The retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom leaves a void at the top of the defenesemen rankings.
Nicklas Lidstrom became the face of the Detroit Red Wings franchise after he inherited that role following the retirement of Steve Yzerman.
However, he was a lot more than the Red Wings' leader.
He was also the best defenseman in the National Hockey League for the majority of his career. He was a stellar offensive player and he never eased off of his defensive responsibilities.
A case can be made that Lidstrom was the No. 2, 3 or 4 defenseman in the history of the league, with only Bobby Orr and Larry Robinson ranking above him and perhaps Ray Bourque as his equal.
Lidstrom announced his retirement shortly after the Red Wings' 2011-12 season ended with a first-round playoff loss to the Nashville Predators.
There are eight players who could step up and attempt to fill Lidstrom's shoes as the top defenseman in the NHL.
The Philadelphia Flyers attempted to wrest Shea Weber away from the Nashville Predators during the summer when they signed him to an offer sheet.
Few expected Nashville to match the 14-year, $110 million offer, but that's just what happened (source: Philly.com).
The Predators had already lost Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild) to free agency and if they had also lost Weber, it would have been disastrous. They did not let their best player slip through their fingers.
Weber may be the most dangerous offensive defenseman in the league. While he regularly finishes second to Boston's Zdeno Chara in the hardest shot competition during the All-Star festivities, Weber gets his shot away quicker in game competition.
During the last four seasons, Weber has scored 74 goals, which is an extraordinary total for a defenseman. He has scored as many as 23 goals in season.
The 35-year-old Chara is one of the most intimidating players in the NHL.
The 6'9", 255-pound Chara is the biggest player in NHL history and he uses his frame to punish opponents any chance he gets.
However, Chara is more than a big behemoth. He is a skilled puck-carrier and a devastating shooter. He has the hardest recorded shot in the history of the NHL and he is also a skilled passer.
Chara is coming off a 12-goal, 40-assist season with the Boston Bruins. He plays a key role on the power play, as his booming blast often results in juicy rebound opportunities for his teammates.
Ryan Suter and Shea Weber formed one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL.
However, Suter broke up that pairing when he signed a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Wild during the summer.
The Wild recognized that Suter is a dynamic offensive player as well as one of the most responsible defensemen in the league. They are hoping that the addition of Suter's defensive talent along with Zach Parise's offensive skills can make the Wild a playoff team this season.
Suter scored seven goals and 39 assists last season and was a plus-15 for the Predators.
The Los Angeles Kings won the first Stanley Cup in their history and you can't underestimate the contribution that Drew Doughty made to that effort.
He is a solid puck-moving defenseman who can play with a physical style. He is a solid hitter, but it's his excellent offensive play that helps him rank with the best defensemen in the league.
Doughty scored 10 goals and 26 assists last year. During the postseason run, he had four goals and a league-high 12 assists. He's a dangerous power-play weapon, as he directs that operation for the Kings from the point.
Dan Girardi does not have the outstanding offensive credentials (five goals, 24 assists) of some of the other defensemen on this list, but he is a quality defenseman who knows how to step into the play and take advantage of the opportunities that come his way.
Girardi is strong and smart and he understands his role as one of the leaders of the New York Rangers.
On the defensive end, he will get in the passing lanes, break up plays, block shots and assert himself physically.
Once the lockout comes to an end, the Rangers will be one of the league's top teams and may be favorites to win the Stanley Cup. If they get there, Girardi will play a key role for them.
Perhaps this kind of story will not be needed in two or three seasons because Erik Karlsson will have established himself as the best defenseman in the league by a wide margin.
Karlsson, 22, is clearly a brilliant offensive talent. He scored 19 goals and 59 assists last year and was one of the key reasons the Senators rose from the ranks as one of the league's worst teams in 2010-11 to a playoff team last year.
Karlsson is a smooth skater with excellent offensive instincts. Not only does he have an excellent shot from the point, he knows how to move into the dead spots in the offensive zone and create offensive opportunities.
Karlsson needs to develop into a better and more responsible defensive player if he wants to become the NHL's best overall defenseman.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are led by superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Their presence up front may make it difficult for a stud defenseman like Kris Letang to get the recognition he deserves.
Letang has played in the All-Star Game each of the last two seasons and he is a brilliant offensive talent. Not only does he have a hard and accurate shot from the point, but he has an array of moves that allow him to embarrass many opponents who try to stop or take the puck from him.
Letang is a tough and honest player who gives maximum effort every night. Injuries limited him to 51 games in 2011-12, but he had 101 penalty minutes in addition to his 50 points in 2010-11.
The St. Louis Blues made a huge step up in the standings last season, contending for the Presidents' Trophy before finishing second in the Western Conference to the Vancouver Canucks.
The addition of head coach Ken Hitchcock and the outstanding play of the goalie duo of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott are among the key reasons for the St. Louis surge, but don't overlook the play of Alex Pietrangelo.
Pietrangelo, 22, had 12 goals and 39 assists for the Blues last year. He is very slick with the puck and he knows how to stay calm and patiently let his opportunities develop before exploiting them.
Pietrangelo figures to get even better as he gains more experience and learns to dictate the pace of the game. Pietrangelo is a plus-34 the last two seasons with the Blues.