Scott Niedermayer was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, and despite all of his accomplishments and his reputation as one of the greatest defensemen in the history of the sport, it still is surprising to see one Norris Trophy on his resume.
That can be explained partly because of Nicklas Lidstrom, who won seven times in eight years (Niedermayer broke his run of dominance in 2004) and partly because Niedermayer's talents probably were not properly appreciated.
He didn't have a booming shot or the offensive numbers of players in more goal-friendly systems, and he didn't dish out the highlight-reel hits like Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger. He was like Lidstrom, an all-round marvel who didn't make mistakes.
The way defensemen play (or are allowed to play) has changed in the NHL, to the point where players who play a style similar to Niedermayer do gain more recognition. Adam Proteau of the Hockey News asked [http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/blossoming-ekman-larsson-leads-surging-coyotes-over-blues-is-he-the-worlds-best-blueliner/] if Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes might be the best defenseman on the planet.
A few other players who are in that discussion, the Minnesota Wild's Ryan Suter, the St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo, the Chicago Blackhawks' Duncan Keith and the Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty, also play a lot more like Niedermayer than Stevens or Pronger. There also are the offense-first players like P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, and more traditional rugged defenders like the Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara and the Nashville Predators' Shea Weber.
Most teams would love to have someone like Weber or Chara, but players who can be that physical and also log No. 1-type minutes have become increasingly hard to find. Let's also just assume Lidstrom was a once-every-couple-of-generations talent like Bobby Orr or Doug Harvey.
In that case, the prototype for the franchise defenseman in recent years does seem to have shifted more in Niedermayer's direction. Most of those players mentioned above also play for teams that figure prominently in the Super 16 rankings, and considering the value of a true No. 1 defenseman, that's not a surprise at all.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, the new-look version is going to focus more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. Also, statistics and team records are through the games Wednesday night.
1. Chicago Blackhawks (12-2-4) LW: 2
They've won six of seven but have an interesting stretch of the season forthcoming. Eight of the next 10 are on the road, and the home games are against the Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks. The Blackhawks are second to San Jose in goals per game and shots on goal per game, and second to Los Angeles in Corsi-for percentage.
MUST READ: Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago writes [http://www.csnchicago.com/blackhawks/blackhawks-pretty-good-start-isnt-so-bad] about the Blackhawks' start in the context of high expectations.
2. St. Louis Blues (11-2-3) LW: 3
Three of the top six scorers on the Blues are defensemen, and Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester are three of the biggest reasons (along with Alexander Steen) that St. Louis is a top-six team in goals-for, goals-against, Corsi-for percentage and shots on goal allowed per game.
MUST READ: Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes [http://www.stltoday.com/sports/hockey/professional/shanahan-made-big-impact-in-short-stay-with-blues/article_a157f18a-0ee6-55a0-9bba-bde1c2e7655b.html] about fond memories of Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Brendan Shanahan during his time with the Blues.
3. San Jose Sharks (11-2-5) LW: 1
It's not the recent losses. Three came in the shootout (including one in which they scored a goal in overtime that was waved off by officials) and one was in overtime. They have been allowing more shots on goal and more scoring chances in the past couple of weeks. They're still great, and even great teams will have a three- or four-game "slump."
MUST READ: San Jose's losing streak was not as bad as it seemed, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area writes [http://www.csnbayarea.com/sharks/sharks-losing-streak-bad-it-sounds].
4. Anaheim Ducks (15-4-1) LW: 5
The Ducks traded Bobby Ryan, but there still was a lot of young talent up front for Anaheim. One of those players was not Mathieu Perreault, but general manager Bob Murray added him two days before the start of the season for a fourth-round pick and a forward with 27 goals in 171 games in the American Hockey League.
Perreault is third on the team in scoring behind Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry with 14 points. He's also among the top scorers among players who changed addresses before the season began. Check out the table to the right for that list.
His addition, along with the free-agent signing of Dustin Penner, has helped the Ducks continue to score loads of goals to complement strong goaltending. Anaheim is second to the Colorado Avalanche in PDO, which means some regression is likely, but the Ducks' other numbers look a little better and there are a few injured players (Jakob Silfverberg, Sheldon Souray) who eventually will help.
MUST READ: Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times writes [http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-ducks-fyi-20131110,0,6611999.story#axzz2kau8rY91] about Penner's impact on the Ducks.
