It’s time for nice (and even naughty!) readers to unwrap another present from under the DobberHockey Christmas tree – a list of the top ten fantasy defensemen from this decade (factoring in games through December 22nd). And although reliving the past is great fun, winning your current league is also of the utmost importance, so to that end be sure to purchase your copy of the Midseason Fantasy Guide.
If this decade is to be remembered for one thing regarding defensemen, it’s upping the ante big time in terms of scoring. After all, we went from 25 total instances of 60+ point scoring by a defenseman (seven of 70+ points) from 2000-01 through 2009-10, i.e., the prior decade, to more than double those totals (51 and 16) just from 2010-11 through the end of last season! Interestingly though, PPPts were lower, as nine more rearguards had 100+ PPPts last decade versus this one. PIM were also down this decade; but SOG, Hits and Blocks were all higher, and more d-men were +50 or better.
How did I decide who made it into the top ten, and, from there, where they ranked? Of course high scoring mattered; but longevity and to some extent consistency were factors. I didn’t penalize Band-Aid Boys too much, provided the player was otherwise outstanding. I also gave weight to those who excelled in more than just straight scoring, in a nod to leagues that aren’t just points only and because otherwise the list would consist essentially of the top scorers roughly in order.
Here, in alphabetical order, are five rearguards who came closest to making the list; but for whatever reason (inconsistency, not enough seasons, not quite elite enough, etc.), they didn’t make the cut.
Zdeno Chara – Had this list been compiled a few years ago, no question Chara would’ve made it. But due to being reduced to a purely defensive role for the past couple of seasons, he just didn’t quite stack up. Even with his recent production slowdown though, he nevertheless had impressive stats for the decade. Most notably there was his grit, with 1.8 Hits and 1.5 Blocks per game and being in the top six for PIM. Moreover, he easily had the highest plus/minus of any defenseman in the entire NHL for the decade, with no one else in the top 10 even finishing with the top 20 scorers overall. And despite his changed role, he still managed to finish within the top ten in PPG, and top 15 in goals and SOG for the decade.
Torey Krug – With fewer games played than anyone here or on the list, it’s a testament to what Krug has become to see his name even being mentioned. For the decade he’s eighth in points per game; and notwithstanding so few games played, he was still 26th in SOG, with over 230 more than the next highest ranking d-man who played fewer games. It’s a similar story with PPPts, where Krug still was able to rank barely outside the top ten for the decade, with over 45 more PPPts than the next highest total from someone who played in fewer games. His major drawback is in banger leagues, where most seasons he barely averaged – if even averaged – one Hit and one Block per game and not many PIM.
Roman Josi – If Josi had become an NHL mainstay before the 2013-14 season and produced at anything close to what he’s done in the past handful of campaigns, he’d almost assuredly have made the top ten. Notwithstanding him being somewhat late to the party, he nevertheless finished seventh in goals and top 15 in points for the decade, and had over 100 more SOG than any d-man who played in fewer total games, landing eleventh in SOG for the decade overall. He was also a cumulative plus-59 for the decade and chipped in with 0.7 Hits and 1.9 Blocks per game.
P.K. Subban – I actually had Subban in an early version of the Top 10 but in the end removed him, mainly due to the fact that he never posted more than 60 points in a season and having struggles this season and last. But make no mistake, Subban was very, very good in his day. Not only a physical presence, with the third most PIM among all rearguards to go with 1.3 Hits and 1.4 Blocks per game, he also fired plenty of pucks on net, landing seventh in SOG to go along with the fourth most PPPts. As for overall scoring, he was one of just 11 d-men to finish the decade with 100+ goals, and he landed ninth in scoring overall to go along with a cumulative plus-35 rating.
Ryan Suter – Having played more minutes during this decade than any other rearguard, Suter was tenth in scoring, eighth in PPPts and just outside the top 20 in SOG. Beyond that, he was third in assists and finished 14th in plus/minus among all d-men. But his 0.9 Hits and 1.5 Blocks could’ve been higher given all his ice time, and he never topped 51 points in any season. Still, when you put it all together, and even if some of the numbers could’ve been better given all his ice time, it was a very good decade for Suter and his fantasy owners.
And now without further ado, here is the Top 10.
10. Victor Hedman
Although he didn’t fully hit his stride until 2013-14, much like Carlson he was good enough in those earlier years, and superb enough recently, to make the cut. In terms of numbers, he ended up with the sixth most points and points per game and landed 12th goals and eighth in assists. He also was a decent asset in multi-cats, with 1.1 Hits and 1.6 Blocks per game along with, among the top 20 d-man scorers, the second best plus/minus and the fourth highest PIM. That was enough for him to edge out the nearest misses.
Despite a couple of poor seasons and three injury-shortened campaigns, Giordano ended up 12th in points for the decade and within the top five in goals. He’s also in the top 15 in PPPts as well as in points per game played, and, despite all the missed contests, in SOG as well. Moreover, he contributed physically, with 1.1 Hits per game and, despite missing 18-21 games in those three seasons, landing fourth in blocks and 11th in PIM among all NHL rearguards, to go along with a cumulative plus-64 rating for the decade.
