Every NHL Team's Best Shutdown Defenseman in 2013-14 Season

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IOctober 22, 2013

Every NHL Team's Best Shutdown Defenseman in 2013-14 Season

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    Whether it's Shea Weber in Nashville, Zdeno Chara in Boston or Ryan Suter in Minnesota, a top shutdown defenseman can make all the difference in today's NHL. To which blue liner does each team turn when the game is on the line?

    Hockey analytics can help find the answer. For example, we can see who the top shutdown defenseman is on each team, who they play against, in what zone, with what partner and how much penalty killing they do.

    Most of the statistics used comes from the excellent Behind the Net web site, which I have averaged over the past three years to be sure each defenseman is consistently behind used in the top role.

    The list of top opponents is from Hockey Analysis, from which I've selected the top players they've lined up against so far this season.

    Very often, it is possible to predict which teams will finish the season atop the standings by those who have the defensemen who can best protect late leads. With that in mind, let's see which shut down defensemen each team has primarily employed. 

    All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted. 

Anaheim Ducks: Francois Beauchemin

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.64

    Offensive Zone Starts: 48.3 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 60.9 percent (3rd)

    Top Opponents: Matt Duchene, Jason Spezza

    Partner: Hampus Lindholm

    While the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) is subjected to criticism for some of its more infamous award selections and/or oversights, their astute selection of Francois Beauchemin in last year's Norris trophy voting (fourth overall) deserves some applause.

    At least part of Anaheim's tremendous 7-1 start of this season and their tremendous success last year has got to be due to the unexpectedly fine defensive play of their blue line.

    Normally, the tough minutes in Anaheim go to Beauchemin and his partner Sheldon Souray, but the latter's wrist injury has given the Ducks the opportunity to pair him up with blue chip prospect Hampus Lindholm instead.

    The Ducks are also blessed with shut down defenseman Bryan Allen, whose usage statistics have rivaled Beauchemin's over the past three years. Coach Bruce Boudreau is therefore spreading out the assignments against top opponents this year, but definitely going more exclusively to Beauchemin in the defensive zone and when killing penalties.

Boston Bruins: Zdeno Chara

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.07 (12th)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 46.6 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 53.0 percent (19th)

    Top Opponents: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos

    Partner: Johnny Boychuk

    Zdeno Chara is potentially the league's best overall defenseman, certainly the best defensively, and he was a serious Norris oversight last year (he finished fifth overall in voting).

    Chara's usual partner is Johnny Boychuk, and together, they are again taking on the top competition and the bulk of the penalty killing duties, with only Adam McQuaid starting a lower percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone.

    Dennis Seidenberg is also normally a top penalty killer (46.9 percent), but the Bruins haven't had very many to kill this season.

Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Myers

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.41

    Offensive Zone Starts: 51.9 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 42.5 percent

    Top Opponent: Sidney Crosby, Martin St. Louis

    Partner: Henrik Tallinder

    The lack of elite shut down defenseman probably has at least something to do with Buffalo's disappointing 1-8-1 start this season.

    That isn't meant as a knock against Tyler Myers, who is probably their top defensive defenseman right now. Myers had a fantastic first couple of seasons, but a couple of disappointing years encouraged Buffalo to try re-uniting him with Henrik Tallinder this year.

    Myers and Tallinder are by no means handing all the tough minutes by themselves. Jamie McBain has a higher quality of competition this year, and Christian Ehrhoff is their top guy killing penalties.

Calgary Flames: Mark Giordano

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.86

    Offensive Zone Starts: 49.2 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 43.0 percent

    Top Opponents: Alexander Ovechkin, Daniel Sedin

    Partner: T.J. Brodie

    Finally out from under Jay Bouwmeester's shadow, Calgary's new captain, Mark Giordano, is finally able to prove himself as a number one defenseman.

    Skating alongside Giordano is young T.J. Brodie, who is getting his first shot as a top four defenseman after a fantastic time as a 5/6 guy with Cory Sarich. Together, they're taking on the top opponents and have an offensive zone start percentage of just 37.3 percent, less than half the second pairing of Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell.

    On the top penalty killing unit, Giordano has been working with Dennis Wideman.

Carolina Hurricanes: Tim Gleason

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.95 (18th)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 43.0 percent (8th)

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 52.8 percent

    While Carolina's blue line wasn't one of their many weaknesses last year, the team did seriously upgrade it defensively this off season. They added Mike Komisarek, Andrej Sekera and Ron Hainsey, who are all defensively responsible veterans. Together, they're a good reason why Carolina is off to a 4-2-3 start, second in the Metropolitan.

