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Top 10 unrestricted free-agent defensemen

by Adam Schwartz
The old adage is that defense wins championships, so NHL teams understandably put a premium on having a solid defensive corps.

While the game has evolved so that defensemen are encouraged to get more involved in the offensive zone, there are still many stay-at-home defensemen who aren't out of place in the NHL. Some of them don't offer much of an offensive upside but still have significant value.

NHL general managers try to stock their blue line with the right mix, and there will be a lot of blue-line talent available talent when the free-agent market opens July 1.

Here's a look at the top 10 unrestricted free-agent defensemen (listed alphabetically):

Francois Beauchemin -- Beauchemin, now 29, was an unknown commodity when Anaheim acquired him from the Blue Jackets for Sergei Fedorov in 2005. Then-GM Brian Burke credits current GM Bob Murray for finding Beauchemin, who had played only 12 games in the NHL prior to the deal. Beauchemin wasted little time showing why Murray wanted him -- he had 34 and 28 points in his first two seasons in Anaheim while playing major minutes. The defense pairing of Beauchemin and Scott Niedermayer was arguably Anaheim's best in the 2007 playoffs, when the Ducks won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Beauchemin is coming off a season in which he missed 63 games with a torn ACL before returning to help the Ducks come within one goal of upsetting the eventual Western Conference-champion Red Wings in the second round of the playoffs.

Rob Blake -- Blake turns 40 in December, but showed this season that he's still got something left in the tank. San Jose signed the former All-Star last summer, and he put up his best offensive numbers since 2005-06, scoring 10 goals and adding 35 assists. Blake played the role of experienced veteran when he was paired with 22-year-old Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who set career highs of 30 assists and 36 points. Blake played most of his career with Los Angeles, but did win a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001.

Jay Bouwmeester -- Calgary rolled the dice on the second day of the Entry Draft by making a trade with Florida for three-plus days of exclusive negotiating rights to Bouwmeester, the best defenseman set to come onto the market. That deal came three months after the Panthers rolled the dice at the trade deadline and held onto Bouwmeester instead of dealing him. The plan didn't work -- the Panthers missed the playoffs for the eighth straight season and Bouwmeester won't be back. They'll miss him; the 25-year-old Edmonton native was among the League leaders in ice time and had 15 goals and 42 points while playing all 82 games for the fourth season in a row.

Mike Komisarek -- Komisarek is the consummate defensive defenseman -- he doesn't have much offensive upside, but he's as tough as they come, offering a physical presence on the blue line with his 6-foot-4, 243-pound frame. Killing penalties and clearing rebounds are his strong suit. Komisarek, who was one of two Canadiens from Long Island last season, played in the All-Star Game in Montreal, but missed significant time with injuries and saw his play affected.

Scott Niedermayer -- Niedermayer is the consummate winner; he has won four Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal with Canada, the Memorial Cup with the Kamloops Blazers and a gold medal at the World Junior Championships. At 35, he still has some of the best wheels in hockey -- he had 14 goals and 59 points for Anaheim this past season and has put up 40 or more points in eight seasons. He told Ducks GM Bob Murray on Friday that he plans to play next season, and it's likely he'll remain in Anaheim.

Johnny Oduya -- The former seventh-round pick has quietly become one of the NHL's most effective defensemen and a key member of New Jersey's blue line. He is one of just four defensemen -- including defense partner Paul Martin -- to have 20 points and a rating of plus-20 or better in each of the last two seasons. Both Martin and Oduya can be considered offensive defensemen, but former Devils coach Brent Sutter wasn't afraid to play them together last season because they knew when to join the rush and when to stay back. At age 27, he'll draw plenty of interest if he reaches the market.

Mattias Ohlund -- Ohlund has spent his 11 NHL seasons in Vancouver, but he may wind up somewhere else for season No. 12. Ohlund is a solid veteran, still excellent in his own zone and on the penalty kill. He's not a big points producer, but he's had six 30-point seasons. Ohlund's 770 games played are fifth in franchise history -- but at age 32, he still has a lot of good hockey ahead of him. The question is whether it will be in Vancouver or somewhere else. 

Rob Scuderi -- Scuderi played the best hockey of his career this postseason, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win their first Stanley Cup win since 1992 -- and boosting his market value in the process. The shutdown pairing of Scuderi and fellow free agent Hal Gill kept the opposition's best players at bay. Like fellow Long Island native Komisarek, Scuderi, now 30, is a purely defensive defenseman who doesn't see any power-play time and contributes little on offense but can help a team that needs a more physical presence in its own zone.

Jaroslav Spacek -- Earlier in his career, Spacek was somewhat of a defensive liability, but had a tremendous offensive upside. Spacek's defensive play has improved markedly -- and he has a plus-40 rating in his last five seasons. His offensive skills haven't disappeared, either -- he led Buffalo's defensemen in scoring and was tied for second among Northeast Division defensemen with 37 assists, 19 of which came on the power play. Spacek has jumped around a lot in his career, playing for Florida, Columbus, Edmonton and Chicago (twice) landing in Buffalo. 

Greg Zanon -- Zanon isn't exactly a household name, but he's one of the League's best shot blockers. Zanon was tops in the Central Division and third in the League with 237 blocked shots. Playing for the second-longest tenured coach in the NHL in Barry Trotz, Zanon is used in a mainly defensive capacity and has never even had 15 points in a season. But he'll make life a lot easier for any goalie he plays in front of.

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