Now that most of the big name free agent defensemen are off the board, who might have the best defense in the Eastern Conference? These are my projected Top 6 for each team, listed in no particular order. As of July 7, italics indicates a new signing.
Atlanta - Bogosian, Enstrom, Oduya, Hainsey, Sopel, Valabik/Schubert (UFA). One of the least exciting groups here, there's nothing outstanding but it could end up being an underrated unit. Bogosian has a hell of a shot but ultimately Atlanta has overpaid quite a few guys for the defensive returns, and it may even be a worse unit in 2010 than the one that gave up 256 goals last year.
Boston - Chara, Seidenberg, Ference, Boychuk, Hunwick, Stuart (RFA). You don't want to cross blades with Chara and Seidenburg tries to block everything in sight. But outside Chara, it lacks a lot of punch and could likely hold the Bruins back from being a good team.
Buffalo - Myers, Rivet, Leopold, Montador, Sekera, Butler. Losing Tallinder won't help but it's virtually the same solid yet still underrated defense from a year ago. Perhaps not as air-tight, Leopold adds a little offensive talent and surely Lindy will want to see Mr. Calder Myers to take his game to another level.
Carolina - Pitkanen, Gleason, Corvo, Babchuk, McBain, Pothier (UFA). The Hurricanes seem to follow a peculiar trend - make it to the Conference Finals, then finish in last place. Rinse and repeat. So theoretically, the Canes will be back in 2010, but they'll need the defense to get them there. It may be one of the best offensive groups in the league, with Corvo back, Babchuk back and McBain most likely taking a full-time role.
Florida - McCabe, Wideman, Kulikov, Allen, Paetsch, ???. Not a good unit a year ago and could be exponentially worse in 2010. Hard to believe they used to have Bouwmeester, Ballard and Seidenberg.
Montreal - Markov, Spacek, Hamrlik, Subban, Gill, Georges. It is what it is. But it will be interesting to see if Georges, Gill and Subban can take their excellent playoff form into the regular season. If so, prepare to rip your hair out on a nightly basis trying to crack this nutshell of a defense.
New Jersey - Volchenkov, Tallinder, White, Greene, Salvador, Salmela/Fraser (RFA). Neutral zone trap. We've seen it a million and one times before. Now perhaps back and better than ever with the A-Train and Tallinder - are you sure Marty isn't the new GM in Jersey?
Islanders - Streit, Witt, Eaton, Jurcina, Gervais, Hillen/MacDonald. Streit is a very solid defenseman while Witt is tougher than titanium. But it should be a joy watching this defense try to figure things out.
Rangers - Redden, Rozsival, Del Zotto, Gilroy, M.Staal (RFA), Girardi (RFA). Ridiculously overrated, insanely overrated, overrated as hell, and once again predictably overrated. The group is barely proficient offensively and beyond dismal defensively. Poor Henrik is in for another lonely season in net again, trying to win games by himself.
Ottawa - Gonchar, Kuba, Phillips, Karlsson, Lee/Sutton (UFA), Carkner. Could possibly have the perfect blend of offense and defense. Should score quite a few more goals with Gonchar in the lineup and Karlsson having another year under his belt. Will be the most physically intimidating defense if Sutton resigns.
Philadelphia - Pronger, Timonen, Carle, Coburn, Meszaros, Bartulis. On paper, the deepest defense in the NHL and should be the strong point of this Flyers lineup. But the question has to emerge, can Timonen and Pronger still remain as effective as they've been in the past now that both will turn 36 during the season?
Penguins - Martin, Michalek, Letang, Orpik, Goligoski, Lovejoy
Tampa - Kubina, Hedman, Ohlund, Walker, Clark, Lundin/Lashoff. Hedman should take another step forward in 2010 but will anyone else?
Toronto - Kaberle, Phaneuf, Komisarek, Schenn, Beauchemin, Finger. If Toronto is going to get back to the playoffs, this is the first reason why. Assuming Kaberle stays, they have as good of a Top 5 as anywhere in the East.
Washington - Green, Schultz (RFA), Poti, Alzner, Carlson, Erskine/Sloan. What more to say, that hasn't already been said? Offensive first as usual in Washington, but can the new kids play defense well enough to offset the inevitable mistakes? We'll see.
My Top 5 (no order again, and not just on goals allowed alone)
- New Jersey
Obviously this could change before the beginning of the season, depending on potential trades or free agent acquisitions. Penguins will not be part of the poll, for understandable reasons. Who are your choices for best defense in the East?