    The shutdown defenseman in Carolina has typically been Tim Gleason, who is unfortunately out with a concussion. As such, Hainsey and Brett Bellemore are generally being used in the top spot and sharing penalty-killing duties with Andrej Sekera and Justin Faulk, neither of whom are strangers to taking on the top opponents.

Chicago Blackhawks: Niklas Hjalmarsson

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.91 (23rd)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 50.0 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 47.3 percent

    Top Opponents: John Tavares, Thomas Vanek, Eric Staal, Alexander Ovechkin

    Partner: Johnny Oduya

    Niklas Hjalmarsson has come a long way. Struggling a few seasons ago, Hjalmarsson and his partner Johnny Oduya finally began to supplant the famous pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as Chicago's big shut down pairing, though probably at least part of that decision was to allow the latter to focus more on offensive contributions.

    Hjalmarsson's 43.0 offensive zone start percentage this season is the lowest on the Blackhawks, but everyone is sharing the top competition. Hjalmarsson is certainly the top penalty killer on the blue line, followed by Keith, Seabrook and Oduya.

    On any other team, Seabrook and Keith would certainly be the team's top shutdown defensemen, but Chicago is fortunate to be blessed with someone equally as effective.

Colorado Avalanche: Jan Hejda

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.40

    Offensive Zone Starts: 45.1 percent (22nd)

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 49.1 percent

    Top Opponents: Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel, Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Getzlaf

    Partner: Erik Johnson

    The highly underrated Jan Hejda always takes on the toughest assignments against top opponents and in the defensive zone, usually on bad teams, and he has consequently been overwhelmed from time to time.

    Right now, Hejda has the highest quality of competition and the lowest offensive zone start percentage on Colorado's blue line, as usual. He's also the top penalty killing guy, followed by Nate Guenin, Andre Benoit and Cory Sarich.

    There were big questions about Colorado's blue line this off-season. Hejda, Guenin, Benoit and Sarich as the top four defensive defensemen. Does that sound like a 7-1-0 team? Apparently it is.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Fedor Tyutin

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.77

    Offensive Zone Starts: 47.6 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 48.8 percent

    Top Opponents: Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk

    Partner: Jack Johnson

    Fedor Tyutin is a complete two-way player and one of the league's most underrated defensemen. 

    Right now, he's taking on the top competition but being used more offensively than usual, probably due to his scoring-focused partner Jack Johnson. Tyutin, however, remains far and away the team's top penalty killer.

    Another effective and underrated defensive blue liner in Columbus is Nikita Nikitin, whose three year averages include a quality of competition of 0.64 with 43.4 percent of penalty killing time assigned.

Dallas Stars: Stephane Robidas

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.33 (5th)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 44.8 percent (21st)

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 52.0 percent (25th)

    Top Opponents: Joe Thornton

    Partner: Brenden Dillon

    In a sea of constant and complete change, Stephane Robidas, potentially the league's most underrated defenseman, has been the go-to shutdown defenseman in Dallas for years.

    This year, Robidas and his young but surprisingly mature partner Brenden Dillon aren't seeing so much of a defensive zone emphasis, but they are definitely taking on the top lines once again.

    The two other main penalty killers in Dallas are Trevor Daley and Jordie Benn. But make no mistake, Robidas is number one.

Detroit Red Wings: Niklas Kronwall

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.77

    Offensive Zone Starts: 52.9 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 50.0 percent

    Top Opponents: Patrice Bergeron, Marian Gaborik

    Partner: Jonathan Ericsson

    The departure of both Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart left a huge defensive void, and Niklas Kronwall was the main player to step up and fill it.

    A complete two-way defenseman, Kronwall is right behind partner Jonathan Ericsson in penalty killing time and ahead of Kyle Quincey. Kronwall takes on top opponents, but he is usually deployed offensively.

    Unfortunately, Kronwall was knocked out of the line-up with a nasty concussion on October 18th. That leaves Ericsson and, potentially, Quincey all alone to face the top opponents.

Edmonton Oilers: Ladislav Smid

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.67

    Offensive Zone Starts: 48.7 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 49.4 percent

    Top Opponents: Phil Kessel, Alexander Ovechkin

    Partner: Jeff Petry

    Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in the infamous Chris Pronger trade, Ladislav Smid has gradually, but ultimately, matured into Edmonton's top defensive defenseman.

