NHL’s hardest working defensemen in 2013-14

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It’s Labor Day in America (and Labour Day in Canada), which means a good number of readers are scanning this during vacation time instead of killing cubicle boredom. With the holiday in mind, it might be fun to consider the admittedly abstract idea of which players “worked the hardest” last season.

A few ground rules before you get too angry on your day off:

1. This is based on 2013-14 stats.

2. Quantity generally beats out quality in many cases, so players who logged 70+ games have a much better chance than someone who was injured but faced tough assignments when healthy.

3. By no means is this a comprehensive list and this isn’t meant to judge subjective things like “effort.” It’s mainly based on how a player was deployed. In other words, team styles and coaching in general made a big impact.

To keep these lists from getting too huge, consider this the “Defensemen Edition.” Goalies and forwards will be considered in a different post.

Ryan Suter

In the eyes of some possession-leaning people, the Minnesota Wild defenseman might be overrated. Even his loudest doubters can’t deny the gargantuan minutes he puts up, though.

Suter led the league in total time on ice (2,411:54) and really blew everyone else away in average time on ice (29:24, with only Erik Karlsson logging more than 27 minutes per contest at 27:04). It’s not like Suter was just getting the glamour minutes, either, as he averaged 2:21 of shorthanded play per game.

Perhaps his “fancy stats” would shine a bit more if he wasn’t playing almost half a game considering the escalating aerobic requirements of playing modern NHL defense? Just throwing it out there …

Braydon Coburn

Two Philadelphia Flyers led their respective positions in shorthanded reps last season, but we’ll get to Sean Couturier in the next edition. Coburn logged 20 more penalty kill minutes (327:21:00) than runner-up John Carlson (307:03:00), averaging just under four minutes of SH time per contest.

There’s no doubt that playing in Philly inflates their stats – the Flyers averaged the most PIM per game with 14.4 per season – but that didn’t make Coburn’s job any easier.

Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo and Dion Phaneuf

OK, this list is probably a lot longer than those four names, but consider this the “all-around” group. Chara and Weber carry significant offensive burdens while also being asked to play top-notch defense, often with tough assignments and matchups. Pietrangelo shouldered the burden of the St. Louis Blues’ Flyers-like trips to the box (14.2 PIM per game) by killing for more than three minutes per night.

You might scoff at Phaneuf’s inclusion, but consider this: he faced tough quality of competition and started his shifts in the offensive zone just 38.8 percent of the time, yet he was also called upon to be a scoring threat from the blueline.

Now, should he carry such a workload? That’s a question for a rapidly changing Maple Leafs front office to ponder.

Erik Karlsson

As much as we justifiably focus on how much work a defensemen is responsible for in his end, what about those who are asked to carry their offense?

In Adam Gretz’s list of the players teams relied upon the most for offense, Karlsson was the only defenseman to make it, as he was involved in a whopping 32.2 percent (74 of 229) of the Ottawa Senators’ goals. That’s more than Joe Thornton, Evgeni Malkin and Kyle Okposo managed for their respective teams.

He also generates a ridiculous amount of the Senators’ shot attempts, overall:

While he doesn’t have a tough penalty-killing workload (1:30 per game), he still was on the ice an awful lot, finishing with the second-highest TOI and TOI averages behind Suter.

In other words, the Senators really on him to work hard … and they probably will only lean on him more with Jason Spezza out of town.

***

Hopefully this list provided you with some fun, even if it’s – again – not aiming to consider every player who carried a significant workload in 2013-14.

That’s actually a nice task for the comments. If there’s a consensus there, this post might just be modified to consider your choices.

Update: Blocked shots get mixed reviews as a sign of quality defense, but there’s little use denying that it takes courage and counts as dirty work. In case you’re wondering, Andrew MacDonald easily led the league with 242 blocks last season.

Schultz and Hornqvist will be game-time decisions; Sheary may play

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Justin Schultz and Patric Hornqvist will be game-time decisions for the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at PPG Paints Arena.

That was the word this morning from head coach Mike Sullivan, who said yesterday that it would be “reasonable” to expect the two players to return for Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators.

But the signs from this morning’s optional skate were not particularly promising for either player.

Schultz did not opt to skate, which does not necessarily rule him out for tonight. That said, players returning from injury often choose to test things out the morning of the game, just to be sure they’re ready to go.

Hornqvist did skate; however, he stayed on the ice rather late, likewise putting his status for tonight into doubt.

In other news, Conor Sheary may return to the lineup. Sheary skated this morning and left the ice with the players who are playing, while Josh Archibald skated and stayed on later. That suggests Sheary, a scratch in Games 5 and 6, could replace Archibald.

Oilers reportedly lose Lander to Russia

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After eight years and over 200 games, Edmonton and Anton Lander are parting ways.

Per Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko, Lander has reportedly agreed to join KHL club Ak Bars Kazan. The deal comes after Lander’s two-year, $1.975M pact with the Oilers expired, and he became a restricted free agent.

The 40th overall pick in ’09, Lander had some decent spells in Edmonton. In ’14-15, he racked up 20 points in 38 games — which led to the aforementioned two-year extension — but could never find his niche as a full-time NHLer.

