What determines who is better than whom is really in the eye of the beholder. Sure, statistics can support one's argument, but they don’t always give a clear-cut answer. Other qualities have to be considered. Leadership, motivation and importance to the team’s success are all important qualities that can support why a player who doesn’t put up huge stats is still a vital piece to his team.
Taking that into consideration, here is a list of the top 50 defensemen.
Willie Mitchell just hoisted the cup, so he does deserve some credit. His game is more of a quiet one. In one year he increased his shot blocking totals from 85 to 139 and more than doubled his hit totals. Sacrifices like that are what it takes to win the cup.
Offensively, Mitchell has yet to eclipse the 25 point mark, coming close last year with 24. Mitchell's play could improve slightly offensively, but his plus-20 and over 22 minutes of ice time per game is hard to ignore.
Nikita Nikitin had a rather good year on a rather bad team. In his 61 games, split between St. Louis and Columbus, Nikitin managed to put up 32 points and hold his plus/minus rating to minus-five. Nikita averaged over 27 shifts a game and over 23 minutes of ice time. Those numbers aren't bad for a team lacking a supporting cast.
James Wisniewski didn't see much time last year. But when he is healthy, he is a solid defender.
James Wisniewski is developing into a bit of a journeyman. He has played for five different teams in his nine years in the league. Columbus, last season, seemed to re-spark Wisniewski offensively. James finished the season with six goals and 21 assists in his 48 games. Wisniewski could be a critical piece in the rebuilding of this Blue Jackets team.
This 2008, third overall draft pick seems to be getting better every year. Last year, Bogosian set a career high with 25 assists and 30 points. He seems to be continually improving his game one piece at a time. He appears to be a well-rounded defenseman—he blocks shots, hits, and plays on the power play. A concern with him is the fact the Winnipeg Jets must endure some grueling travel just to play their games. This could wear on a young player such as himself.
Tom Gilbert should benefit greatly from the Ryan Suter signing. Gilbert was the number one defender for average ice time with the Minnesota Wild last year. This year he will have help. In 66 games he posted 22 points. Suter should help raise his minus-five into the plus category. Along with that, Suter will command more attention, opening up the ice for Gilbert.
Cam Fowler has the skills to have a breakout year. The biggest thing holding him back from being ranked higher on this list is his career minus-53. Fowler showed his rookie year that he can put up 40 points, then like many before him had a bit of a sophomore slump. The Anaheim Duck's brought in veteran Sheldon Souray, who could act as a mentor for young Fowler. Look for Fowler to have a bounce back year.
Filip Kuba left one team that shocked much of the hockey world, the Ottawa Senators, and joined another in the Florida Panthers. Kuba is not one to throw many hits, but is willing to sacrifice the body by blocking shots. The Panthers have a solid core, which should benefit Kuba. Kuba's 32 points last season were decent, but that fact that he went from a minus-26 in 2010 to a plus-26 one year later shows that he has the ability to bounce back.
Carlo Colaiacovo was another guy who helped St. Louis to become the league's top defensive team. Colaiacovo saw time in 64 games, notching 19 points. He finished a plus-seven on the season. Colaiacovo is a part of a team with a defensive system that will allow Colaiacovo to have another good season.
Drew Doughty is a Stanley Cup Champion and part of a team that only had four losses throughout the entire playoffs and only one road loss. A stat like that can not happen without solid defense. Doughty's numbers have been declining over the last couple of years, but his playoff performance showed he still has what it takes to be among the league's top defenders. Although there is a major concern—will he fall victim to the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover?
Michael Del Zotto has had some up and down years in his young career. Last year, Del Zotto took a big leap forward with his regular season play. During his rookie season he displayed his offensive capabilities, but last year he showed that he has been developing his defensive game. He finished the season a plus-20, with 10 goals and 41 points in 77 games.
Dennis Wideman found a new home in Calgary. Last year, with the Washington Capitals, Wideman scored 46 points, 11 of them were goals. He isn’t an overpowering defender but more of a consistent one. Wideman could be given more responsibility with the Calgary Flames, allowing his point production to increase. A safe guess would be that Wideman will tally 10 goals and 25 assists, but he has the possibility to surprise some people. The biggest area Wideman could improve on is his plus/minus rating, as he finished last season as a minus-eight. Wideman could increase that to over 50 with the extra help of Bouwmeester.
Jack Johnson plays on the league's worst team. Johnson played 21 games with the Blue Jackets, after 61 in Los Angeles. Between the two teams, Johnson scored 12 goals and 26 assists. The moved fared well for Johnson as he scored four goals and 10 assists and finished a plus-five. Johnson should get increased responsibility in Columbus which should translate on the score sheet.
