Is it the end of an era where stay-at-home defensemen were poised as one of the most important pieces for a Stanley Cup Winning team? It might not be yet, but I believe they are an endangered species right now. We always say how the game of hockey is always evolving and “its a new age.” You hear former professionals say all the time how if they played now “there’s no way they could play in this league.” The game has changed from needing the gritty players and the shut down D-men dominating the defensive zone to the need for puck-moving defensive with speed. It has slowly been growing towards this phase for some time now and these playoffs have really shown it. The start of it was in the 2012 draft where 8 of the first 10 picks were defenseman (all of them known for dishing sauce and handling biscuits) and it has continued to grow since.
Take a look at the Boston Bruins Defensive unit right now. The Bruins have been the best all-around team in the Playoffs and their D-core is made up of players that are great at handling the puck (with the exception of Chara). It doesn’t hurt to have your number one defensive guy to be 6’9 so he can basically poke check anything within a 2-mile radius. But guys like McAvoy, Clifton, and Krug can all skate with speed, distribute the puck, and take it themselves or even better, join the rush in certain opportunities and be able to get back into position. These guys have changed the NHL drastically now as they make it easier for teams to break out of their own zone and get through the neutral zone with possession.
Another team full of puck-moving 2-way guys are the Carolina Hurricanes. Justin Faulk, Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin all showed in the first 2 rounds of the playoffs their skills with the puck. And they handled one of the top teams in the league to prevent their back-to-back Cup run to even start.
The San Jose Sharks are built the same way. Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns lead their back six who are two of the best offensive defensemen in the league. Sure they have guys like Braun, and Vlasic, there will always be value in a guy that stays at home and block everything that comes their way. But they also need to be able to move the puck with speed and skate with speed. Otherwise the rest of the NHL is gonna blow by them. It’s a speed game now.
My point is there are less and less Orpik’s and Chara’s in this league. Before we know it, these guys will be gone for good. These new speedy young studs are slowly starting to push out the slower moving shut-down defensemen in the league earlier and earlier in their careers such as Karl Alzner. Anyone know where he’s playing? I certainly don’t (good, fuck that guy anyways). The guys like Niskanen, Dan Girardi, Dion Phaneuf, even Marc Staal are a dying breed and we might be nearing the end of them. Matt Niskanen looked very slow in this year’s playoffs and now everyone is calling for him to get traded. We all complained about Orpik all year long as well. And who were the caps missing for the playoffs? Arguably their second-best puck-moving defenseman in Kempny. No I haven’t forgotten about Orlov, but missing Kempny certainly showed how valuable he is to the Caps. I certainly hope GMBM picks up on the latest trend in the NHL because our defensemen looked slower than Chirpin_Kyle’s reading ability.