That is exactly why the San Jose Sharks gave up forward talent for blue line strength this offseason. However, what constitutes an elite blue line?
Like any unit in any of the four major North American sports, units are defined by players at the top. Teams who rely on those players mostly succeed, as detailed in my predictions of who will be the top-20 defencemen in 2011-12.
Teams need two players on the blue line who can contribute on both ends because there will be at least two players needed on both the power play and the penalty kill. This is why the blue line of the Nashville Predators, consisting of two elite players and four merely competent ones, outplayed the blue line of the Vancouver Canucks, with four good players and three competent ones.
However, an elite blue line must also have depth, both with additional players able to step into top roles but also to fill out the bottom of the unit. Not only will the other four players have to get substantial time, including on special teams, but injuries will take their toll on teams.
Only 10 teams had a player among the top 30 on the blue line, featured multiple players among the top 60 and had at least six players who could start for most teams in the league. The best elite players got a factor of four, the most good players a factor of three and the most depth a factor of two.
So, where does the Sharks unit rank throughout the league?
Originally I had the Sharks fourth, behind Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit, respectively, but ahead of Boston, Philadelphia, Anaheim, Washington, Buffalo and Toronto (all in order). After extensive research and analysis, the units were so close that six of the 10 teams were placed four or more spots from those projections.