    Smid and partner Jeff Petry have quite quietly established themselves as a legitimate top defensive pairing for a couple of seasons now. They take on the top opponents and, because of Edmonton's struggles, that's usually in the defensive zone.

    This year, only Nick Schultz has a lower offensive zone start percentage among Oilers defenseman, and only Andrew Ference is being used against higher competition (despite being barely a top-four guy in Boston last year).

    Smid is one of four main penalty killers on the blue line, with Schultz, Ference and Petry being the others.

Florida Panthers: Mike Weaver

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.21 (7th)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 41.4 percent (4th)

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 59.9 percent (5th)

    Top Opponents: Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin

    Partner: Dmitry Kulikov

    The highly underrated Mike Weaver takes on Florida's toughest defensive assignments, and yet, he has played for the astoundingly low bargain cap hit of just $1.1 million per season.

    This year, Weaver is once again the team's top penalty killer, is leading the team in quality of competition and his 42.1 offensive zone start percentage is among the team's lowest.

    The Panthers are actually blessed with several other decent defensive blue liners, including Filip Kuba, who has a 0.67 quality of competition and has been assigned 47.6 percent of available penalty killing time over the past three seasons, Brian Campbell, who has had a 0.57 quality of competition, and new arrival Tom Gilbert, with a 0.56 quality of competition and 49.6 of penalty killing minutes assigned.

    Bet on this tough defensive blue line to help turn things around in Florida very soon. 

Los Angeles Kings: Willie Mitchell

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.80

    Offensive Zone Starts: 48.9 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 57.3 percent (10th)

    Top Opponents: Jason Pominville, Jordan Staal

    Partner: Slava Voynov

    Willie Mitchell was considered arguably the league's best defensive defenseman earlier in his career, but he was out last year with injuries. Now, he's back, he's healthy and shutting them down.

    This year, Mitchell is facing top competition, and his 56.8 offensive zone start percentage is actually third lowest. No King defenseman has started fewer than 50 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone. That just goes to show how much time Los Angeles plays in the opposing end, and how likely they are to climb up the standings soon.

    Mitchell is obviously the Kings' top PK guy, followed by Matt Greene, Robyn Regehr and Drew Doughty, all three of whom would possibly be the best defensive players on almost any other team.

Minnesota Wild: Ryan Suter

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.11 (9th)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 46.4 percent (30th)

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 43.8 percent

    Top Opponents: Ryan Getzlaf, Phil Kessel, Thomas Vanek, Tyler Seguin

    Partner: Jonas Brodin

    Runner up for the Norris trophy last year, Ryan Suter is actually paid more than all six other Wild defensemen combined. And he just might be worth it!

    This year, Suter and his young partner Jonas Brodin are not getting the toughest assignments so far, but they are taking on the top penalty killing minutes.

    Minnesota has a lot of young defensemen that have been used defensively these past couple of years, statistically. Marco Scandella has a 0.68 quality of competition with a 45.6 offensive zone start percentage over the past three years, for instance, while veteran Keith Ballard's offensive zone start percentage has been a comparable 45.5 percent.

    Nate Prosser doesn't play much, but his 39.8 offensive zone start percentage is lowest among the league's defensemen, and Clayton Stoner's 40.7 isn't far behind. Then again, this probably says something about how frequently Minnesota is starting shifts in their own end.

Montreal Canadiens: Josh Gorges

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.06 (13th)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 46.7 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 58.0 percent (7th)

    Top Opponents: Daniel Sedin, Phil Kessel, Evander Kane, Jordan Eberle

    Partner: Raphael Diaz

    Josh Gorges has been Montreal's top shutdown defensemen for years. This year, Gorges and partner Raphael Diaz are taking on the top opponents (along with Jarred Tinordi to an extent), but they are being used in a pretty balanced fashion offensively.

    The penalty killing duties are shared pretty equally among Gorges, Diaz, Tinordi and Andrei Markov, which is no doubt a relief for someone like Gorges, who has been handling the tough assignments more single-handedly over the years.

    None of this is to suggest that P.K. Subban is being protected, however. While Subban is obviously deployed offensively, he still lines up against top opponents.