5. Colorado Avalanche (14-3-0) LW: 4
Matt Duchene and some great goaltending are the leading reasons for the Avalanche's hot start. Duchene's crafting a season worthy of MVP discussion and it's certainly possible that will continue. The goaltending is more suspect -- not because of Semyon Varlamov's talent, but a combination of his track record and some generally unsustainable numbers for him and Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
A couple of those numbers come from Rob Vollman at Bleacher Report [http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1840695-ranking-every-nhl-teams-penalty-kill-in-2013-14]. While the Avalanche are third in the League in penalty-killing proficiency, they are fourth-worst in shots on goal allowed per two minutes while shorthanded. The team's save percentage in 4-on-5 situations is .926, which is almost certain to dip.
MUST READ: Nathan MacKinnon has moved around a bit but still is impressing, writes Terry Frei of the Denver Post [http://www.denverpost.com/avalanche/ci_24492069/avalanches-nathan-mackinnon-playing-well-highly-regarded-rookie?source=rss].
6. Boston Bruins (11-5-1) LW: 10
The Bruins are almost machine-like in the way they play. They've won three in a row, but their consistency on defense and in goal remains their greatest asset. The Pittsburgh Penguins have had some troubles, the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators have had a lot of troubles and the Tampa Bay Lighting just lost their best player for months. It would be pretty hard to pick against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference if the Stanley Cup Playoffs were about to begin.
MUST READ: JP Nikota of Pension Plan Puppets [http://www.pensionplanpuppets.com/2013/11/11/5086732/the-bruins-1-2-2-forecheck-leafs] breaks down Boston's 1-2-2 forecheck.
7. Phoenix Coyotes (13-4-2) LW: 8
The Coyotes won four of their first eight games this season but have been rolling over the opposition ever since, save for a couple of trips to Southern California. Phoenix has won four straight shootouts; while relying on the 1-on-1 format to obtain two points is not the best long-term plan, the Coyotes have wins against St. Louis, San Jose, Los Angeles and Vancouver during this 9-2-0 run.
MUST READ: Phoenix has had a penchant for late-game heroics, writes Jerry Brown [http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=691104].
8. Los Angeles Kings (11-6-1) LW: 7
The Kings have gone nearly a month without being outshot in a game; Nashville had more shots on goal than the Kings on Oct. 17. Los Angeles has had more shot attempts in 16 of its 18 games, and that game against the Predators was the only one where the Kings had less than 49 percent of the attempts at even strength.
MUST READ: Longtime Kings defenseman Rob Blake is among the players with a case for inclusion to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and Grantland's Sean McIndoe places odds [http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/82103/whos-next-for-the-hockey-hall-of-fame] on their chances.
9. Minnesota Wild (11-4-4) LW: 12
That 3-3-3 start seems so long ago. The Wild lead the League in shots allowed at 24.1 per game. When the score is close Minnesota has 57.9 percent of the shots on goal at even strength, which also is tops in the NHL. While the penalty-killing percentage is 27th at 77.8 percent, that could be due for an improvement because the Wild are second in shots on goal allowed per two minutes on the PK, according to the article by Vollman referenced above.
MUST READ: Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey writes [http://www.mc79hockey.com/?p=6438] about Wild GM Chuck Fletcher's take on the fluctuation in shot totals from arena to arena.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (11-7-0) LW: 6
Sidney Crosby leads the League in scoring, but he's not racking up points at a 1980s level of late. Evgeni Malkin is not producing at a level commensurate with his talent and track record. When the top two lines are rolling, the Penguins are the most explosive team in the League.
The issue remains the forward depth, and it becomes a real problem when the top players aren't shredding opponents. The absence of James Neal and Beau Bennett had a negative effect on the depth chart, but the players who likely will fill the bottom two lines aren't doing a whole lot at the offensive end.
The table at the right looks at the players who most likely will populate the team's bottom two lines when everyone is healthy. Assuming Jussi Jokinen has played his way into a permanent place on the second line, the Penguins probably would like to see Bennett and Matt D'Agostini stay healthy and possibly secure the forward spots on the third line next to center Brandon Sutter.
MUST READ: Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes [http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5045647-74/team-game-penguins#axzz2kb5lYsYi] about some disconcerting signs for the Penguins.
