Top pairing defensemen are arguably the most important skaters on any given team, and there's intense competition among teams for those few whose effectiveness have been proven. Any team that can find someone ready to step in and excel in its top unit has a huge competitive advantage.
Who are the strongest possibilities?
The first step of this analysis is to rule out those teams which already have top pairing defensemen. To accomplish that I looked at each blueliner's cap hit, their average ice time (both overall and at even strength), and where they stood on the depth chart according to NBC, CBS, CBC and The Hockey News. The 67 defenseman who were in the top pairing in at least three of these categories were ruled out.
The toughest part was determining how effectively each remaining defenseman was currently performing his duties and whose success could transfer to the top pairing. A variety of analytics were used to good effect here, including their typical usage, possession-based metrics and obviously some traditional scoring stats.
In the end, the 10 defensemen most likely to serve capably as top pairing options were identified and ranked. Remember that this is only the analytic perspective, and it may therefore overlook the intangibles, so feel free to weigh in on more potential candidates in the comments. Let's begin!