Nashville Predators: Shea Weber

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.19 (8th)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 44.4 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 41.9 percent

    Top Opponents: Phil Kessel, Zach Parise, John Tavares

    Partner: Seth Jones

    Obviously, Shea Weber is arguably the league's top defensemen, and since Ryan Suter's departure, he almost exclusively handles the Predators' top opponents. As such, the team's fate is often tied to how effective he can be against the league's top players.

    Normally, his partner is Roman Josi, who used his time with Weber to cash in with a big-time new contract. However, this year, Weber has mostly been playing with blue chip rookie Seth Jones instead and with alarming frequency in the defensive zone.

    As far as killing penalties, it's usually Kevin Klein helping Weber out. His assignment of 53.3 percent of penalty killing minutes over the past three years is even higher than Weber's and 18th in the NHL. Josi is more of a secondary penalty killer.

New Jersey Devils: Bryce Salvador

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.50

    Offensive Zone Starts: 47.0 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 58.6 percent (6th)

    Top Opponents: Ryan Kesler, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

    Partner: Marek Zidlicky

    37-year-old New Jersey captain Bryce Salvador has a 56.1 percent offensive zone start percentage this year, which is actually the second lowest among their team's defensemen. His most frequent partner Marek Zidlicky's offensive zone start percentage is lowest on the team, at just 50 percent.

    Given how much time New Jersey is spending in the opposing zone, their record ought to turn around soon.

    As for penalty killing, Salvador and Anton Volchenkov handle the vast majority of the minutes. Historically, Andy Greene has played 42.2 percent of penalty killing minutes (over the past three years), so expect his contributions to pick up.

    Mark Fayne is another one of New Jersey's underrated defensive gems, and he may start to handle more as age starts to catch up with his teammates.

New York Islanders: Travis Hamonic

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.83

    Offensive Zone Starts: 47.5 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 45.0 percent

    Top Opponents: Jordan Eberle, Marian Gaborik, Jonathan Toews, Mike Ribeiro, Eric Staal

    Partner: Andrew MacDonald

    Travis Hamonic and his inseparable partner Andrew MacDonald are potentially the most underrated top pairing in the league. They have certainly been the most underpaid, though, at least Hamonic's compensation has now become more competitive.

    Not only do these two take on the top competition and are always among the lowest in offensive zone start percentage, they are also the top penalty killers too.

    Quite frankly, the Islanders would be lost without Hamonic and MacDonald.

New York Rangers: Dan Girardi

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.50 (2nd)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 46.1 percent (27th)

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 61.6 percent (1st)

    Top Opponents: Alexander Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Ribeiro, Anze Kopitar

    Partner: Ryan McDonagh

    The New York Rangers are blessed with a strong blue line. It features highly underrated two-way star Dan Girardi, his partner Ryan McDonagh and the celebrated Marc Staal, who has a 0.94 quality of competition over the past three years (20th in the NHL) with 52.2 percent of penalty killing minutes assigned (23rd).

    As for the top pairing of Girardi and McDonagh, they lead the team's blue line in quality of competition so far this year and have just a 33.8 offensive zone start percentage, evidence that coach Alain Vigneault intends to tilt the ice in New York the same way he did in Vancouver.

Ottawa Senators: Chris Phillips

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.37

    Offensive Zone Starts: 49.6 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 52.9 percent (20th)

    Top Opponents: Joe Thornton, Patrik Elias, Mike Ribeiro

    Partner: Eric Gryba

    Ottawa's top defensive defenseman is hard to identify, but currently, veteran Chris Phillips and his young partner Eric Gryba lead the Senators blue line in quality of competition, and in lowest offensive zone start percentage.

    Speaking of Gryba, his 1.16 quality of competition last year, along with having 41.5 percent of penalty killing minutes assigned, was quite amazing for a rookie.

    Phillips is without question Ottawa's top penalty killer, with Gryba, Jared Cowen and Marc Methot sharing the remaining duties. Over the past three years, Cowen and Methot have had 49.8 and 48.5 percent of penalty killing minutes assigned to them, respectively.

    As for Erik Karlsson, he's definitely used offensively, but that doesn't mean he's being protected. His quality of competition over the past three years has averaged 0.59.

Philadelphia Flyers: Kimmo Timonen

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.01 (15th)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 50.9 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 52.3 percent (22nd)

    Top Opponents: Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel

    Partner: Braydon Coburn

    For a weak team, the Philadelphia Flyers are surprisingly deep in defensive defensemen. While Kimmo Timonen isn't always used in the tight defensive situations this year, he's usually paired up with Braydon Coburn whenever he is.