11. Vancouver Canucks (11-7-2) LW: 9
The Canucks are the winner this week of the "would not be in the playoffs today based on points percentage in the Western Conference but would qualify comfortably in the Metropolitan Division" award. The Canucks had a tough four-game road trip; while it predictably was hard to secure points, a win in San Jose was nice. Unless things change dramatically in the coming months, a really good team (and maybe two) is not going to make the playoffs in the West.
MUST READ: David Ebner of the Globe and Mail writes [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/aggressive-penalty-kill-pays-big-dividends-for-canucks/article15431589/?cmpid=rss1] about Vancouver's top-rated penalty kill.
12. Toronto Maple Leafs (11-6-1) LW: 14
The Maple Leafs' issues with puck possession aren't exactly improving with the player availability issues at center. They have won five times in their past 11 games since a fast start, even though Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have continued to play great in net. The schedule could offer some relief though. Seven of the next eight games are against teams not on this list, including three against the Buffalo Sabres.
MUST READ: Another of Nikota's system-related posts [http://www.pensionplanpuppets.com/2013/11/8/5072516/the-1-3-1-power-play-leafs-analysis] at Pension Plan Puppets, this one on Toronto's 1-3-1 power play.
13. Detroit Red Wings (9-5-5) LW: 11
The Red Wings have points in eight of their past 11 games, but five overtime or shootout losses does not take the sting out what has become a prolonged slump. Detroit needs more offense and that could from a combination of coach Mike Babcock shuffling lines to find more balance or from GM Ken Holland finding some salary cap space so Gustav Nyquist can be recalled. If either or both of those things work out and the defense corps gets healthy, the Wings could be back challenging for the top spot in the East.
MUST READ: Ryan Kennedy of the Hockey News makes the case [http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/54234-Red-Wings-Zetterberg-poised-to-become-new-King-of-Tre-Kronor-at-Olympics.html] for Henrik Zetterberg to be captain for Sweden at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning (13-5-0) LW: 13
The Lightning have been a good story this season with some young forwards supplementing Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, and Ben Bishop playing really well in net. They're going to have to be a great story to remain in playoff contention without Stamkos.
The table at right shows the players who have scored the highest percentage of his team's goals this season. Stamkos was tied for the League lead with Alexander Steen when he was injured, and the Lightning only scored once in their first game without him (though Montreal's Carey Price was great in net against them).
This isn't a new development. Stamkos has 199 goals in the past five seasons -- 22.5 percent of Tampa Bay's offense in that period.
MUST READ: Victor Hedman is making his case for a spot on Sweden's Olympics roster, Mike Morreale writes [http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=690421].
15. Dallas Stars (9-7-2) LW: NR
The Stars are 15th in the League in points percentage, and that's despite a five-game stretch when goalie Kari Lehtonen was unavailable. Dallas went 1-4-0 in those games but has looked like a definite playoff contender when Lehtonen has been in the lineup. The Stars have the same Corsi-for percentage at even strength as Anaheim and Detroit and are just shy of Pittsburgh for a spot in the top 10. Tyler Seguin looks like a No. 1 center, Jamie Benn looks like an Olympian and Lehtonen will be in the Vezina Trophy discussion if he continues at this level and keeps the Stars near the postseason cut line.
MUST READ: Lehtonen is healthy and might be the most underrated goalie in the League. Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News writes [http://www.dallasnews.com/sports/dallas-stars/headlines/20131114-call-it-a-comeback-kari-lehtonen-making-major-statement-in-return-from-injury.ece?nclick_check=1] about Lehtonen's excellent form of late.
16. Montreal Canadiens (9-8-2) LW: 15
The Canadiens are 1-3-2 in the past six games and there is plenty of turmoil, whether it is the managing of P.K. Subban's ice time or David Desharnais' place on the roster. They've only had Max Pacioretty and Daniel Briere for half the games and could use more from Brian Gionta, Rene Bourque and obviously Desharnais. The only forwards in the League who have played at least 17 games and average more ice time than Desharnais with one point or less are Florida's Tomas Kopecky and Toronto's Jay McClement.
But would the Canadiens still be favored against any team from the Metropolitan Division not from Western Pennsylvania in a playoff series if it started today? Most likely.
MUST READ: Our old pal Dave Lozo writes [http://blogs.thescore.com/nhl/2013/11/07/dave-lozos-bag-skate-what-in-the-world-is-michel-therrien-doing-with-p-k-subbans-ice-time/] about the Subban situation in Montreal for Backhand Shelf.
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