8. Drew Doughty
Yes, he was the most overrated player of the decade according to Tom Collins’ list; but he still deserves a spot in this top 10. For one, he scored 27 of 59 points for 2009-10 in 35 games played in 2010, and that counts. What stands out for Doughty most though was his consistency, as he scored below 40 points and above 50 points just twice each. That steady contribution helped him finish 11th in points and assists and 14th in goals to go along with being eighth in SOG. And it’s important to keep in mind this came for a Kings team which finished 20th or worse in team goals scored for six of the nine completed seasons of the decade! Beyond that, only two other higher scoring d-men had more PIMs than Doughty, who also contributed 1.9 Hits and 1.3 Blocks per game and was a cumulative plus-49 for the decade. And just one other defenseman in the top 50 in scoring averaged more than his 26:42 per game.
7. John Carlson
How does a rearguard make the list who only once bested 39 points once prior to the 2016-17 season? Easy – averaging 69 points over the past two seasons and being on pace to post the first 100+ point season by a rearguard in more than 25 years. Also, Carlson’s 30-40 point earlier seasons still helped bolster him to fourth overall in points for the decade, as well as landed him in the top five in assists and the top ten in both SOG and PPPts, and 11th in plus/minus, with the best cumulative plus/minus among the top 20 overall rearguard scorers. He also gave teams great multi-cat contributions, with just under one Hit per game but more impressively the third most Blocks of any rearguard during the decade.
6. Keith Yandle
Known primarily for his iron man streak, Yandle put up some of the best numbers among all d-men during the last decade, most notably leading all in PPPts. He also stood second in points and assists, and third in SOG. And lest everyone think that’s due to always being in the lineup, he’s seventh in points per game too. In fact, he might’ve ranked higher on the list but for the fact he was not a big PIM or Hits guy, was a cumulative minus-40, and barely averaged one block per contest.
5. Shea Weber
Although he never bested 56 points in a single season, he was in the top 12 in points per game for the decade as well as for PPPts, ranked first in goals (by 23) and in PPG (by 21), was fifth in SOG, and just outside the top 20 in cumulative plus minus, at plus-70. Perhaps most impressively, he did this while averaging 2.2 Hits and 1.9 Blocks per game, with there being only nine defensemen in the entire NHL with a higher per game average than Weber in both categories and the nine combining for 32 fewer goals during the decade than Weber scored just himself!
4. Kris Letang
If Letang had remained healthy for the duration of his career, there’s an off chance he could’ve nabbed the top spot on the list instead of Karlsson. But the fact he nevertheless ranks this high is a testament to just how dominant he is when healthy. He finished second (behind Karlsson) in points per game; not only that, but he was in the top five in PPPts, with those above him all having played 99+ more games than he did. In terms of scoring, he still ranked fifth, outscoring the next highest rearguard who played in fewer total games by 117 points. It’s a similar story with SOG, where he managed to be in the top ten, outshooting the next highest defenseman who played in fewer games by 177. Also, among the top 25 cumulative d-man scorers, Letang is eighth in PIM despite all the games he missed, and he was a very impressive plus-77. If that wasn’t enough, he’s just one of two in this top 10 to average both over 1.5 Hits and 1.5 Blocks per game.
Making the switch to defense as the decade began, Buff ranked fifth in points per game and third in total goals, with the two above him all having played 30+ more games, plus second in SOG. And for much of the early part of the decade he had dual eligibility! There were times when he was playing forward and could still slot in as a defenseman. And no one on the blue line had more PIM than him; in fact, you have to go all the way down to 19th on the list of PIM leaders to find a d-man who cumulatively outscored Byfuglien during the decade, and to the d-man 10th in SOG to find someone who played fewer games. Also, his 2.3 Hits per game was the most among d-men who had 100+ goals in the decade, plus he also averaged more than one block per game.
2. Brent Burns
As it was with Byfuglien, let’s not forget Burns also had dual eligibility in most league formats. As it was with Big Buff, Burnsy was a forward for a time (in Burns' case, until fully transitioned to defense for the 2014-15 campaign) and yet could still be slotted at D for your fantasy squad. Since that 2014-15 season, he’s first among defensemen in points (by 33), in goals (by 19), and in PPPts, plus barely second in assists. But that’s not all – in terms of SOG, he put up four of the five highest totals for the entire decade in just those five seasons, not to mention three of the top five goals outputs for the decade as well. Moreover, among the top ten rearguard scorers since 2014-15, his 266 PIM stands third. All of this, plus a very solid 1.3 Hits and 1.4 Blocks per game.
Although his dominance has faded somewhat since coming to San Jose, Karlsson is still the clear cut #1. He stands in the top two in all major offensive categories – first in points (by nearly 100), SOG and assists, second in goals and PPPts. He also did this playing predominantly for Ottawa, a team which finished 22nd or worse in goals scored four of Karlsson’s seasons there, and he led all Sens (including forwards) in scoring for five campaigns, with the cumulative gap between him and the second-place skaters in those five seasons being 41 points. Moreover, he was a workhorse, skating an average of 26:19 per game during the decade, with only two of the other top ten defensemen scorers for the decade being over the 25-minute mark. And although he was a minus player overall, he didn’t ignore his side of the ice, finishing among the top 50 defensemen in cumulative blocked shots.
Questions for Mailbag column
There’s still room for more one or two more questions in the next mailbag, which will either run in one week or the following week. So if you want your question answered get it to me by private messaging “rizzeedizzee” via the DobberHockey Forums or by sending an email to [email protected] with “Roos Mailbag” as the subject line.