    Nicklas Grossman is also taking on a lot of the tough minutes as usual. His 0.88 quality of competition over the past three years is 29th in the NHL, and his offensive zone start percentage of 42.7 percent is the seventh lowest. Surprisingly, Grossman has never been used as the top penalty killer, though he has been assigned 42.0 percent of such minutes over the past three years.

    Timonen and Coburn are typically the ones handling those shorthanded situations, often joined by Luke Schenn, who has been assigned an average of 40.9 percent of the penalty killing minutes over the past three years.

    Between Timonen, Coburn, Grossman and Schenn, the Flyers actually have the nucleus of a defensively strong blue line. Hopefully, they can help the Flyers turn things around from their perplexingly bad 1-7-0 start.

Phoenix Coyotes: Zbynek Michalek

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.03 (14th)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 49.4 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 61.1 percent (2nd)

    Top Opponents: Pavel Datsyuk, John Tavares, Claude Giroux, Jason Spezza

    Partner: Oliver Ekman-Larsson

    Whether in Phoenix or Pittsburgh, Zbynek Michalek has been recognized as a top shutdown defenseman for years, but he's far from alone on the Coyotes blue line.

    This year, Michalek is second among the team's defensemen in both quality of competition and lowest offensive zone start percentage this season. His partner Oliver Ekman-Larsson, potentially among the league's best two-way defensemen, is slightly ahead on both counts. The two are also clearly the top penalty killers in town.

    Rostislav Klesla is another fine defensive gem on the Coyotes blue line. His 0.93 quality of competition over the past three seasons is 22nd in the NHL, his 45.6 percent offensive zone start percentage is 26th lowest, and his 50.2 percent of penalty killing assigned is 29th.

    Add in Derek Morris, another strong veteran penalty killer, and the Coyotes have four solid defensive blue liners.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Brooks Orpik

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.94 (21st)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 48.7 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 57.6 percent (9th)

    Top Opponents: Thomas Vanek, Henrik Sedin, Eric Staal, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

    Partner: Paul Martin

    While much is made of the team's offense, Brooks Orpik, partner Paul Martin and new acquisition Rob Scuderi provide Pittsburgh with three of the league's more solid defensive defenseman.

    While Scuderi and his new partner Matt Niskanen are helping to share the duties of facing top opponents, Martin and Orpik are still handling most of the defensive zone assignments.

    Orpik is certainly the top penalty killer, with Martin and Scuderi close behind. Martin's quality of competition over the past three years has been 0.64, with 46.9 percent of penalty-killing minutes assigned, while Scuderi is 0.75 and 48.6 percent, respectively.

St. Louis Blues: Jay Bouwmeester

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.53 (1st)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 46.8 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 60.2 percent (4th)

    Top Opponents: Jonathan Toews, Evander Kane

    Partner: Alex Pietrangelo

    One of the toughest assignments in the entire league for the last couple of years has been Jay Bouwmeester's. Even now that he's in St. Louis, he's still taking on the tough minutes, but at least it's alongside the amazingly talented Alex Pietrangelo, behind very talented defensive forwards, and with the assistance of Ken Hitchcock's defensive system.

    Pietrangelo and Barret Jackman are actually taking more of the penalty-killing time than Bouwmeester so far this year.

    Over the past three years, Jackman statistically has a quality of competition of 0.80 with the 18th lowest offensive zone start percentage (among defensemen) at 44.6 percent. His 54.9 percent of penalty killing minutes was 16th in the NHL.

    Roman Polak is also capable defensively, and he has been assigned 40.2 percent of penalty killing minutes over the past three seasons.

San Jose Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.81

    Offensive Zone Starts: 46.9 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 44.6 percent

    Top Opponents: Daniel Sedin, Jason Spezza

    Partner: Justin Braun

    Drafted with the choice acquired from Calgary in the Miikka Kiprusoff trade, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been San Jose's top defensive defenseman for years. He is currently trusted to handle top four minutes with young Justin Braun.

    This year, the Sharks are facing the tough minutes by committee at even strength, but when killing penalties, Vlasic is still the go-to-man.

    The Sharks also have Dan Boyle, who can take on top competition, Scott Hannan, who can really kill penalties, and Brad Stuart, who can do both quiet well.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Victor Hedman

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.77

    Offensive Zone Starts: 43.8 percent (11th)

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 43.9 percent

    Top Opponents: David Krejci, Jason Pominville, Jonathan Toews

    Partner: Sami Salo

    Victor Hedman and partner Sami Salo are the top penalty killers, but Tampa Bay doesn't appear to have selected top shutdown guys at even-strength.