Erik Johnson is a 30-point type player. He is on a young and up and coming team. Apparently the Colorado Avalanche likes what they see in this 2006 first overall pick.
Johnson's 26 points were a decent star for a young player trying to find his game. Colorado just added some more scoring power in PA Parenteau which should help Johnson to improve and settle into the Avs. Expect a breakout season from Johnson.
Johnny Boychuk is one of those defensive guys who makes the list. In 77 games, he only posted 15 points. But he proved he is a reliable defenseman by posting the third best plus/minus (plus-27) in the league last year. Boston has tough defenders who like to hit and block shots. Boychuk is one of them. Do not expect much of that to change in 2012-2013.
Kevin Shattenkirk was a part of something special in St. Louis last year. St Louis was the best defensive team in the league last year, with much credit to Shattenkirk.
The St. Louis Blues have a defensive-first mentality, reflected in Shattenkirk's plus-20. Shattenkirk's nine goals, 34 assists, and 43 points is respectable. Shattenkirk is entering his third NHL season and is looking to follow up his solid 2011-2012 performance with another good one.
This 27-year-old defenseman has made a name for himself in Chicago as a heavy hitter. It seems that every time Seabrook brings someone into the boards, he isn't trying to take them off the puck, but instead trying to put them through the boards. Seabrook had a bit of a down year offensively, but made up for it by posting a plus-21. Seabrook has some of the most talented players on his squad so his offensive numbers should increase back to the 40-plus point range.
Dustin Byfuglien is a different kind of defenseman. He takes chances. His time playing forward in Chicago amplifies his ability to be a solid offensive defenseman.
Byfuglien matched his 2010 point total in Atlanta last year—only playing in 66 games. Dustin likes to play a physical game and take chances. In the last two seasons, Big Buff has scored 32 goals and 106 points. The Winnipeg Jets team has played a full year of long travel and is beginning to mesh nicely. Byfuglien is set for another solid year on the blue line.
Jason Garrison finished third with 16 goals among defenseman, behind Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson. Garrison signed a new contract with the Vancouver Canucks this offseason.
Last year he managed to put up 33 points on a Florida Panther team who wasn't expected to do much. This year, Garrison is playing with a team that has been competing for the Stanley Cup over the last couple seasons. With the help of the Sedin brothers, Garrison could add to his career best numbers.
Ian White is on the Red Wings, enough said. The Red Wings have proven over the years that they know how to put a competitive team together. Yes, Nicholas Lidstrom's retirement left a huge void on the blue line. The Wings tried to fill it with Ryan Suter, but lost that race to Minnesota. So now it appears that void will have to be filled from within.
Last year, White was good for 32 points. He also managed to end up a plus-23. His average of 27 shifts a game should increase along with his ice time of 22:58. White might even end up with more time on the power play. If this happens, his offensive totals should take a big boost in the positive direction.
Christian Ehroff didn't pan out the way Buffalo thought he would when he was signed last year. He saw his point totals drop to 32. In his 66 games with the Sabres, Ehroff did manage to notch one goal and 10 assist with the man advantage. Ehroff is the number one guy in Buffalo, averaging 23:03 of ice time a game. Look for him to have a bit of a bounce back year in Buffalo, putting up his usual 45-plus points.
Alex Goligoski is continually developing. The Dallas Stars have made a few signings that should help this defender boost his numbers. Goligoski managed to put up 30 points last season, which isn't that impressive, but only logged 16 penalty minutes. Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr will help Goligoski beef up his point totals.
P.K. Subban has the making to be a solid defenseman. He is gifted offensively and doesn't shy away from a physical game either.
Subban finished last season with seven goals, 29 assists, and a plus-nine. In two full NHL seasons, Subban has accounted for 215 hits and 76 points. Those are pretty solid numbers for the Toronto native.
Kevin Bieksa plays defense and he plays it well. Bieksa doubled his point total from 22 in 2010 to 44 in 2011. Along with his 159 hits he helped lead the Vancouver Canucks to a second straight President's trophy. Bieksa will look to anchor this team for a third straight President's Trophy and another shot at the Stanley Cup.
With the departure of Matt Carle, the Philadelphia Flyers are going to need someone to step up and fill his role. Coburn had a solid year and could be that guy. Coburn is a well-rounded defenseman. He put up 24 points, nothing special, but blocked 119 shots and threw 164 hits. Given the opportunity Coburn might surprise people this year.
The St. Louis Blues fourth-round pick in 2008 had a great season last year. Alex Pietrangelo lit the lamp 12 times, finished with 51 points, and a plus-16. His play was a huge reason why St. Louis had the success they had last year. Pietrangelo is continuing to develop his game and with another year under his belt he is set up to have another great season.
