This article was originally published at the Canucks Army. It also was submitted to the Province newspaper for their writing contest this month – please go to this link and give it a thumbs up.
How many franchise defensemen are there in the league right now? I count five (Zdeno Chara, Nick Lidstrom, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, and Chris Pronger). There are a few more right on the cusp, like Drew Doughty, Keith Yandle, and Kris Letang. Each of the 30 NHL clubs carries anywhere from six to eight defensemen, meaning there are approximately 200-220 defensemen in the NHL at any given time. Less than three percent of the total defensemen are by my definition franchise material at this moment in time.
How I would define these players in the top talent bracket:
- Able to contribute offensively at even strength and on the power play
- Steady defensively, consistently playing tough minutes in different situations
- Often make those around them much more successful
- Physicality is a plus, but not a requirement
In recent years, teams have been rewarded for paying a premium to land one of the above franchise defensemen. Boston paid handsomely for free agent Zdeno Chara back in 2007, and they were Stanley Cup champs four years later. Edmonton, Anaheim, and Philadelphia all went to the Cup Final soon after acquiring Pronger. Keith was the best player on Chicago during their Cup winning season. Lidstrom's track record speaks for itself. Weber has been a rock on every team he has played on – Kelowna, internationally for Canada, and now in Nashville.
He is going to be the focus of this discussion, and for good reason. At 26, Weber is already one of the most accomplished defensemen in the league. He is a two-time All-Star, a one-time First Team All-Star, an Olympic Gold Medalist, a World Junior Gold Medalist, a World Championships Gold Medalist, and a Norris Trophy runner up (last season he finished with 727 voting points, trailing Lidstrom's 736). Weber has four seasons of at least 16 goals and 40 points. He's one of the most physically intimidating players in the league, and he possesses a heavy and accurate point shot. Don't believe me? Check this out:
In their 41 year history, the Canucks have never had a true franchise defenseman. Mattias Ohlund at his peak (2001-2004) probably was the closest. Unfortunately his play declined after the lockout, as he struggled to adapt his game from the clutch-and-grab era. Ohlund would have undoubtedly been more of an offensive force if it wasn't for the serious eye injury he suffered earlier in his career (one that rendered him essentially blind in his right eye).
The Weber-to-Vancouver story has been tossed around the blogosphere more than a few times over the past few years. It picked up steam this past summer, when Weber and the Predators were forced to go to arbitration (a good move for Weber, who was awarded a massive one-year contract worth $7.5 million). Weber is a BC boy (from Sicamous), and as with the likes of Joe Sakic, Paul Kariya, and any other local star, rumours that he would like to return home have come out. None of them have been substantiated, but on paper it reads a little like the Dan Hamhuis situation last year (Hamhuis spurned the Predators, Flyers, and Penguins to eventually sign with the Canucks). To say the Canucks could use