    Matt Carle and Radko Gudas, for instance, are being used against top opponents, while Eric Brewer, once one of the league's better shutdown defensemen, is taking on most of the defensive zone assignments. Keith Aulie has also been known to take on top opponents in the past.

    As time progresses, Hedman's unbelievable two-way talent will be leaned on more and more significantly, with a potential insertion into Norris talk once the team improves.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Dion Phaneuf

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.35 (4th)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 47.7 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 46.6 percent

    Top Opponents: Eric Staal, Taylor Hall, Jason Spezza, Matt Duchene

    Partner: Carl Gunnarsson

    While he may not have completely lived up to lofty Norris-level expectations, Dion Phaneuf has clearly established himself as one of the league's top two-way defenseman. He throws big hits, takes hard shots and shuts down top opponents in the most difficult of situations.

    This year, Phaneuf is once again taking on the penalty killing duties and the top opponents at even-strength, generally alongside fellow defensive gem Carl Gunnarsson in both cases. Due to his tremendous offensive talent, the defensive zone assignments are being shared with Jake Gardiner, Paul Ranger and Cody Franson.

Vancouver Canucks: Dan Hamhuis

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.75

    Offensive Zone Starts: 48.4 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 49.5 percent

    Top Opponents: Patrick Marleau, Evgeni Malkin, Max Pacioretty

    Partner: Chris Tanev

    Though not being used as the top shutdown guy this year by new coach John Tortorella, Dan Hamhuis has clearly established himself as one of the league's top defensive blue liners, and certainly Vancouver's best.

    This year under Tortorella, Hamhuis is actually being used offensively, and in fact, he has the top offensive zone start percentage among Vancouver's defensemen. It's actually the pairing of Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa that's taking on the top opponents, despite their greater offensive talents.

    Virtually everyone is being used on the penalty kill, including Edler, Bieksa, Hamhuis, his partner Chris Tanev and also Jason Garrison in almost equal measures.

    In the past, both Garrison and Bieksa have certainly seen their share of action as top shut down defensemen, and Tortorella may be choosing to lean more in their direction this year. Based on our information, Hamhuis is likely the direction he should be leaning instead.

Washington Capitals: Karl Alzner

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    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 1.08 (11th)

    Offensive Zone Starts: 45.6 percent (25th)

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 42.9 percent

    Top Opponents: Jonathan Toews

    Partner: Mike Green

    Things on the Washington blue line have slightly changed this year. With Karl Alzner being paired up as Mike Green's defensive conscience, coach Adam Oates has gone with Alzner's old partner John Carlson as the top shutdown defenseman instead.

    Carlson's statistics have certainly been sound. Over the past three seasons, Carlson is 17th among NHL defensemen with a 0.96 quality of competition to go with a 48.0 percent offensive zone start percentage, as well as being assigned 44.7 percent of penalty-killing minutes. However, a lot of that was with Alzner, and it's not easy to determine who was doing the heavy lifting defensively.

    Carlson has also been the man when killing penalties, leading the Caps blue line in penalty-killing time, with Alzner coming in third. Only time will tell if Carlson remains coach Adam Oates' number one preference or if Alzner will resume top spot.

Winnipeg Jets: Zach Bogosian

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    Lance Thomson/Getty Images

    3-Year Averages

    Quality of Competition: 0.68

    Offensive Zone Starts: 47.9 percent

    Penalty Killing Assigned: 43.8 percent

    Top Opponents: Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryane Clowe, Saku Koivu

    Partner: Jacob Trouba

    It hasn't been a great year for Zach Bogosian. He isn't taking on the top opponents and even has the highest offensive zone start among Jets defensemen. His partner, Jacob Trouba, has actually handled the most penalty killing ice time per game among their defensemen, with Bogosian placing fourth.

    That being said, Bogosian has historically been Winnipeg's top choice as top shutdown defenseman, and he may become so again, especially as the sensational Trouba continues to develop.

    The Jets have a fantastic one-two offensive punch in Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien, and it would be to their advantage to lean on Bogosian to take more of the tougher and defensive assignments. Mark Stuart is another defensively aware blue liner on whom coach Claude Noel can lean.

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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