be a key part of a younger Dallas team moving forward.
O'Byrne has been a warrior for the young Avalanche team this season. He was discarded by the Montreal Canadiens but has found a home on the Colorado blue line, making life difficult for opposing forwards in the Western Conference.
He is a young player who has developed very well for the Islanders the last few seasons. He should be an integral part of their playoff push in the next couple of seasons.
This player knows how to use his body and never shys away from contact. Even in purple, he makes opposing forwards think twice about going into the corner with him.
He is the only player in the league who can challenge Chara's slap shot. He has put pucks through nets and piled up the points, but the foundation of his game is his blue collar play. When he and Phaneuf were playing in the World Juniors, most thought Dion would become the better NHLer. Suffice it to say they were definitely wrong. Hands down, I would take Shea over Dion any day of the week.
He never did look quite right in blue and white with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was not though of as a valuable player in Toronto, as it was thought he would provide more offense. But offense is not this man's primary skill; it is making the other team pay for every inch. He is best when paired with an offensive defender and is left to play defense.
Had he played more games this season, he surely would have been a higher entry on this list. Fistric has learned well from Stephane Robidas and provides Dallas Head Coach Glen Glutuzana another rock-solid blue collar defenseman.
Even with a bit of a decline from their Stanley Cup winning season, Seabrook and Duncan Keith still make up one of the most versatile and effective defense pairings in the NHL. Seabrook brings it at both ends of the rink and makes opposing forwards pay the price.
Stuart has found a home in Winnipeg after being unable to crack the Bruins' defense core. He is a nasty player to play against and is always willing to block shots and sacrifice his body.
Schenn is continuing his slow development into one of the premier shut-down defenders in the NHL. He is the most physical of the Toronto defenders but could stand to gain a little speed. Regardless, he is a willing combatant at all times on the ice.
Josh is a shot-blocking machine and a true warrior for his size. He is one of the better penalty-killing defensemen in the NHL today and a true leader for the Canadiens on and off the ice.
Brewer has become a solid veteran presence and a premier defenseman in the NHL. A late-season trade last year saw him help lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a great playoff run. He will continue to be a valued veteran for a rebuilding Lightning club to have in the dressing room.
The return on the Chris Pronger trade to Anaheim is looking better every year for the Oilers. Smid has taken the next step in his development, and Edmonton Head Coach Tom Renney now has a bona fide shut down defender to put out against other teams' top-scoring units.
It is true that Marc-Andre Fleury is the reason why the Penguins have been able to maintain a standard of excellence, with continued injuries to Letang, Staal, Malkin and Crosby. But Fleury has had a little help from his friend Brooks Orpik as well. Opposing forwards know they are in for a long night when they are playing the Penguins, and Orpik will be essential to Pittsburgh's game plan against the Philadelphia Flyers.
He is the key shut down defender on the New York Rangers. He is a true warrior in the NHL and is the type of defenseman that any team in the league would be lucky to have. He will likely be assigned the task of shutting down Alex Ovechkin in the Rangers' likely first-round match up this year.