Ranking the defensemen is always tricky. There's about five or six guys clearly better than everyone else, and then it's a crapshoot. Any number of fellas could easily be in the final four spots, so save the emails.
1. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings: (Sunshine) Detroit!
2. Dion Phaneuf, Calgary Flames: Phaneuf's ascension to greatness is nearly complete. He leads all NHL defensemen with 54 goals over the past three seasons, and he established career-highs last year in assists (43), points (60), plus-minus (+12), penalty minutes (182), and shots (263). He even came through in the playoffs, notching three goals and seven points in Calgary's first-round exit; although, Phaneuf's minus-14 in 20 career postseason games is somewhat alarming.
3. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins: After trying to stay out of the box in his first year with the Bears, Big Z was back last year, playing with his usual snarl while firing 17 goals and recording 51 points, both career-highs. His 44 goals over the past three seasons are second to only Phaneuf, and he's arguably the most intimidating presence in hockey. He did have off-season shoulder surgery, but he's expected to be ready to roll when the games count.
4. Chris Pronger, Anaheim Ducks: Yeah, he's a douchebag, but, well, I guess there really is no but. He's a douchebag.
5. Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks: Gee, how nice of Niedermayer to play a full season this year. Forgive me if I hold my applause. Jerk.
6. Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh Penguins: He can be positively dreadful in front of his own net, but it's tough arguing with 25:54 a night and 65 points. And as long as Kid Crosby and Geno the Scoring Machine-o are healthy, Gonchar's point totals will remain wicked high.
7. Jay Bouwmeester, Florida Panthers: Bouwmeester played more minutes than anyone last season (2,252:28), averaging 27:28 a night for the lowly Cats. And the workload hasn't hindered his health, as the rangy rearguard has played 82 games in each of the past three seasons.
One issue with Bouwmeester is scoring consistency. Over the past three seasons, the 24-year-old Alberta native has 10 goals and 43 points in 120 games prior to January 1. After January 1, he has 22 goals and 82 points in 126 games. It would be nice if he could even that out a bit. But again, he won't turn 25 until later this month, so he'll only get better.
8. Brent Burns, Minnesota Wild: The former forward took a quantum leap last season, ringing up 15 goals and 43 points while playing a rugged, physical game. He's a presence at both ends of the ice, plays hard every shift, and at 23, he'll only continue to improve, provided, of course, his recovery from elbow surgery goes well.
And Burns isn't scared to lay the smacketh down on Phaneuf, either...
9. Mike Green, Washington Capitals: A brilliant skater, Green can lead the rush himself or jump in late to light the lamp while everyone is obsessed with Ovechkin. In terms of talent, Green's puck skills are second to none. He can do it all. Obviously, his defensive game needs to mature, and he doesn't kill penalties, but his offensive abilities are simply overwhelming. Green had 40 points in his final 44 games last year, and he's surrounded with top-notch offensive talent, ensuring the good times will keep on truckin'.
10. Michael Komisarek, Montreal Canadiens: Yeah, that's right. I said it. Mike Komisarek.
It's about time someone gives an old school defensive defeseman some love. Komisarek is a baaaaad man. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder led all NHL blueliners in hits (266) and blocked shots (227). In fact, his combined total of 493 hits and blocks was miles ahead of his nearest competitor, Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik (364).
Komisarek will never score enough to be a legit No. 1, but if I'm starting a team from current NHLers, he'd be on the roster.
Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks: Before falling victim to a haunted skate, Boyle was on his way to becoming the best offensive defenseman in hockey, piling up 35 goals and 116 points in the first two seasons after the lockout. Last year, though, was a complete disaster. Aside from the sliced arm, Boyle also went for minus-29 in 37 games with the Bolts. The good news is he'll get a fresh start with the Sharks and should be a lock for 50+ points. The bad news is he's now teammates with Jeremy Roenick. There isn't enough chlorine in the world...
Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs: Wait, Toronto still has a team?
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks: Another good young, defensive stud, Keith could still develop into a 40-point guy.
Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens: Steady point-producer.
Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers: Timonen has all the skill and smarts to be a Top 10 guy, but blood clots ain't no joke.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: Weber's my boy. Hopefully he'll be healthy this year, otherwise there's really no point in Nashville continuing to exist.
Ryan Whitney, Pittsburgh Penguins: Whitney never looked like himself last year, and now we know why. A displaced foot can't be fun. When healthy, he's still this generation's Larry Murphy and could be the next blueliner to go for 80 points. Unfortunately, he won't get the chance to put up numbers like that until 2009-2010.
Sergei Zubov, Dallas Stars: Now 38, Zubov's injury woes last year were a promise of things to come.
NO, I DIDN'T FORGET ABOUT...
Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks: He's a whiny, crying little baby who embarrassed himself with his lack of effort and competitiveness in last year's playoffs. Screw Campbell in the ear.
Braydon Coburn, Philadelphia Flyers: Thanks, Atlanta!
Tobias Enstrom, Atlanta Thrashers: The Thrashers' top pair of Coburn and Enstrom should anchor the squad for the next 10 years. Oh, wait. That's right. Never mind.
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings: Yeah, I forgot Kronwall when I first posted this. (Sunshine) Detroit.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: A swell skater and puck-mover, Letang is also more physical than most would suspect. He could see a serious bump in minutes, particularly on the power play, with Whitney on the shelf. I just like how the Penguins finally get a right-handed shot in Letang, and then Therrien still uses him on the right point on the man-advantage. Aw, that's just Therrien being Therrien.