NHL Free Agency 2013: Ranking the Top 10 Free-Agent Defensemen This Offseason

Isaac SmithAnalyst IMay 29, 2013

NHL Free Agency 2013: Ranking the Top 10 Free-Agent Defensemen This Offseason

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    The NHL offseason is a great time for teams to get better through free agency and the NHL draft.

    With the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs in the books, there are now 26 teams that are in "offseason" mode, looking to get better for next season.

    Some of these teams will be seeking to bolster anemic offenses or get better in goal, but a substantial number of teams should be looking to get better on the blue line.

    The old cliché "defense wins championships" is never more true than where it counts the most—in the playoffs.

    Here are the top 10 free-agent defensemen this offseason.

    This top-10 list was put together by ranking defensemen on offensive and defensive statistics, age of the defenseman, time on ice, as well as predicted salary (at market value) next season.

Honorable Mention: Ron Hainsey

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    Ron Hainsey isn't going to "wow" anyone with his offense, but he is one of the better defensive defenseman in this free-agency period.

    Hainsey put up 13 points last year (all assists), but what he really brings to the table is his ability to block shots. Last season, in just 47 games, Hainsey blocked 132 shots (2.8 a game).

    Unfortunately, although Hainsey averaged 2:51 of shorthanded time on ice last season, his Winnipeg Jets couldn't manage to crack the 80.0 percent barrier on the penalty kill, finishing the season at 79.4 percent, good for 24th in the NHL.

    Winnipeg also gave up 2.94 goals against per game last season (25th in the NHL), meaning that although Hainsey logged 22:51 of ice time per contest last season, his efforts went for naught as the Jets missed the playoffs for the second straight season.

    Hainsey has also carried a pretty substantial cap hit of $4.5 million per season (per CapGeek) for the past five years. It is debatable whether he would get that much on the open market today at 32 years of age.

    To be effective, Hainsey would likely have to play on the second or third pairing on defense, as he clearly cannot carry the load offensively or defensively on the defensive pairing of a team.

10. Grant Clitsome

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    Grant Clitsome put up four goals and 16 points for the Winnipeg Jets this season. Clitsome wasn't a premiere offensive defenseman by any means, but his defensive numbers stood out overall.

    The 28-year-old UFA defenseman managed to put up a surprising plus-10 despite being on a Winnipeg Jets team that gave up 16 more goals than it scored.

    Clitsome had a $1.25 million cap hit on his last two-year seasons (per CapGeek) but will likely seek more money in the unrestricted free-agent period during the offseason.

    He isn't going to be a "household name" as far as defensemen go, but he definitely put up some solid numbers (82 hits and 54 blocked shots in 44 games) while averaging 18:50 T.O.I. this season.

9. Kevin Shattenkirk

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    Kevin Shattenkirk would rank higher on this list, but he is a restricted free-agent defenseman who played a substantial portion of the season on the second pairing with the St. Louis Blues.

    Shattenkirk's numbers are good for a second-pairing defenseman, with five goals and 23 points this season. This is because Shattenkirk played on the top pairing with Alex Pietrangelo before the team picked up Jay Bouwmeester at the trade deadline.

    Shattenkirk saw his average ice time fall to just 21:18 by the end of the season and that decline in the ice time continued into the playoffs, where he averaged just 18:38 in six games against the Kings.

    With a cap hit of just $1.3 million (per CapGeek) on his entry-level deal, Shattenkirk will likely seek a sizable raise this offseason. Whether he will get that big raise as a restricted free agent remains to be seen.

8. Ben Lovejoy

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    In what world does Ben Lovejoy rank above Kevin Shattenkirk as a "top" defenseman?

    Well, his cap hit for his most recent contract gives him priority on this list over Shattenkirk since it was just $525,000 (per CapGeek) over the past three seasons.

    The 29-year-old unrestricted free-agent defenseman will likely get a marginal raise over the course of his next deal, but his cap hit will be much more affordable than Shattenkirk's.

