Author: James O'Brien

Minnesota Wild v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Five

NHL’s hardest working defensemen in 2013-14


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.

Leafs’ Kadri aims for more goals in contract year

Toronto Maple Leafs v Ottawa Senators

The broader storyline for this offseason is that the Toronto Maple Leafs might look at numbers in a different way, but the bottom line is that Nazem Kadri’s next payday could be significantly healthier if he scores a bunch of goals in this coming contract year.

Kadri told Sportsnet how he expects to improve upon a 20-goal, 50-point output from 2013-14.

“I’ve really been working on my shot and my release, knowing a lot of NHL goalies can’t be beat without a quick release,” says Kadri. “The power doesn’t necessarily have to be there, but the release definitely does. I’m trying to score a few more goals and get more pucks on net.”

The 23-year-old didn’t even fire two shots on goal last season, only managing 148 in 78 regular season games. At least one new Maple Leafs front office member noticed his affinity for passing during the 2013-14 season, too.

Kadri should obviously play to his strengths, yet being more confident with firing the puck could very well help him put up better numbers – both simple and fancy – in 2014-15.

He’s likely to count more than $2.9 million against the cap after next season, but he could command an especially healthy raise if he enjoys explosive growth like, say, Ryan Johansen.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy this Instagram video Kadri shared regarding at least one tool that may help him get rid of the puck a little faster:

/Adds item to holiday wish list.

Sharks explain moving Burns back to the blueline

Los Angeles Kings v San Jose Sharks - Game Seven

The San Jose Sharks made a lot of debatable statements this offseason, but they didn’t really blow things up like some feared (and others requested). One significant move involved a tweak from within, as the organization decided to move Brent Burns back to defense.

GM Doug Wilson explained the logic to the on Friday.

We acquired him in a trade to be a stud defenseman,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. “To find a guy at that size who can shoot and skate that’s played in this League and been an All-Star as a defenseman, we don’t think there’s going to be any issue there, and especially if you’re working with [associate coach] Larry Robinson and [assistant coach] Jim Johnson.”

Maybe just as importantly, the 29-year-old appears to prefer playing on defense. The fit seems reasonable enough with Dan Boyle fleeing to the New York Rangers.

The thing is, more than a few believe that Burns simply offers more as a barreling power forward as he does as a very nice defensive piece. Fear the Fin made a strong argument against moving him (albeit back in May):

But even harder to find is the kind of unrestrained physical force Brent Burns was as a power forward for the past season and a half. He was one of the most effective forecheckers in the league, excelled on the cycle and at protecting the puck along the wall in tandem with Joe Thornton and generated a boatload of scoring opportunities every time he stepped on the ice. Oh, and he scored. A ton. That might come as news to people who only look at the counting stats (Burns scored 31 goals and 37 assists in 92 games up front) but those undersell Burns’ true offensive contributions and his real impact in transforming the Sharks from a team that couldn’t buy a goal at even-strength for two and a half years into the 5th-best even-strength offense in the league.

On the bright side, the Sharks boast a quality player, whether they roll him out on the wing or the blueline.

Logan Couture’s simple statements to might really say it the best.

“It’s weird when you think about Brent Burns and how good of a forward he was when he moved up front,” Couture said. “Then you remember he was an NHL All-Star as a defenseman and he scored almost 20 goals as a defenseman. I’m looking forward to it. He’s always entertaining when he’s on the ice.

He’s pretty entertaining at times off the ice, too.

(H/T to The Score.)

Looking to make the leap: Reid Boucher

Florida Panthers v New Jersey Devils

However you might feel about the New Jersey Devils’ 2013-14 campaign, there’s no denying that the team needs to score more goals and generally create more chances.

For the most part, the Devils seem like they’re counting on veteran players to produce. They’re hoping for more good things from the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias along with ideal outputs from additions Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat.

That said, hockey’s usually a young man’s game, so the Devils might at least want to ponder giving a key prospect like Reid Boucher a whirl.

Boucher, 20, turned heads in particular during his outstanding 2012-13 season with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. He managed a 62-goal, 95-point season in 68 contests after only managing 50 in 67 the previous season. His AHL numbers were promising enough in 2013-14, as well, generating an impressive 22 goals and 38 points in 56 contests with the Albany Devils. Boucher even got his feet wet at the NHL level, collecting seven points in 23 games with Devils.

An early August story implies that Devils head coach Peter DoBoer thinks he has a shot, at least if he emulates a former Devils forward.

“I’m looking for [Boucher] to come into [training camp] and be in good shape,” DeBoer said. “He’s a veteran and I’m looking for some leadership. He needs to have a workmanlike mentality. Whether he’s playing on a first line or fourth line, he has to bring that workmanlike mentality. I told him that the beauty about Zach Parise was that he was a first-line player with a fourth-line work ethic. I think Reid can take some notes from that.”

All of that said, doing so might mean making some waves. Cap Geek lists 14 forwards under contract in New Jersey, and that’s without counting Boucher or fellow up-and-coming prospect Stefan Matteau.

With everything in mind, the difference between becoming a full-time roster player and another season flipping between the AHL and NHL might come down to how Boucher performs in training camp (and early regular season games if he impresses in September).

Oilers’ Schultz admits it’s too early for Norris talk

Edmonton Oilers v Anaheim Ducks

Upon announcing the Edmonton Oilers’ compromise of a one-year deal with Justin Schultz, GM Craig MacTavish didn’t mince words: he stated his belief that the 24-year-old defenseman could win a Norris Trophy one day.

Even Schultz wants to dial those expectations down a notch – at least for now – according to his statements to the Edmonton Journal from Friday.

“I like that he (MacTavish) thinks so highly of me, and I do want to win the Norris Trophy one day … but it’s early, and I still have a lot to prove,” Schultz said.

That’s especially true among stats-leaning Oilers observers, as his possession numbers aren’t as pretty as his offensive stats can be.

More than anything else, many believe that the Oilers got the wrong end of the negotiating session by handing Schultz a $3.675 million while failing to get long-term savings being that the two sides would have to hammer out another contract for 2015-16 and beyond (or watch him walk).

Oilers Nation rolls out a rather unsettling review of the one-year pact:

The Oilers here have managed to get the negatives of a bridge deal without the payoffs. They get the minimum amount of extra information possible – one year’s worth. There’s no bargain here; Schultz is being paid basically the same amount of money that Jake Gardiner took on a long-term deal despite an NHL career that isn’t any better. And a year from now if all goes according to plan the Oilers will be in a lousy bargaining position for a long-term deal.

One discouraging trend for Edmonton is that the Oilers rarely seem to sign players to bargain contracts. Despite a lengthy playoff drought, the Oilers’ $64.82 million payroll currently ranks 13th in the NHL. The Oilers made refreshingly reasonable additions this summer, but paying Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin and Benoit Pouliot more than $12 million combined is an overpay by most standards.

Big seasons from Schultz and/or Nail Yakupov could make it difficult for management to add complimentary players even if their much-ballyhooed core finally lives up to the hype.

Could Schultz mature into the star the Oilers are hoping for? It’s certainly possible … but it sounds like he’ll be costly one way or another.