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NHL’s hardest working defensemen in 2013-14

Sep 1, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT

Minnesota Wild v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Five Getty Images

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.

  1. dipspit55 - Sep 1, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    Andy Greene

    • James O'Brien - Sep 1, 2014 at 4:35 PM

      I imagine he’ll only climb the list next season, too. Good mention.

    • downwithbettman - Sep 1, 2014 at 5:28 PM

      First thought that came to mind.

  2. James O'Brien - Sep 1, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    Taking a look at TOI numbers only makes Therrien’s use of Subban more bewildering. Just 30 seconds of PK time per night is silly and must change for a $9 million player …

    • bsaures - Sep 1, 2014 at 5:29 PM

      Its starting to get annoying when people just look at the number without taking any context into it. Mtl defense consisted of subban, markov, emelin, gorges, and two of murray, boullion and weaver. Gorges, weaver, boullion, Murray, emelin are extremely strong pk players while being terrible pp players and average 5 on 5 players. So why the hell would you waste one of the best offensive dman in the league killing penalties when you can give him more 5 on 5 and pp time and still have an amazing penalty kill (3rd in the league) without him. It would be moronic to waste both subbans talents and force players who struggle on offense to play those roles.

      • hockeyflow33 - Sep 1, 2014 at 9:14 PM

        Because teams employ game plans against certain scenarios so that teams who have aggressive point men or forwards up top are more likely to force turnovers and putting speedy players on the PK can create offensive chances.

      • bsaures - Sep 1, 2014 at 10:14 PM

        You are missing the point though the people they were using worked not only well but better than almost every other team in the league why change that to give your best offensive dman more pk minutes. There is no correlation between generating offense on the pk and success the most important thing is to not get scored on which mtl did extremely well even without subban

      • thesportsjudge - Sep 1, 2014 at 11:13 PM

        Sadly, I agree with bsaures.

  3. argofckyourself - Sep 1, 2014 at 4:38 PM

    Ryan McDonagh is the best defenseman in hockey.

    • Gigagigagilgamesh - Sep 1, 2014 at 7:30 PM

      LOL remember all those mistakes he made during the Stanley Cup finals ???

      • moarjam - Sep 1, 2014 at 10:24 PM

        Not really LOL. I remember Girardi’s. Not so much mcd…

        Mcd is awesome and underrated around these parts but he’s not the best in the league

  4. thailer35 - Sep 1, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    Remember when you guys wrote an article about how Oliver Ekman-Larrson is no longer underrated?

  5. ronniethec - Sep 1, 2014 at 5:09 PM

    I’m glad that McDonagh is on your team. I am glad that Drew is on my team.

    • moarjam - Sep 1, 2014 at 10:30 PM

      Both great players. I’d prefer to have them both 😉

      But if we’re choosing sides I’d have to go with doughty too.

      • Idaslapter - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:53 AM

        And I am glad Weber is on my team.

  6. downwithbettman - Sep 1, 2014 at 5:31 PM

    Hardest working DEFENSEmen should be judged on how hard they played DEFENSE, not how many points they got., or stats. A hard working defenseman should sacrifice his body to block a shot, take a hit to make a play, look for the open man and set people up, not just toss pucks at the net.

    • guitarhunterdude - Sep 1, 2014 at 8:33 PM

      The notion that defensemen are out there just to play defense and should be evaluated solely on their play in the defensive zone is outdated at best and moronic at worst. Yes, a great defenseman must be good in his own end and be able to get the puck up the ice to the forwards, but he must also be an offensive threat. If he’s an offensive threat by virtue of throwing a lot of pucks at the net, so be it. You’ve got five skaters on the ice; if they’re not all contributing to scoring, either they aren’t a great all-around defenseman or you’re not using them to their full capacity.

  7. jpat2424 - Sep 1, 2014 at 5:47 PM


  8. jacketsfan7 - Sep 1, 2014 at 5:54 PM

    @DownWithBettman agreed, why is phaneuf on this list and Keith not?

    • James O'Brien - Sep 1, 2014 at 6:11 PM

      Keeping in mind that this isn’t a “best defensemen in the league” list in the first place …

      Duncan Keith began 56 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone last season:

      He averaged 2:23 shorthanded time per game and 24:38 per night overall. Not an outrageous workload.

      He’ll probably be OK with two Norris Trophies, though. :-)

      • isithockeyseasonyet - Sep 2, 2014 at 12:46 AM

        Are you just the guy that throws stat after stat at people when arguing hoping you find a meaningful one? Why do you know the % of Duncan Keith’s starting shifts? Better question, why do you care? Best question/suggestion, why don’t you get out of your mom’s basement? Get some fresh air from staring at Keith’s backside 56% of the game in the defensive zone

  9. Gigagigagilgamesh - Sep 1, 2014 at 7:39 PM

    lol what a lazy effort!!!
    Seriously your methodology blows..

    How about the D-man that played the most games this season
    (Preseason+Regular Season+Olympics+Postseason)???

  10. blomfeld - Sep 2, 2014 at 1:22 AM

    “Workers of the world unite, as you have nothing to lose but your chains” … Karl Marx

    Friends, if ever there was a team which embodied the ‘true’ spirit of the worker and selfless ‘esprit de corps’ in action, then that would be our beloved SC champion LA Kings ! Yes sir ! And if ever there was a defensive corps which embodied the ‘indefatigable’ notion of holding the line at ‘all’ costs, then that would be none other than our hero Drew Doughty and crew ! So notwithstanding PHT’s childish ‘statistical’ chart here above, the bottom line is that we Los Angeles Kings are a team for the people, ranked by the people and ‘forever’ loved by the people !


    TODAY, TOMORROW AND FOREVER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :) :) :)

    • hockey412 - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:01 AM

      Drew only works hard from March/April on.

  11. mnwildandcaps8 - Sep 2, 2014 at 3:15 AM

    Shut up Blom

  12. scout202sport - Sep 2, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    Ummmmmm Drew Doughty not on the list……….

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