Pen­guins and Ducks try to buck re­cent trend

Win­ning a Stan­ley Cup usu­ally isn’t done without hav­ing an elite de­fence­man

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JONAS SIEGEL

The Philadel­phia Fly­ers showed the hockey world what a No. 1 de­fence­man meant in July 2012 when they signed then-Nashville Preda­tors de­fence­man Shea We­ber to a spec­tac­u­lar 14-year of­fer sheet worth $110 mil­lion US.

Let­ting We­ber walk would’ve meant a haul of top draft picks for the Preds, but the club matched the of­fer and de­scribed it as “the most im­por­tant hockey trans­ac­tion in fran­chise his­tory.”

Teams that com­pete for a Stan­ley Cup without an elite de­fence­man such as We­ber are al­most non-ex­is­tent these days, but this might just be one of those odd years when the trend is bucked — with two of the four teams re­main­ing lack­ing such a player.

The Ana­heim Ducks cap­tured their first and only Cup in 2007 with a pair of fu­ture Hall of Famers at the top of their de­fence in Scott Nie­der­mayer and Chris Pronger. There’s no such player fronting this year’s edi­tion though; the Ducks de­fence is in­stead made up of a col­lec­tion of well-rounded parts.

Fowler, who’s ab­sorb­ing al­most 27 min­utes per-game this spring, is the clos­est thing the Ducks have to that ace.

Pitts­burgh, mean­while, lacks any­thing close to the top-end No. 1 guy with Kris Le­tang shelved for the play­offs by a neck in­jury. The Pens are try­ing to go back-to-back for the Cup with a col­lec­tive ap­proach in his ab­sence, dol­ing out near-even min­utes to their pack of six, which is gen­er­ally led by for­mer Oil­ers cast-off Justin Schultz.

The Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors don’t just have that lead de­fence­man, but maybe the best one in the world at the mo­ment in cap­tain Erik Karls­son. The 26-year-old, a two-time Nor­ris tro­phy win­ner as the NHL’s best de­fence­man, has shred­ded foes dur­ing the play­offs, hum­ming at around a point per-game while soak­ing up nearly 30 min­utes ev­ery night.

Nashville has not one, but maybe two can­di­dates in P.K. Sub­ban, the for­mer Nor­ris win­ner who was flipped for We­ber last summer, and Ro­man Josi, the Swiss de­fender who fin­ished fifth in the Nor­ris vot­ing in each of the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons.

It’s that de­fence, and the top of it es­pe­cially, which makes the Preds such a threat.

Get­ting 16 wins without the de­fender who can kill penal­ties, run a power play, match up with top lines and drive an of­fence has shown to be highly im­prob­a­ble — bor­der­ing on im­pos­si­ble. It’s just too many games at too high a level to sur­vive most of the time.

Only two real ex­cep­tions ex­ist since the 2004-05 lock­out: The ’09 Pitts­burgh Pen­guins, who had Sid­ney Crosby and Ev­geni Malkin at their phys­i­cal peaks, and the ’06 Carolina Hur­ri­canes, who rode Cam Ward and Eric Staal to a first and only Cup.

2016 Pitts­burgh Pen­guins — Le­tang: 15 points, 29 min­utes per-game

2015 Chicago Black­hawks— Dun­can Keith: 21 points, 31 min­utes per-game

2014 Los An­ge­les Kings — Drew Doughty: 18 points, 29 min­utes per-game

2013 Chicago Black­hawks — Keith: 13 points, 28 min­utes per-game

2012 Los An­ge­les Kings — Doughty: 16 points, 26 min­utes per-game

2011 Bos­ton Bru­ins — Zdeno Chara: nine points, 28 min­utes per-game

2010 Chicago Black­hawks — Keith: 17 points, 28 min­utes per-game

*2009 Pitts­burgh Pen­guins — Sergei Gon­char: 14 points, 23 min­utes per-game

2008 Detroit Red Wings — Nick­las Lid­strom: 13 points, 27 min­utes per-game

2007 Ana­heim Ducks — Nie­der­mayer: 11 points, 30 min­utes per-game/Pronger: 15 points, 30 min­utes per-game

*2006 Carolina Hur­ri­canes: Bret Hed­i­can: 11 points, 23 min­utes per-game


The Pitts­burgh Pen­guins will be try­ing to buck a trend and win the Stan­ley Cup without a No. 1 de­fence­man. Pitts­burgh top de­fence­man, Kris Le­tang, is injured and out of the play­offs.

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