As a result, Lander ended up as one of those guys that racked up points in the AHL, but struggled to replicate similar success in the bigs. Last year, with Bakersfield, he had 25 goals and 55 points in just 42 games.

At 26, he was probably ready to part ways with the only NHL organization he’s ever known. Earlier reports suggested Lander was also mulling a return to his native Sweden.

Report: Rangers goalie Hellberg to sign with Chinese KHL team

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Magnus Hellberg, the once-touted netminder that came to New York from Nashville two years ago, has reportedly left North America to join the KHL’s Chinese club, Red Star Kunlun.

The deal, per Russian news outlet R-Sport, is of the one-year variety and it comes after Hellberg appeared in a pair of games for the Rangers last season, spending most of his time in AHL Hartford.

Hellberg did fare well in his limited action with the Blueshirts, posting a .929 save percentage and 1.53 GAA.

As mentioned above, Hellberg came into the NHL with some fanfare. Selected in the second round (38th overall) by Nashville at the 2011 draft, Hellberg was first goalie off the board, taken one spot ahead of Anaheim’s John Gibson. There was some thought he would be Pekka Rinne‘s eventual successor in goal, but never panned out and was later surpassed by Juuse Saros as the team’s goalie of the future.

In New York, Hellberg was stuck at No. 3 on the depth chart behind Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta.

Pekka Rinne’s been the Predators’ backbone during run to final

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Knocking the smile off Pekka Rinne‘s face right now is nearly impossible.

The longest-tenured player with the Nashville Predators, the 34-year-old goaltender finally will play in his first Stanley Cup Final in his ninth full NHL season.

“As a player, I feel like I’ve had a fairly long career and never had this opportunity,” Rinne said. “So very fortunate and really appreciate this opportunity. I guess as a player you just enjoy being in this position. Enjoy the chance that you get, and you put your body on the line every night and give everything you have.”

Teammates call the 6-foot-5 Finn the backbone of the Predators, and he’s probably the best goalie in the world at the moment. He handles the puck like an extra defenseman. He foils the dump-and-chase efforts of opponents. And, oh, is he good in front of the net, aggressive with forwards in the crease, seeing seemingly everything and occasionally making saves with a Dominik Hasek-like contortion.

Not only is Rinne a playoff-best 12-4, his .945 save percentage ranks third all-time for a single postseason behind a pair of Conn Smythe Trophy winners in Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Anaheim in 2003 and Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles in 2012, according to HockeyReference.com. Rinne’s 1.70 goals-against average is 10th all-time for one postseason.

“What he does every night, you can’t put into words,” Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said.

The 19-year-old franchise has reached its first Stanley Cup Final behind Rinne’s standout performances.

After Nashville ousted Anaheim in six games Monday night , Rinne now is even stingier on home ice with a 7-1 record, 1.54 GAA and .947 save percentage. He made 38 saves on a night where Nashville took only 18 shots.

“Anytime you need to close a series out, you know that as a goalie you got to be good and as a team you got to be good,” Rinne said.

The native of Kampele, Finland, has been better than good. He also has the skill to skate out to play the puck. With coach Peter Laviolette’s team clogging the neutral zone to slow opponents, Rinne is an extra (tall) layer of frustration waiting at the end of the ice for opponents who dump the puck in – even those high on the glass.

Anaheim defenseman Kevin Bieksa said Rinne will throw his body against the glass to knock the puck down so he can pass it out to a teammate essentially turning the goalie into another defender.

“You don’t see many goalies that aggressive,” Bieksa said. “And he’s gone out, he’s played a lot of pucks. And he’s good at it. One of their strengths, for sure.”

Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle noted Rinne had eight plays on the puck alone in the first period of Game 5, a 3-1 Nashville win that put the Predators up 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

“You can’t give him that type of opportunity,” Carlyle said.

Laviolette calls goaltender the most important position on the ice and he said Rinne’s confidence is a huge benefit for the team.

“And it gives you opportunities,” he said.

Rinne now has 34 playoff victories and is no longer at the top of a list no goalie likes. Washington’s Braden Holtby (29) is now the active goalie with the most postseason wins who hasn’t reached the final.

The only surprise was that it took Rinne this long. He’s a three-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, finishing second in 2011 and 2015. He led the league with 43 wins in 2011-12 and was MVP of the 2014 world championships.

Rinne bounced back from a hip injury that required arthroscopic surgery and later an E. coli infection that limited him to 24 games in the 2013-14 season. With him out of the lineup, Nashville just missed the postseason, leading general manager David Poile to replace coach Barry Trotz with Laviolette.

“I think David and the owners have done a really good job providing Peter more tools and maybe higher quality players and more talent,” Rinne said.

Defenseman Mattias Ekholm says Rinne’s competitive streak comes out on the ice.

“He will put his foot down, and say, `Hey, this is my crease. This is where I am,”‘ Ekholm said. “So I wouldn’t say he’s as polite on the ice vs. our opponents. He’s always a competitor, and he always wants to win.”

The next chance for a win comes Monday night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.