To win the Stanley Cup, a team must have one or two shutdown defensemen that can dominate the defensive zone.
These players are also asked to stop the other team's best offensive players from having success in the most important games.
The following 10 players play fantastic defense on a consistent basis and are the best shutdown defensemen in the NHL.
Mark Stuart isn't an elite defenseman, but he is one of the most consistent blueliners in the NHL. His exceptional play in the defensive zone for the Winnipeg Jets was remarkable last season.
He had 198 hits last season, which tied for the ninth-best total among defensemen, and also blocked 182 shots, which tied for eighth best in the league.
Stuart's physical style of play and willingness to block shots is a huge part of the Jets' success. He won't feature on many highlight reels, but players and coaches definitely recognize his defensive abilities.
The defensive play of Eric Brewer was definitely a highlight of the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2011-12 season. It's quite impressive that Brewer was able to defend so well on a team that struggled so much for most of the year.
He blocked 176 shots and had 197 hits last season, and he was also one of three defensemen to block at least 170 shots and register 190 or more hits.
His plus-minus rating wasn't very good, but that's not his fault because the Lightning goaltending did little to help the team last season.
Ladislav Smid was one of the best Edmonton Oilers players this season and certainly the team's best defenseman.
He finished the season with 184 blocked shots, seventh best in the NHL, and 186 hits. Smid was also a major reason why the Oilers' penalty kill ranked 14th last season despite their troubles between the pipes.
If not for Smid's physical play and defensive awareness in his own zone, the Oilers' blue line would have been far worse than it was last season.
If Smid continues to improve, and young defenseman Justin Schultz makes an impact in his first NHL season, the Oilers' defense will take great strides in 2012-13.
Rob Scuderi will always be willing to give up his body by either blocking a shot or making a big hit to help the Los Angeles Kings in the defensive zone.
He is one of the toughest defensemen in hockey and his size makes him tough to beat. His performance in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final was so crucial to the Kings' series victory. He was also an integral part of the Pittsburgh Penguins' blue line during their run to the 2009 Stanley Cup against the Detroit Red Wings.
If you need a reliable defenseman who will not make a mistake in the defensive zone and consistently play his role well, Scuderi is your guy.
Brooks Orpik is one of the strongest defensemen in the NHL, and a nightmare matchup for any forward from a physical standpoint.
He loves to use his body to knock players off the puck or block shots. Orpik finished second in the league in hits among defensemen last season with 259 while also leading the Penguins with 139 blocked shots.
Orpik is not going to be a factor offensively, but he does a great job of frustrating opponents because of his physical style of play, willingness to block shots and ability to deliver huge hits.
Despite getting inconsistent goaltending at times during the season, the Penguins were able to have the third-best penalty kill because of Orpik's tremendous defensive play.
Dennis Seidenberg is often overlooked because he plays alongside Zdeno Chara most of the time, but people who watch him play each night understand that he is one of the best shutdown defensemen in the NHL.
His 151 blocked shots led the Bruins last season, and he also registered 154 hits. Seidenberg's immense strength consistently causes problems for any forward who meets him on the ice.
Seidenberg's ability to play strong defense for 24-27 minutes per game against the NHL's best proves how great of a player he is.
The New York Rangers' strong defense begins with defenseman Dan Girardi, who led the team with 185 blocked shots, which also ranked fifth in the NHL last season. His 211 hits were good for eighth best in the league among defensemen.
Of all the defensemen in the top 10 last year in hits, Girardi had the fewest penalty minutes per game, so he was able to be disciplined enough to play physical and still not make a mistake that could cost his team. He was often on the ice against the other team's top forwards, too.
Girardi is fantastic in his own end and isn't afraid to give up his body to stop a shot from reaching Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. His improved defense was one reason Girardi made his first All-Star team last season.
Brent Seabrook played like a Norris Trophy candidate this season for the Chicago Blackhawks and was absolutely phenomenal on defense.
His 198 hits ranked ninth in the NHL among defensemen and his 165 hits led the Blackhawks and also ranked 13th in the league among defensemen.
Seabrook uses his great size (6'3", 213 lbs) to punish opponents and make their lives very difficult in the Blackhawks' defensive zone. He's also a great penalty killer as well.
Seabrook finished the season with a plus-minus rating of 21, which is very impressive for a defenseman on a team that finished 22nd in GAA and 27th on the penalty kill.
He's one of the five best defensemen in the NHL, and it's a shame that he doesn't receive more recognition from the national media.
Shea Weber is entering the prime of his career, which is bad news for the rest of the NHL. Weber punishes forwards with his impressive size (6'4", 234 lbs), and his great defensive awareness allows him to rarely get beat.
He blocked 140 shots and had 177 hits last season, which proves how much of a difference Weber made in the defensive zone.
At 26 years old, Weber is going to dominate defensively for a long time. When Chara's skills begin to decline, Weber will be the obvious choice as the best defenseman in the NHL.
The NHL's best shutdown defenseman is Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. He has enormous size (6'9", 255 lbs), which makes him very difficult to move out of a certain position on the ice. His poke check is very aggravating for offensive players because of Chara's amazingly long reach.
Chara is always Bruins head coach Claude Julien's first choice to defend against the opposition's best offensive players, especially on the penalty kill. He also had 87 blocked shots and 166 hits last season.
The Bruins captain's unique size makes him the toughest matchup for any forward in hockey, and the last defenseman a top goal scorer wants to compete against.