Which team has the NHL’s best defensemen?

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Today we are talking defense.

Specifically, the NHL’s best defense, and which team has it.

I feel the need to point out there is a big difference between “best defensive team,” and “best defense.” The former takes into account the overall structure of the team, the contributions of the forwards, the goaltending, and every other variable that goes into goal prevention. A team like, say, Boston would fit that argument quite well because of their structure, forwards, and goalies. They may not have the best defensemen, but you know they are going to be tough to score against.

The latter is just talking about which group of defensemen, the players that actually play that position, is the best on paper.

We are focussing on the latter with these seven teams.

Teams are listed in alphabetical order.

Carolina Hurricanes

They have what is arguably the NHL’s best defense pairing with Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin. Both players were in the top-eight in the Norris Trophy voting for the 2019-20 season, and are among the best all-around players at the position.

That alone is a significant argument in their favor.

But they also have depth.

Brett Pesce is one of the most underrated players in the league (and not the fake Nicklas Backstrom or Aleksander Barkov type of underrated, where everyone knows the player is actually really good; I mean actually underrated where nobody knows about him) while Jake Gardiner and Brady Skjei are both very good second-pairing players.

This is a rock solid group with two elite players at the top and strong depth behind them. There is no real weakness.

If they could ever figure out the goaltending long-term they would be the toughest team in the league to score against.

Colorado Avalanche

The focus in Colorado is always on the All-Star forwards, and they are the foundation of the organization.

But it is the defense that really makes this team a potential juggernaut in the Western Conference. It is already an outstanding group, and it has the potential to get even better given their ages and potential.

Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, Devon Toews, and Ryan Graves are all age 26 or younger, and they still have 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram waiting in the wings.

Makar and Graves formed one of the league’s most dominant defense pairings a year ago, with the former looking like he is on track to be a superstar in the league.

Adding Toews to this group over the offseason is a perfect fit for their style of play, and it would not be a shock to see him flourish with the talent around him and in a system that suits his skillset.

Dallas Stars

Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg are sensational, and Esa Lindell is as solid No. 3.

Klingberg has always been a little underappreciated, and Heiskanen might have Norris Trophies (yes, multiple) in his future.

Along with being the driving force behind their goal prevention ability, the Stars’ defense also plays a significant role in the team’s offense and was a major factor on their run to the Stanley Cup Final this past postseason.

Nashville Predators

The Predators have been a defense factory for 20 years now, churning out impact player after impact player at the position.

This is a team that has traded Seth Jones, Shea Weber, and P.K. Subban over the past five years and STILL has an outstanding blue line.

Roman Josi is the league’s reining Norris Trophy winner, while Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm have been consistently reliable throughout their careers. Ellis missing 20 games due to injury this past season was just one of the many factors behind Nashville’s disappointing season.

St. Louis Blues

Losing Alex Pietrangelo definitely stings, but Torey Krug is a heck of a replacement.

Justin Faulk‘s contract might turn out to be a headache, but he is still a really good player.

There may not be a Norris Trophy contender on this roster, and maybe there isn’t a true “No. 1” player, but there also isn’t a weak link anywhere on the group. All of these guys can play for a contender without looking out of place. There is a lot to be said for that.

Tampa Bay Lightning

They have the best all-around defenseman in hockey in Victor Hedman, so that is always a big plus in giving your blue line an edge. On a team that has superstar forwards like Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos, as well as a Vezina caliber goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy, it is Hedman that drives the bus for them. A magnificent player in all three zones and in every situation.

But the defense does not stop with him.

Ryan McDonagh is about as strong of a No. 2 as you are going to find in the league, and Mikhail Sergachev is still only 22 years old even though it seems like he has been around forever. And he is really good.

Vegas Golden Knights

Shea Theodore is tremendous and was one of the best players in the playoffs this past season, while the addition of Pietrangelo gives them a true No. 1 defenseman.

Alec Martinez may not be the same player he was at his peak in Los Angeles, but the Golden Knights do not need him to be a top-pairing player. They just need him to give them a solid No. 3-4 defender and he is still very capable of providing that.

So which defense gets your vote? Or is there another that we omitted?

Speaking of omissions…

The notable omissions

Boston Bruins. This goes back to “best defensive team” vs. “best defensemen.” The Bruins are the former. Their forwards are relentless defensively. They have two starting caliber goalies. They play a strong defensive system. All of that makes them the toughest team in the league to score against.  But following the departure of Krug the defense itself has some question marks when you get beyond Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

New York Islanders. Again, it comes down to their defensive success being built around coaching and goaltending. There are some very good players on the blue line, but it just does not strike me as “best group of defensemen in the league.”

San Jose Sharks. Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are all big names, and the former two are among the best players of their era. But they struggled MAJORLY last year and are starting to get older. Are they still elite players? They did not play like it the last time we saw them. They have to prove it this season.

Columbus Blue Jackets. I almost included them in the group above simply because Seth Jones and Zach Werenski form as good of a pairing as you will find in the NHL. But there is a huge depth issue beyond those two players.

Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

WELCOME HOME, LU

Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

“You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.

REMEMBERING JIMMY

Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

ANTHEM POISE

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

SLAP SHOTS

Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

“Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.