    Lovejoy had 10 assists in the regular season with the Ducks in the and led the team in the postseason in plus/minus with a plus-four rating.

    When it comes down to defense in the postseason, Lovejoy had 16 hits and 11 blocked shots in a seven-game series loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

    He makes a great addition to any blue line at a reasonable price.

7. Sergei Gonchar

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    Sergei Gonchar is 39 years old and is not getting any younger.

    He put up 24 assists and 27 points in the regular season, filling in marvelously for Erik Karlsson when the cornerstone of the Ottawa defense went down with a partially torn Achilles tendon.

    But Gonchar had just two points in the playoffs, going minus-seven against his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Gonchar is a serviceable defenseman and would be an excellent power-play quarterback for a team in need, but he is not a long-term solution and was a liability on defense in the series against the Penguins.

    Although the current Penguins team would probably make most defenseman look like pylons, Gonchar was on the ice for six of the seven goals against the Senators in Game 4.

    The Russian rearguard likely has one more season left in him if he chooses to come back for it. Whether a team will take a chance on him or not is another matter.

    His $5.5 million cap hit (per CapGeek) over his last contract is something else which might need to go down if he is to get another deal.

6. Mark Streit

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    Mark Streit is 35 years old. That would normally imply that he is past the prime of his career, but he has played just seven full seasons in the NHL.

    Streit had 27 points in the regular season, tying him with Sergei Gonchar for most points by a pending UFA defensemen.

    The big difference with Streit is that he was a minus-14 with a 37-20 giveaway-to-takeaway ratio. But the captain of the Islanders was much better this season than he was last season.

    Streit had just a minus-two rating for the months of March and April as his Islanders took the eighth and final playoff spot with their improved performance down the stretch.

    He had a cap hit of $4.1 million last contract (per CapGeek), but he was fairly good defensively, despite his plus/minus number, with 86 blocked shots and 34 hits while averaging 23:20 of ice time in the regular season.

    The Islanders captain saw his average ice time go down to 20:17 in the playoffs, but his point totals went up, as he finished with two goals and three assists in a six-game series loss to the Penguins.

    Streit is one of the premiere UFA defensemen available for this offseason and the Islanders should look to re-sign him seeing as how the team needs some veteran leadership to aid its young core going forward.

5. Roman Josi

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    When Ryan Suter walked out on the Nashville Predators last season, Roman Josi was selected to be the next defensive partner of Shea Weber.

    The Predators were a disappointment this season and ultimately missed the playoffs, but Josi was a bright spot on the team.

    The 22-year-old Swiss defenseman had five goals and 18 points on an offensively starved Predators squad that finished dead last in the NHL with 111 goals in 48 games.

    If the Predators can get Josi and Weber some forwards who can put the puck in the net on a more consistent basis, then Josi's true offensive potential will come to be seen across the NHL.

    Josi was a solid contributor at both ends of the ice, with 96 shots on goal, 31 hits, 73 blocked shots, 20 giveaways and 16 takeaways.

    The sky is the limit for this young defenseman's potential, but unfortunately for the Predators, the sky is also the limit for his cap hit following his next contract.

    Josi is a restricted free agent, so his current cap hit of $1 million (per CapGeek) will not increase that much unless Predators GM David Poile sees fit to sign him to a long-term deal.

4. Rob Scuderi

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    When Rob Scuderi is at his best, he is blocking shots, hitting players and clearing pucks and bodies from in front of the net. Scuderi, simply put, is the best defensive defenseman available in unrestricted free agency for this free-agency period.

    Scuderi had a goal and 12 points in the regular season, but the playoffs is where Scuderi really comes to the forefront. His 16 hits and 31 blocked shots in only 13 games are a true testament to what he stands for in the playoffs.

    Scuderi broke up a 3-on-1 down low on the San Jose Sharks' power play in Game 7 to preserve the Kings' lead in the game.

    At 34 years of age, Scuderi is no young buck, but he has plenty of playoff experience with three Stanley Cup Final appearances and two Stanley Cups wins (2009 and 2012) .

