Defense wins championships. Just ask the Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils, and other less offensively skilled teams that have found ways to win the Stanley Cup. A good defense will usually beat a good offense, just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But who are the teams that look strong defensively this year? Here are my top five defensive teams coming into the 2008-09 NHL season, along with their defensive pairings.
5. Florida Panthers
Although they took a hit on the offensive end with the Olli Jokinen trade, the acquisitions of Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard have helped to add physicality and bulk to the Panthers' defense.
Star Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has never had this much help around him with the likes of Bryan Allen, Karlis Skrastins, Noah Welch, and possibly Bryan McCabe. Here are my predicted defensive pairings for the Cats.
Pairing 1: Bouwmeester and Allen
Pairing 2: McCabe and Ballard
Pairing 3: Skrastins and Boynton
4. Anaheim Ducks
When you have Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, and Matthieu Schneider you're sure to have great defense, but it's the lesser known defensemen that have and will continue to step up.
Francois Beauchemin and Kent Huskins were key contributors to the Ducks' stellar defense. Beauchemin had 21 points and Huskins sported a +23 as far as plus/minus.
They also acquired the Panthers' Steve Montador. Montador has a lot of heart and determination. He will quickly become a fan favorite.
Pairing 1: Pronger and Niedermayer
Pairing 2: Schneider and Beauchemin
Pairing 3: Montador and Huskins
3. Detroit Red Wings
Why not have the Wings higher up? The same reason Anaheim isn't higher up—their top defensemen are all a year older.
The Wings sport steady and reliable defense with veterans like Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, and of course the ageless wonder Chris Chelios. But the Wings have also discovered new younger talent among their defensemen.
Brett Lebda, Derek Meech, and Niklas Kronwall all have tremendous upside. The wings also discovered the re-emergence of Brad Stuart, who was a key contributor to the Stanley Cup win by the Wings.
Pairing 1: Lidstrom and Lebda
Pairing 2: Rafalski and Meech
Pairing 3: Chelios and Lilja
2. Dallas Stars
The Stars, aside from Sergei Zubov, have relatively unknown defense. However, the likes of Trevor Daley, Phillipe Boucher, Stephane Robidas, and Matt Niskanen provide plenty of support, both offensively and defensively.
Zubov had another solid year this past season with 35 points. Boucher provides excellent leadership along with safe defensive presence. Robidas and Daley are both tough bruisers that can protect the Stars' key players such as Mike Ribeiro, Mike Modano, Brad Richards, and others on this very talented team.
Pairing 1: Zubov and Boucher
Pairing 2: Robidas and Daley
Pairing 3: Niskanen and Grossman
1. San Jose Sharks
The tank will be overflowing with fans once again as the Sharks sport a defense arguably better than last year's—yes, even with the loss of Brian Campbell. The Sharks acquired veteran Rob Blake and puck-moving defenseman Dan Boyle in the offseason. Veterans like Boyle and Blake will be excellent mentors for the Sharks' young defensemen.
The Sharks have tremendous upside in their defense with the likes of Christian Ehrhoff, Douglas Murray, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Ehrhoff is a solid defenseman who can dish the puck with the best of them. Murray is a hard-nose tough player who has some offensive potential. Vlasic played in all 82 games during the season, and looks to sure up his offensive game with the help of Boyle and Blake.
Pairing 1: Boyle and Blake
Pairing 2: Ehrhoff and Vlasic
Pairing 3: Murray and McLaren
It looks to be another exciting year of NHL hockey, with many new defensive powerhouses that are ready to knock the defensive teams such as Detroit and Anaheim right off their blocks.