Defense wins championships. It’s a saying as old as hockey itself, but there is truth to this wisdom. A stout defense can both limit the opponent’s scoring chances while placing additional pressure on them in the offensive zone. A defense that is near perfect can help ease the burdens of both the goaltenders and the forwards. This can make a difference in a game or series.
It’s not easy to build an elite defense, of course. It can take many years to develop and draft defensemen before they reach their full potential. A team will still require to dip into free agencyTrade market and enough talent to create a core group of players capable of winning Stanley Cup.
Related: The Top NHL Defensemen Ever
With all this in mind, which team has the best defense unit as we get closer to the 2021-22 season?
Carolina Hurricanes are number 5.
The Carolina Hurricanes have been the statistical darlings for years. They featured a unit that was, on paper, one of the best in the league, but in practice, you could see a lot of holes in those statistics, as players struggled to play up to their projected level.
That all changed in the 2018-19 season, however, when the Hurricanes’ defense put it all together. The once-maligned unit was able to dominate games and help carry Carolina back into the postseason. Finalists in the Eastern Conference.
However, a lot has changed since the playoff run in Carolina. In 2021, key players like Jake Bean and Dougie Hayman left the team and were replaced by more certain names. Players like Tony DeAngelo.
While these moves are risky, you still can’t discredit what the Hurricanes’ defense should be. With names like Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, and Brady Skjei still holding down the blue line, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the unit could still be elite.
Carolina will retain a tentative place on the list. However, they will be the team with the most variability. They could be unable to compete and lose the All-Star Game. Or they could become an elite unit that is competing for the overall top spot.
Number 4: Boston Bruins
The 2020-21 season was one of change for the Boston Bruins’ defensive corps. For the first time in 14 years, Zdeno Chara didn’t headline the unit, as he parted ways with the franchise to join the Washington Capitals. They also lost Torey Krug will be granted free agencyThis meant that they were without two their former top four players.
Despite this, Boston’s defense didn’t lose a step, as they finished with the second-ranked penalty kill and fourth-fewest goals against while giving up the second-fewest shots in the league.
While the Bruin’s defense may not have the same star power and name recognition it once featured, it’s still a unit that is fantastic both on paper and on the ice. This stout group should continue to be a driving factor for the team’s success as they look to win the Atlantic Division.
Number 3: Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche’s defensive corps is a rare example of what happens when everything goes right throughout the course of a rebuild. This unit was in disarray just a few years back. Erik Johnson has been playing over 20 minutes per night for the franchise for most of the past decade. After some sloppy drafting and trades, the Avalanche boasts one of the most impressive blue lines in the sport.
This unit is amazing! Cale Makar is the 2020 Calder Trophy winner. Makar’s performance in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been outstanding. He was nominated for the 2021 Norris Trophy.
Next up, the Matt Duchene spoils, which brought back top-4 starter Samuel Girard. A first-round selection that became the fourth-overall pick in the 2019 Draft was also used to select Bowen Byram. Although Byram appeared a bit shakey in his rookie season of baseball, he is only 20 years old and could soon be playing top-four minutes. You can also add to your team when you get older. in a healthy Devon ToewsThis line-up will give you a top-four that has the potential to be among the best in the NHL.
The Avalanche may still need to work hard to attain their ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup but they seem to have created a defence corps that is capable of getting the franchise there.
Number 2: Vegas Golden Knights
As they have established themselves in the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights are a fascinating team to follow. What started as an upstart team full of castaways has turned into a perennial contender due in part to the aggressive pursuit of top talent by management.
This mindset was fully in force during 2020, when Vegas traded Alec Martinez (a top-four defenseman) at the trade deadline. Then Alex Pietrangelo was signed, the largest fish in the 2020 free agency pond
The Golden Knights proved to be a strong force on the ice during the 2020-21 season. They destroyed the relatively weak players. Honda West Division. The team finished second overall with a league-leading total of 122 goals against and an unbelievable 86.8 penalty killing, which was also the NHL’s highest.
The same thing. Return to defensive coreExpect Vegas to remain a contender as they are favorites to win Pacific Division.
Number 1: Tampa Bay Lightning
Over the last few seasons, we have seen the Tampa Bay Lightning transform from a franchise that just couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs to a team that won back-to-back Stanley Cups. While this transformation was due in part to a number of factors, one key aspect was the franchises’ commitment to building an elite defensive corps.
Related: How Lightning Built an Elite Defensive Corps
The Lightning were, as it should be said, successful in this venture. Their left-side is unmatched as they boast three top talents, Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh. While their right-side may lack the same name recognition as their left, Jan Rutta (Erik Cernak) and Zach Bogosian are Stanley Cup Champions who know what it takes to win it all.
It’s easy to overlook just how good the Lightning’s defense has become when they have a vaunted forward corps in front of them and, arguably, the The NHL’s best goaltenderThey stop pucks from getting behind them. You have to give credit to the franchise for the unit they built over the years. It has transformed Tampa Bay from a perennial postseason punch line to a Stanley Cup Champion.
The NHL has many outstanding defenses
When you make a ranked league like this, you will always find teams that have been overlooked that barely made it to the top. A few teams worth keeping an eye on in defense are the New York Islanders (Nashville Predators), Washington Capitals (Capitals), and Dallas Stars. These teams feature elite defensemen who might be In the Norris discussionThe season will be over.
In the months ahead, you will see some unexpected teams who get that last piece on their blue line. This makes them go from being a great unit to one that is exceptional. If that happens, they might be able to claim a spot on this team and force one of their former top teams off it.
Eugene Helfrick, a Tampa Bay Lightning reporter, is actually from Tampa Bay. For six years, he has covered the Lightning from their 2015 Stanley Cup Final run, through their 2019 first-round exit, and their redemption in the 2020 bubble. Although he enjoys talking about cows, cars, and video games a lot, hockey is his favorite pastime.