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Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to Find a #2 Defenceman

rob scuderi kings leafs
According to Darren Dreger, the Penguins have offered Letang a hair over $7 million a year for 8 years. But it might not be good enough to keep the defenceman in Pittsburgh, and initial rumour mongering has linked Letang to the Leafs.

Although Letang is a very good player, he has no history in a shutdown role, and the Leafs desperately need a strong defensive upgrade beside Dion Phaneuf to get the most out of their captain. That isn't to say Letang can't perform in that role, but when you have to gut your farm system and shell out huge money to get a player, you want to be reasonably sure he's capable of what you need, and not a $60+ million gamble.

A No. 2 defenceman is the biggest priority for the Leafs, even more so than the never-ending search for a No. 1 centre, mainly because Phaneuf didn't have a particularly good year in 2013 and the deficiencies of the top pair were on full display.

In part, Phaneuf's failings were because Randy Carlyle gave him a purely defensive role the likes of which has rarely, if ever, been seen before. To make things worse, half the season he was playing with AHL players. However, Phaneuf is a quality defenceman, he just needs to be surrounded by other quality defencemen so the hardest defensive duties don't fall on his shoulders alone. Try playing huge minutes against John Tavares and the elites of the league with Korbinian Holzer strapped to your back.

Finding a No. 2 defenceman isn't going to be easy for Dave Nonis. Teams are always searching for top-4 defencemen and guys capable of playing 22+ minutes in a shutdown role aren't just sitting around on the waiver wire. Looking around at the No. 2 defencemen in the league, and finding out how their teams acquired them, could provide insight into how Nonis might go about finding a partner for Phaneuf.

I identified a team's No. 2 defenceman as the player with the second most ice time on the team. Some teams have two defencemen show up on the list, like Chicago with Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya, which is because although Seabrook plays the second most minutes on the Hawks, he really is a No. 1 defenceman, the Blackhawks just have the luxury of having Duncan Keith as well. In other cases, there are two defencemen because the No. 2 and No. 3 defencemen play similar minutes, but one is used in an offensive role and one used in a defensive role. If the ice time was nearly identical I just listed the defensive defenceman, because that's what the Leafs need. But if there was enough separation in minutes I listed both (like in Phoenix with Keith Yandle and Zbynek Michalek).

Players are sorted into three categories, those acquired through the draft, free agent signings, and trades.


Draft Picks
Team
Name
Draft pick
Age made NHL*
Calgary
Undrafted**
23
Chicago
Brent Seabrook
1st round - 14th
20
Detroit
9th round - 291st
25
Minnesota
1st round - 10th
19
Nashville
2nd round - 38th
21
New York Rangers
1st round - 12th
21
Tampa Bay
1st round - 2nd
19
Washington
1st round - 27th
20
Winnipeg
1st round - 3rd
18
Buffalo
1st round - 12th
19
San Jose
2nd round - 35th
19
Montreal
2nd round - 43rd
21
Phoenix
Keith Yandle
4th round - 105st
21
New York Islanders
6th round - 160th
23
*Refers to their age on or before February 1 of their first season
** I didn't really know what table to put Giordano in, but this is probably the best place

Some the best talent came from the draft, but seven of the 14 players were taken in the first round, most often in the 10-20 range, so drafted talent doesn't come cheap.

For Toronto, maybe that player is already in the system, like Jake Gardiner or Morgan Rielly, or even Stuart Percy if everything breaks right. But aside from Jonas Brodin, who played as a rookie next to Ryan Suter in a shutdown role, pretty much all these players took a slower path to the top pair, so even if one of Gardiner, Rielly, or Percy (or even Jesse Blacker if we're dreaming) can be a top-pair defenceman, they probably aren't going to be one to open the 2013-14 season.

The good news is Toronto has plenty of defensive depth in the system; the bad news is Nonis can't count on any of them to fill the team's most pressing need this year.


UFA Deals
Team
Name
Age
Cap hit / years
Role pre UFA
Anaheim
36
$3.67m / 3 years
#4 D
Dallas
28
$550k / 2 years
#4 D
Colorado
33
$3.25m / 4 years
#3 D
LA
31
$3.40m / 4 years
#5 D
Pittsburgh
29
$5.00m / 5 years
#2 D
Vancouver
28
$4.50m / 6 years
#3 D
Florida
36
$4.00m / 2 years
#2 D
Florida
32
$1.10m / 2 years
#5 D
 
Despite how insane and inflated the free agent market usually is, even for defensive defencemen who don't put up any points, there have been some pretty reasonable deals that worked out tremendously.

Both Stephane Robidas and Mike Weaver were pretty fortuitous signings, with Dallas and Florida getting defencemen capable of playing shutdown minutes for very little money. Robidas was more effective in the role than Weaver, although it took him a few years after signing with Dallas before growing into a top line defenceman.

The one common bond between these defencemen (besides Paul Martin and Filip Kuba), was that none of them had a history of top-pair minutes. Teams saw the potential that they could play that role in a different situation. For some, like Dan Hamhuis, who was behind Shea Weber and Ryan Suter on the Predators depth chart, it was clear there was a higher ceiling there, but others, like Rob Scuderi, who had four other Penguins defencemen playing more minutes than him, really elevated their game and exceeded most reasonable expectations about how they would fare after signing.

For Toronto, this means the better deal might not necessarily come from chasing an already-established top-pair guy, like Scuderi, who the Kings are very interesting in having back and will probably cost a lot. Instead, maybe the Leafs go after a guy like Ron Hainsey, who has played a shutdown role, is a little younger, but hasn't logged top-pairing minutes, so might come a little cheaper.

But really, outside of a few guys, the UFA market for defencemen looks like the dog's breakfast.


Trades
Team
Name
Age @ Trade
Traded for
Columbus
25
Edmonton
20
New York Rangers
20
Ottawa
27
Chicago
Johnny Oduya*
30
2nd + 3rd round picks
St. Louis
29
1st round pick, Mark Cundari, Reto Barra
New Jersey
31
Montreal
22
Craig Rivet + 5th round pick
Carolina
25
Phoenix
Zbynek Michalek
30
Harrison Ruopp + Marc Cheverie + 3rd round pick
Boston
28
Byron Bitz + Craig Weller + 2nd round pick
Philadelphia
23
* Indicates player was becoming a UFA at season's end; all re-signed with the team that trade for them
** More players were involved in both trades, but for simplicity's sake the two main pieces are listed

A trade is the most likely avenue for Nonis to make a substantial upgrade to the defence. And although he doesn't have a Chris Pronger or a (*double checks name, dies laughing*) Scott Gomez to trade to get a quality young player, most of these deals indicate a top pairing defenceman can come relatively cheap.

Some of the best trades were for upcoming UFAs. For little more than a few draft picks and non-prospects, the Blackhawks, Devils, and Bruins substantially upgraded their backend. Granted, these trades did come mid-season, so their trade partners had a pretty good idea they couldn't re-sign these guys and/or were in the process of rebuilding, so these type of deals might not yet be available to the Leafs. These teams were also able convince their newly acquired players to stick around and sign an extension, making the trades look even better.

A player like Stephane Robidas could become available depending on Dallas' early fortunes. Or maybe the Leafs take a chance on Henrik Tallinder in New Jersey. He had a rough 2013, missing time with injury and averaging less than 18 minutes a night when he did play. However, he was a positive possession player in a shutdown role the two seasons prior. If the cost is a mid-round draft pick or two, the Leafs can do worse.

It won't be an easy task for Dave Nonis, but a look around the league shows obtaining a top-pairing defenceman might not be as expensive as it sounds.

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