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Top-5 defensemen in the Eastern Conference?

August 9, 2018, 10:58 AM ET [74 Comments]
HockeyBuzz Hotstove
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In this edition of the hotstove, we share our rankings for the top-5 defensemen in the Eastern Conference.

Todd Cordell

1. Erik Karlsson

Last season Karlsson missed training camp, played the season with a messed up ankle, andstill led all defenders in Goals Above Replacement. If that's a 'down year' for him, clearly he belongs atop this list.

2. Victor Hedman

Hedman has recorded at least 15 goals and 60 points in consecutive seasons while also driving play. Very few have his mix of size and skill.

3. Seth Jones

He is an effortless skater who can drive play, create offense, and suppress shots. I think he deserved to be a Norris finalist in 2017-18.

4. Dougie Hamilton

Over the last two seasons, only Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson have produced points at a higher clip during 5v5 play. He's elite offensively and his defensive game is better than he gets credit for. My biggest nitpick with his game is he takes too many stick penalties.

5. Jaccob Slavin

Slavin is one of those guys you have to watch closely to really appreciate. He's not going to wow you with end-to-end rushes or crazy point totals. He's just extremely smart, positionally sound, and good at, well, everything.

James Tanner

1. Victor Hedman

The reigning Norris Trophy Winner and a player on the rise, I think it's safe to say that Hedman is a respectable choice for the best defenseman in the NHL, let alone the Eastern Conference. Blessed with the size and speed to baffle people, Hedman's newfound offensive prowess has only added what was already a very good number one defenseman.

He can score, he can pass, he can defend, he can hit and he can skate. It took a few years, but the limitless potential as the Swedish "Pronger" he was anointed in the 2008 draft has finally come to fruition. With the defense core that he leads, it's hard to see him not repeating the Norris.

2. Erik Karlsson

In a season where everything went wrong, Karlsson was still good. Sometimes great. Return from a devastating injury. An even more devastating personal loss. The destruction of the locker room by a trusted teammates partner. Yet he still ended the year with 62 points in 71 games. That is a BAD year for Karlsson. Think about, we rant and rave about how "poor" he is defensively, yet in the worst case scenario of his career he posts what most players would DREAM to be their career high...in just 71 games.

He was not the Karlsson of the playoffs who looked like Bobby Orr for vast stretches, but he was still a dominant force against all adversity. I expect a huge year from him, especially if he truly is looking to get out of Ottawa. He can prove he's worth every penny.

Two Norris Trophies and Four 70+ point seasons (5 if on pace). Yet we still treat him like he's Marc-Andre Bergeron. So strange.

3. Seth Jones

The young Jones was an animal last season. He and Werenski formed the best young defense tandem in the NHL.

At 23 and 21 the two played the hardest minutes on a "contender" and thrived. His 57 points and 16 goals was a career high and looking like an indication of what to expect going forward. He's constantly gaining confidence and is shooting more and more. Something that he lacked as a young defenseman (hey! similar to Hedman right?).

By the end of the Jackets playoff series against the champs he was playing about half the game. His athleticism and pure ability with and chemistry with a similarly talented Werenski have him as a darkhorse for the Norris in my opinion.

4. John Carlson

It's hard to hate John Carlson after winning the Cup and consistently scoring. He managed to top the NHL in points by a defenseman which helped land him a lucrative deal. The big 6'3 sometimes "two-way" defenseman has honed his scoring abilities with some of the best in the game.

While not part of the shutdown tandem in Washington, he constantly had to play with lesser talents on his pairing and carry them. He had to be the driving force on his pairing and hope nobody took advantage of Orpik, Djoos (regular season) or Kempny (playoffs).

After the year he had, it's hard to place him off this list.

5. Ivan Provorov

There were several players that I feel could fill number 5. An actually healthy Letang, an actually healthy Ekblad, the underrated Orlov or next years McAvoy. I went with my personal favourite, Provorov.

His defensive game is years beyond his age and he has been improving his offensive game at the pro level at a huge rate.

The Flyers have been a Power Play Monster for years now. Mix and match, it doesn't matter, they produce due to the talent and I assume (hope) the coaching. Gostisbehere is the PP QB for the Flyers, he runs it with Giroux and Voracek. Yet Provorov playing secondary PP minutes and the Flyers' hardest defensive assignments ended up with 17 goals and 41 points. Just 2g and 5p on the PP. His 36 points at Even Strength were good for 5th in the Eastern Conference. Everybody ahead of him had over 3 times the amount of PP points while being their teams primary PP option.

He started the majority of his time in the defensive zone as a 20-21 year old and thrived. Insanity. I think he will be the best Russian defenseman of the decade.

Trevor Shackles

1. Erik Karlsson: Nobody is de-throning the King, even after a down year. The thing is, he had one of the worst shooting luck while he was on the ice last season, so of course it's going to look bad when every mistake he made led to a goal. Karlsson's still a machine though.

2. Victor Hedman: He was a deserving recipient of the Norris, and it seems like he keeps getting better every single season. Can you imagine him and Karlsson on the same team?

3. Seth Jones: This is a bit off the board, but if I had a vote for the Norris, I would have given it to Jones. He's really taken his game to an elite level since coming to Columbus, as he's not only elite defensively but offensively too.

4. Torey Krug: Krug is one of the most underrated players in the league, as he's a 50+ point defenseman that has elite possession numbers. I didn't think I'd have him this high, but he's less flawed than other players behind him.

5. Shayne Gostisbehere: I know it might look strange to not include John Carlson on this list, but I just don't think he is as good as he was last season, plus his shot impacts have never been elite. Gostisbehere seems like a better bet moving forward to have an impact all around the ice.

Update: forgot about Dougie Hamilton being traded East. He would rank No. 3 and everyone else would move one slot down.

Adam French

1. Erik Karlsson - He is I think almost unanimously considered the best defenseman in hockey. He scored 62 points on the Senators last year. Imagine what he'd do on a team like Washington or Toronto.

2. Dougie Hamilton - If Karlsson ever starts to decline, Hamilton will be right there to assume the title of best defenseman in the NHL.

3. Victor Hedman - Accounting for injuries, he has essentially been a 50 point defenseman for the last five years, he is in the prime of his career and playing on one of the best teams in the NHL. You could rank him number 1 or 2 or 3, there's no hardly any difference between these three players.

4. Seth Jones - One more year and he will move up with the three players above him on this list. If he's not already there now. Seems insane that the team that traded Jones currently has the best blue line in the NHL.

5. Zach Werenski - Just a notch below Jones, Columbus is stacked with these two to build around.

Honorable mention to Gostisbehere, Letang, and Gardiner.

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