Detroit lost Nicolas Lidstrom to retirement and Brad Stuart to the Sharks, leaving a void on the blue line. Kronwall is the guy to fill this void.
Kronwall had a breakout year for Detroit. He scored 15 goals and finished the season with 36 points. Over the last two years, Kronwall has improved on goal totals, which leads some to believe he can do a lot more than lay down some devastating hits.
Mike Green is explosive offensively. His downfall, he is injury prone. In the last two seasons, Green only played in 81 games. But in 2009, Green scored 19 goals, 57 assists, 76 points, and was a plus-39 in 75 games. If Mike Green can get back on track and stay healthy, Erik Karlsson might have some competition in the defensive scoring department.
Joni Pitkanen was placed on injured reserves last season. He should bounce back from his injury in a big way. In his absence, Carolina struggled, finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference and dead last in the Southwest Division.
Pitkanen isn't much of a goal scorer, but is a quality set-up man. With talent like the Staal brothers playing in Carolina, Pitkanen should improve his point totals.
A major issue for Pronger is health. But when he is healthy, he is a force. A healthy Chris Pronger would crack the top 10, but this current Pronger, filled with uncertain health, struggled to crack the top 25.
In the 13 games Chris played in, he managed one goal and 11 assists. Of those 12 points, eight were on the power play. When he is on the ice he is dangerous. He can burn you with his offense, or bury you with a hit.
He is a leader of this young Flyers team, but is also plagued with two injury filled seasons. The question isn't can he perform, it is can his body take it anymore?
Tobias Enstrom only played in 66 games. Over the course of the last several seasons, Enstrom has developed into a solid defender. Last year, Enstrom saw a 16 point swing in his plus/minus finishing as a plus-six. On top of that, Enstrom scored six goals and 27 assists in his limited time last year. Enstrom is capable of of putting up 50-plus points and should see himself in that point range again next year.
Since being acquired by the New York Rangers, Ryan McDonagh has elevated his game to a whole new level. McDonagh was paired with all-star defenseman Dan Girardi, creating one of the best defensive tandems in the league. McDonagh was top 15 in ice time and top five in plus/minus rating, with a plus-25. Last year, McDonagh showed what he could do with a full season recording 32 points. With a full year under his belt, McDonagh's play should only elevate.
Sergei Gonchar has the luxury of playing with one of the most explosive offensive defenseman in the league. Gonchar is a veteran who knows the game well. In 2011-2012, Gonchar notched 37 points. As the Ottawa Senators continue to gel as a unit, Gonchar's numbers should increase.
Gonchar's importance to the club is more then just the scoring they paid for. They need a defender to help mold young Erik Karlsson into an elite defender. Gonchar should be able to post very similar numbers next season.
Mark Streit plus/minus (minus-27) took a beating last year, but in his 82 games with the New York Islanders, he was still rather productive. The Islanders are a young team struggling to get back to their winning ways of the 80s. They have brought in some more players that could help. Although Streit is in the ladder stages of his career, he is surrounded by plenty of talent, which should help him maintain a high level of competition.
Jay Bouwmeester is Calgary's top guy. The question is, will he stay there? Calgary has been in a borderline rebuilding mode and it might turn full fledged this season. Although Bouwmeester puts up good numbers on a subpar team, he might be moved. If he is traded, his performance might elevate. At this point, everything is stating that Bouwmeester is staying in Calgary.
Bouwmeester has not missed a game in the last seven seasons. How's that for durability? Although he doesn't put up big numbers and had a poor plus/minus, he is a guy that will be used to mentor their younger defenders.
Dan Boyle’s goal totals have decreased over the last two seasons. This one-time 20-goal scorer has now posted back-to-back nine goal seasons. Even though he isn’t putting the puck into the net himself, he still finds a way to set up his teammates. Don't expect anything to change. Boyle has been consistent through his career and doesn't show signs of slowing down.
Keith's game dropped a bit since winning the cup but he's still a very effective player. He is Chicago's top defender and is a valuable piece to their power play.
Keith is a leader on this young Chicago team. In 72 games last year, Keith lit the lamp 4 times while assisting on 36 more. The Blackhawks have forwards who are very dangerous with the puck and all Keith has to do is get it to them.
Keith plays solid defensively, as well. Although he doesn't throw the body very often, he will block shots. He plays with solid positioning, making him one of the best defenders in the game.
Tyler Myers only played in 55 games last season. The Buffalo Sabres have quality depth at defense but Myers is one of the more offensively gifted players on this team. In his three NHL seasons, Myers has scored 29 goals, 108 points and is a plus-18, accomplishing this in only 217 games. Myers most likely will increase these totals and have a breakout year.
