NHL Power Rankings: The Best Defensive Pairings in the NHL

Robert TheodorsonSenior Analyst IAugust 10, 2011

NHL Power Rankings: The Best Defensive Pairings in the NHL

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    Having a top shutdown pairing that can also provide offense is an absolute necessity in today’s NHL if a franchise desires to win a Stanley Cup.

    Most of these top pairings contain true and proven No. 1 defensemen, a player who annually is amongst his team’s leaders in ice time as well as points for defensemen.

    Sometimes a team is fortunate to have two of these rare commodities, sometimes on the same pairing.

    Other teams have these types of defensemen who are waiting to reach their full potential, true No. 1 D Men in waiting. 

    Here’s a power ranking of the top 10 defensive pairings in the NHL today:

10. Kevin Bieksa-Dan Hamhuis

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    Hampered by injuries and an incredible amount of defensive depth the Bieksa/Hamhuis pairing didn't really get a sustained chance at being one of the most memorable duos in the NHL.

    However, when they were together, they were one of the best. After playing only a combined 130 regular-season games last year, both players are itching to prove they can be among the best pairings in the league.

    Bieksa was recently rewarded with a handsome contract extension and former Nashville mainstay, Dan Hamhuis isn't doing so bad himself. He is locked up till the 2015-16 season, same as Bieksa.

    Both men look to prove themselves as the Canucks No. 1 pairing and look to avenge their recent Stanley Cup Finals loss and bring the Cup back to Canada by any means necessary. 

9. Tobias Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien

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    Another young pairing on the rise is that of Winnipeg Jets’ Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien.

    Enstrom is a perfect complement to the hard-nosed Big Buff who throws some of the biggest hits and releases some of the hardest shots the NHL has seen in recent memory.

    What makes this pairing even more intriguing is the absence of depth. If former No. 3 overall pick Zach Bogosian holds out or is traded, the responsibilities given to these two will increase exponentially, unlocking their full potential. 

8. Paul Martin-Zbynek Michalek

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    The Penguins are a fortunate team indeed to have not one, but two top defensive pairings.

    It is this superb depth that carried the Crosby and Malkin-less Penguins into the playoffs, which almost provided a first-round upset.

    The parity between Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, and Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik is scary.

    Martin, once the New Jersey Devils’ de facto No. 1 defenseman, was signed as a free agent at the same time as super skilled-but-underappreciated former Coyote, Zbynek Michalek, to form one of the most effective pairings of last year.

    These two make few mistakes at any end of the rink and do a very good job of keeping themselves out of trouble.

    The duo posted a mere 46 PIMS between them last year.

    Both players just finished their first year together with the Penguins, so it is reasonable to expect the two to play at an even higher level next year after coming to learn each other’s habits and the Penguins defensive system. 

7. Kris Letang-Brooks Orpik

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    Brooks Orpik is a mean, nasty, tough defenseman who makes himself out to be quite the rough customer.

    Orpik won’t put up points, and you will probably never see him on the power play, but he is definitely a top-pairing defensemen who can hold his own against anybody.

    Paired with him is promising young Kris Letang who posted 24 power-play points last year. Letang and Orpik mix together better than peanut butter and chocolate, one always watching out for the other.  

    Orpik is one of the team’s leaders and one of the more vocal on-ice players who is a holdover from the Penguins’ Stanley Cup team, the kind of player you can never have enough of.

    Once Letang, who posted 101 penalty minutes last year, finds out how to control himself a little more and acquire better discipline, he will develop into one of the league’s premier defensemen. 

6. Dan Boyle-Douglas Murray

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    Boyle has the credentials, Murray has the size and strength, and together they are one of the most effective moldings of offense and defense.  

    No forward or opposing defensemen for that matter wants to get close to Douglas Murray. Murray will hurt you, as he can hit like a ton of bricks and throws some of the most effective, as well as entertaining, checks we’ve seen in the past few years. 

    Boyle hasn’t had quite the success in San Jose as he had with Tampa’s championship team, but the Sharks have made serious moves to reduce the pressure of their alternate captain in an effort to go for it all this upcoming year.

    The fact that Murray provides next to no offense is not a major concern of anybody.

    Boyle can almost automatically be penciled in for 50 points or better.

5. John Carlson-Karl Alzner

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    The youngest pairing of the bunch also has the brightest future.

    John Carlson and Karl Alzner have been winning championships and medals all the way to the NHL.

    This is a case of offense meets defense.

    John Carlson is known for his great puck-moving ability as well as his offensive instincts and his shot.

    Alzner, on the other hand, is a prototypical stay-at-home defenseman that allows his partner to take several liberties in the offensive zone.

    Despite this, Alzner is an above-average stick handler and passer who can control the flow of a rush with his skill.

    This offseason Alzner signed a very cap-friendly two-year contract extension expecting to be rewarded handsomely down the road.

    Carlson is a restricted free agent next year.

    Capitals management would be wise to make locking these two up for the next decade or longer their No. 1 priority. 

4. Zdeno Chara-Dennis Seidenberg

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    The newly-crowned Stanley Cup champions put the brakes on their offense this past postseason and played pure defense which paid off in grand fashion.

    The Chara-Seidenberg pairing was so effective that the Sedin twins are still probably having nightmares about facing these two after being shutdown and embarrassed in the Finals.

    Chara, the NHL record holder for hardest slap shot, can provide instant offense and play at an elite level the likes of which others only dream of achieving.

    When you hear the words “shutdown pairing,” there should be a picture of these two footnoted. 

3. Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook

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    One of the more expensive pairings in the NHL features two Olympic gold medalists as well as Stanley Cup champions.

    Duncan Keith has already won a Norris Trophy while Brent Seabrook boasts a little more earning power.

    Like many elite tandems, both are exceptional two-way players who combined for 93 points last year.

    Seabrook was granted a no-trade clause with his recent contract and Keith was given a long-term deal that goes until 2023 with a no-movement clause, the two are signed as a pairing all the way until the 2015-16 season.

    Considering their resumes and pedigrees, $11 million is a steal for this top defensive pairing. 

2. Lubomir Visnovsky-Toni Lydman

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    These two make up, without a doubt, the most underrated and underappreciated pairing in all the NHL last year.

    Lubomir Visnovsky posted an incredible 68 points with a 18 plus/minus rating and was not even rewarded with a Norris nomination.

    Lydman was a rock in his own end, extremely reliable, and the perfect example not noticing somebody until they make a mistake. Nobody noticed Lydman.

    West Coast fans can attest that this was the top pairing of the regular season.

    The Ducks were in a good place to make a deep playoff run with these two until Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller went on the IR with extreme bouts of vertigo.

    Lubomir and Toni will get another chance to show that they are the best pairing in the NHL, and perhaps this time someone will notice and at least give out a Norris nomination.

    This pairing’s stock can skyrocket depending on how deep the Ducks go in next year’s playoffs, where all eyes will be on them.  

1. Shea Weber-Ryan Suter

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    A better pairing in the NHL, there is not.

    Weber and Suter each bring elite two-way games which complement each other to near perfection.

    Weber is known to take more liberties offensively while Suter does an exceptional job of covering their backs.

    Last year, the boys from Nashville combined for 20 goals and 67 assists for a total of 87 points. With elite Finnish netminder Pekka Rinne between the pipes, when these three are on the ice at the same time, the other team trying to score is nothing but an exercise in futility.

    For once in their franchise’s history, Nashville will be the main focus of the entire NHL next offseason when Suter, Weber and Rinne are set to become free agents.

    Suter and Rinne expect, and have earned, a considerable raise and Weber will either seek big money or a long-term deal.