MONTREAL - Their inked contracts may not quite grab the same headlines that forwards will, but don't be fooled, defensemen are worth their weight in gold. The 2007 playoffs again proved that defense wins championships.
With the one-two punch of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer having just led the Anaheim Ducks on their playoff march, defensemen may get a longer look than usual this summer.
Having evolved under the guidance of both Niedermayer and newly announced Hall of Famer Scott Stevens on the Devils' blue line, Brian Rafalski will be a popular guy come Sunday. The 33-year-old picked the perfect time to put up a career-best 55 points, on his way to earning his second NHL All-Star nod.
Any of San Jose's recent goalies will be the first to tell you how they've slept better at night with Scott Hannan clearing their crease. Never flashy nor one to put up offensive numbers, Hannan would be a welcome addition to any NHL blue line. The 28-year-old has yet to ever end a season a negative plus-minus rating in his nine-year career.
With the Red Wings' Mathieu Schneider having apparently sipped from teammate Chris Chelios' fountain of youth, the 38-year-old remains one of the most productive defensemen in the game. Having broken in with the Canadiens in the late 1980s, Schneider's only Stanley Cup ring came in Montreal in the spring of 1993.
A name which will ring a bell for Habs GM Bob Gainey is Darryl Sydor. The sturdy stay-at-home defenseman was brought to Dallas by Gainey where he emerged as a key component of the Stars' Stanley Cup-winning blue line in 1999. The 35-year-old added a second Cup ring to this collection in 2004 with the Lightning.
It may have been a lifetime ago since he was the first player chosen as the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, but Roman Hamrlik could be what the doctor ordered for clubs with tight budgets in search of an experienced defenseman.
Other rearguards slated to hit the market include: Brad Stuart, Tom Preissing, Tom Poti, Aaron Miller, Brent Sopel, Andy Sutton, Teppo Numminen.
As for Sheldon Souray - the biggest fish in the free agent pool among defensemen this summer - his Canadiens' dressing room stall remains intact, and Habs fans hope it stays that way.
With Gainey and the Canadiens holding exclusive negotiations rights with Souray until noon on July 1, NHL teams licking their chops waiting to speak to the All-Star defenseman may want to hold off a little while longer before stitching Sheldon's name to their jersey.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com