Shea Weber (r) helps J. P. Dumont celebrate Dumont's "hat trick" Jan. 18.
This may be the year of the defenseman.
As Yogi Berra once said, you can look it up.
First, three blue-liners now lead their teams in scoring, and one captain selected for the upcoming All-Star game has patrolled the blue line for nearly two decades.
Two of these lead point producers, Keith Yandle of Phoenix and Shea Weber of Nashville, faced off against each other Jan. 18 in Jobing.com Arena, and Dustin Byfuglein of Atlanta is the other defenseman to top his team in scoring.
While Nicklas Lidstrom, second in scoring for the Detroit Red Wings, was named one captain for the upcoming All-Star game in Raleigh, there continues to growing offensive influence from blueliners.
"Because of the recent rule changes, the game itself has changed," said Weber, the Nashville Predators captain. "Now, defensemen need to skate more, and that has opened up the game."
In play today, it is not uncommon for teams to start the power play with defensemen at the point, and play most of the time at that position with the skater advantage. In the past, the traditional role of the blue-liner was to hang back, interfere with a rush up the ice, and lay lumber to any opponent which may threaten the goal tender.
Not any more. Weber is a prime example.
At 6-foot-4, 234 pounds, Weber possesses one of the hardest shots in the NHL, and, by some standards, his shot has been clocked at 127 miles per hour. Since the 2006-07 season, only Mike Green of Washington has scored more goals over that period of time.
In the Preds' 5-2 victory over Phoenix Jan. 18, Weber had a nine-game scoring streak snapped, but that clearly did not detour his value.
"He's our captain and all the players look up to him," said Nashville coach Barry Trotz. "He is such a force for this team, and leads by example on the ice and by communication in the dressing room."
In fact, Trotz went on to combine the talents of Weber, 25 years old, and his defensive partner Ryan Suter, who will be 26 on Jan. 21, as the ultimate defenseman in the NHL.
"You can look back on this pairing 20 years from now, and say you saw two of the greats," Trotz added. "Right now, I don't think there's a better pair at the blue line in the league."
In the game a few decades ago years ago, perhaps one defenseman may have controlled the offensive tempo. While Bobby Orr is the one which initially comes to mind, Weber pointed out that teams, today, possess two or three defensemen capable of controlling the offensive game.
"What we see now is the evolution of the game," Weber said. "Every team has defensemen who can dominate, and defenses need to be ready for that."
When Weber joins Dan Boyle of San Jose, Zdeno Chara of Boston, Green, Byfuglein, Lidstrom and others at the All-Star game later this month in Raleigh, the day of the offensive defenseman will clearly be evident.
Teams in the Western Conference are so bunched together that a few losses in a row can set teams down several pegs in the standings. When Phoenix experienced consecutive losses to San Jose and Nashville, and then Anaheim tied on Jan. 18, the Coyotes dropped from fourth place in the conference to sixth in one night.
"With so many teams bunched together, it's a battle every night," said the Preds J. P. Dumont, who recorded a hat trick in the win over Phoenix Jan. 18. "Teams can drop so fast that we need to be prepared to play a strong 60 minutes every night."
With the loss to Nashville, the Coyotes dropped two straight for only third time this season, and first at home. They now engage in a home-and-home set with the Kings, in L. A. Jan. 20 and at home two nights later. Then, Phoenix has seven of its next 10 games at home, ending with Atlanta on Feb. 17.