Keith Yandle was Phoenix's top defender last year. Yandle still produces. Last year Yandle finished with 43 points and took his team to the Western Conference Finals, ultimately losing to the Stanley Cup Champions.
With back-to-back 11 goal seasons, and a group of young guys joining the club, Yandle shows no signs of slowing down.
Alexander Edler played in all 82 games last season for the Vancouver Canucks, finishing with 11 goals and 49 points. The Canucks have won the President’s trophy the last two seasons, in which Elder played in 133 games. In those campaigns, Elder scored 19 goals, 82 points and was a plus-13. At 26 years old, Edler is entering his prime and his stats should improve as he continues to gain experience.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson used the national stage to show how gifted he is and took over some games with his speed. He is continually developing his game, which lead him to a 13-goal, 32 point season. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, during his 82 game season, recorded 140 hits showing he could play a bruising game.
Matt Carle decided to leave the Flyers. He should find some success with his new club. In his 82 games last year, Carle put up 38 points and helped a very good power play unit. Tampa Bay will be looking for the same.
Instead of setting up former teammate Claude Giroux, he will see himself playing with the likes of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Steven Stamkos. Those three players should boost his numbers.
Letang is becoming a pivotal piece on this Pittsburgh Penguins team. Letang only played in 51 games last season, but in his limited time he scored 10 goals and was a plus-21. With the Penguins lineup, Letang could possibly put up Karlsson-like numbers.
Timonen finished top 10 in assists last year among defenseman. He has a gifted team that surrounds him. Timonen himself doesn't score many of goals, but his on ice vision allows him to set up his other teammates.
Timonen should match his last year's totals, but if Pronger comes back, he should crush them.
Ryan Suter started this offseason with some blockbuster news when he left Nashville to play in Minnesota. This year Suter will have a new linemate along with a new home. But his last year's performance cannot be ignored.
Suter scored seven goals and 46 points. In his last two seasons, Suter is a plus-35. In Suter's seven-year career, he has averaged 34 points a season. Suter will bring his leadership to Minnesota, helping this team make a strong push for the playoffs.
Although Dan Girardi doesn't score many points, he prevents the other teams top guys from scoring. Last year, this undrafted defenseman was selected to his first all-star appearance for his consistent play. He was the anchor to one of the league's top defensive team all year and coach John Tortorella will look to rely on him again, much like he did in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year. Girardi does all the intangibles right—solid positioning, never takes a shift off, and shot blocking had his name tossed around for a Norris candidate.
Dion Phaneuf always plays the game hard. Every time he throws a check he makes sure you will feel it. Last year, it was 214 of them. Like several other defenders in the league, he is a complete player. He has offensive talent, matched with a tough presence on the blueline.
Phaneuf posted 44 points in Toronto last year. The Leafs were taking huge strides and making a strong push for the playoffs until injuries halted that. Phaneuf and company will look to get back on track and make the playoffs.
Erik Karlsson took the league by storm last year. He was like an extra forward every time he was on the ice. Karlsson led all NHL defenseman in scoring last year, with the second lead scorer a full 25 points behind him. Although he isn't a shutdown defender, his plus-16 cannot be ignored. Karlsson will look to repeat his dominant performance next year.
Brian Campbell leads the NHL in average ice time per game with 26:53. Couple this with his ability to avoid penalties, backed by his Lady Byng Trophy, Campbell will be a force.
Campbell's performance in 2011-2012 helped the Florida Panther earn a Southeast Division title. Rumors of Roberto Luongo coming to town will only help this defensman's cause as a top defender. Last year Campbell finished the season with 53 points, tying him for second among defenders.
Campbell is a top-tier defender in the league. This defending Lady Byng winner will look to repeat his last year's performance and take the Panther's back to the playoffs.
Shea Weber is nipping at the heels of becoming the best NHL defender. He has been nominated for the Norris Trophy three times in the last year. He is a complete defenseman. He opens up the ice and can move the puck. This is a guy who competes for the hardest shot every year. Much like Zdeno Chara, he can throw the body—hard.
Last year Weber finished a tie for first with his 19 goals. His 49 points and plus-21 were also among the top 10.
It is uncertain if Weber will stay in Nashville or will look for other opportunities, but where ever he might play, he will remain a top-tier defender.
Zdeno Chara is one of few complete defenseman in the league. With Lidstrom lost to retirement, Chara seems to be the top guy in the league. Chara shuts down elite players, lays down bone crushing hits, and has a cannon for a shot.
Chara plus/minus was the NHL best at plus-33. Chara finished top 10 in the majority of the defensive categories. Chara averaged 25:00 minutes of ice time last year. He has been a constant piece on the the Boston Bruins and shows no signs of slowing down.