    His $3.4 million cap hit (via CapGeek) over his last three-year deal was more than reasonable for a guy who helped lead the Kings to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

    He will likely be heavily pursued this offseason.

3. Cody Franson

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    Cody Franson is one of the main reasons that the Toronto Maple Leafs ended their playoff drought this year.

    Franson had 29 points in the regular season, including 13 on the power play. He had two goals in Game 7 that looked to put the Leafs up for good, but he finished the night a minus-two as the Leafs blew a three-goal lead and lost in overtime.

    But his performance throughout the season is not to be overlooked, as Franson had 124 hits and 59 blocked shots. If he can cut down on his giveaways (40 in the regular season and 11 in the playoffs), he will be a much better two-way defenseman next season.

    Franson is a restricted free agent and had a cap hit of only $1.2 million last season (via CapGeek). Should Franson have another season like this one next year, he will likely play his way into a long-term, big-money contract over the coming seasons.

2. Alex Pietrangelo

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    Alex Pietrangelo had an excellent season as a top-pairing defenseman for the St. Louis Blues, helping the Blues to earn a No. 4 seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    Pietrangelo had five goals and 24 points in the regular season to go along with 24 hits, 101 blocked shots and a 27-26 giveaway-to-takeaway ratio while averaging 25:07 of ice time per contest.

    The 23-year-old restricted free agent defenseman played in all situations, logging plenty of minutes for the Blues on both the penalty kill and the power play.

    If he played on a team that could score more goals (or had a coach that didn't have a defense-first mindset), he might have had more points to his name, but Pietrangelo is also solid at both ends of the rink.

    Pietrangelo had a cap hit of $3.166 million (via CapGeek) over his entry-level contract, with a substantial portion of that coming via performance bonuses. The bar now raises substantially going forward, even if it is just restricted free agency.

    If he had a lower cap hit, Pietrangelo could have topped this list, but the next candidate is equally sound at both ends of the ice and has a far lower cap hit.

1. Ryan McDonagh

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    When Ryan McDonagh was traded back to the Rangers in 2009, the focus of the seven-player trade was Scott Gomez.

    Oh how times have changed.

    The Rangers definitely got the better end of the Gomez deal when they acquired their 2007 first-round pick back from the Canadiens.

    McDonagh had four goals and 19 points this season, posting a plus-13 rating in the process. The 23-year-old restricted free agent defenseman also had 83 shots on goal, 69 hits and 76 blocked shots to go with a 26-27 giveaway-to-takeaway ratio. He did this all while averaging 24:21 of ice time in the regular season.

    The American-born defenseman played almost 26 minutes a game in the playoffs, with 21 shots, 27 hits and 28 blocked shots. McDonagh loves hitting and blocking shots as he had 118 hits and 182 shot blocks in 2011-12.

    McDonagh's cap hit on his entry-level deal was only $1.3 million (via CapGeek), but he has played far and above those dollar figures. Because he is a restricted free agent, he likely won't get paid until the next time he faces free agency.

    He will be a dominant defenseman for a long time because of his innate ability to put himself between bodies and pucks that are going to the net.

    He is the top free-agent defenseman this offseason at only 23 years of age.

What It All Means

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    This offseason is going to be a little bit different as far as free-agent defensemen go.

    Last year, Ryan Suter signed a 13-year deal with the Wild worth $98 million, while Shea Weber had his 14-year, $110 million offer sheet matched by the Predators.

    Unless there are a whole lot more offer sheets coming up this summer, then it could be a pretty slow summer for free agent defensemen getting huge contracts.

    This is because there are no bona fide top-tier defensemen on the UFA market that will be in play for more than a year or two. All of the action and talent sits within the RFA side of defensemen.

    Will there be a play for one or more of these restricted free-agent defensemen come the start of free agency?

    It is certainly an outside possibility.


    All statistics obtained via NHL.com unless noted otherwise. All contract info obtained via CapGeek.com.

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