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.

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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.