Most Trusted Defensive Pairs From The 2013 NHL Season

Phil Kessel is not a defensive defenseman. - Abelimages

Some defensive pairs get buried in difficult minutes. This is their story.

The end of the season brings us the need to fill space on the front page mountains of data to comb through which can be used to make observations about the sport we love so much. In this installment of "sorting columns in Excel" we look at the defensive pairs that saw the most difficult minutes in the NHL, and what they did with those minutes.

The list may surprise you to a certain degree, but then again no Eastern Conference teams came to Dallas this year so, unless you sought out the Toronto Maple Leafs, you might not be familiar with the entire list. The first pair shouldn't be too surprising though.

Zbynek Michalek/ Oliver Ekman-Larsson

The Phoenix Coyotes like to get weird in the desert. Dave Tippett is well known for emphasizing transition, and his top defensive pairing this season reflected that fact. Tippett matched Michalek and Ekman-Larsson up against the top opposition line nightly, almost regardless of position on the ice.

The curious thing about the Coyotes this season is how much they piled on this pair. The difficulty of their ice time is so much more challenging than that of their teammates that you have to be in awe of the fact that they didn't get bludgeoned on a nightly basis on the shot charts. Comparing the Coyotes top pair to their teammates is comical.

Name OZ% QualComp
Ekman-Larsson 45.8 2.76
Michalek 46.3 2.37
Klesla 48.7 0.79
Schlemko 57.8 0.59
Stone 45.7 0.36
Morris 60 -0.38
Yandle 60 -0.53
Biz Nasty 67.9 -1.24

The most hilarious aspect is the quality of competition. No one on the Coyotes came close to seeing the kind of ice time Ekman-Larsson and Michalek saw. The fact that they finished as close to the playoffs as they did while basically riding one defensive pair (and not much else) is remarkable.

Dion Phaneuf/ Not Dion Phaneuf

Name QualComp OZ%
Phaneuf 2.14 41.3
Gunnarsson 1.42 39.8
Holzer 1.34 40.9

We go from a team that rode a defensive unit to two teams that rode a defensive player. The Maple Leafs got a Norris level effort out of Phaneuf this year. At different points he played with Korbinian Holzer and Carl Gunnarsson. On top of being depended upon to play such difficult minutes (a good portion of which were with various James Bond villains), Phaneuf was able to produce an elite offensive season. He finished the season 10th in points among defensemen with 28.

Stephane Robidas / Brenden Dillon

Brenden Dillon had an excellent debut season, and part of the credit for that debut should go to the steadying hand of Stephane Robidas. Dillon was allowed to go out early, make a few mistakes, and get comfortable at the NHL level. That's possible when you play with a stout defensive player like Robidas.

57% of the zone starts for this pair were in their own end. The only Stars dman with a higher percentage was Aaron Rome, but he saw marginal competition.The Stars ultimately didn't get the results they wanted, but one of the things they needed to do this season was define some defensive roles a little more clearly. The added definition provided by Robidas and Dillon kept the Stars much closer to the playoffs than they otherwise would have been.

The success of this pair for the majority of the year allowed the Stars to roll Alex Goligoski out in situations which maximized his ability to create offense. If the Stars are able to add one top four defender to go with Goligoski/Robidas/Dillon they will have a pretty solid top four in 2014.

Mark Giordano/ Jay Bouwmeester


Mark Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester carried a heavy burden for the Flames prior to Bouwmeester being dealt to the Blues. I don't really have much to say about the pair other than that being the top defensive pair on a terrible team with questionable goaltending sounds like one of the more thankless jobs in professional sports. Bouwmeester got his pardon (and first playoff appearance) at the trade deadline. Hold a thought for Giordano in his quest for salvation.

If the NHL ever made an effort to create a trophy specifically to honor defensive defensemen any number of the players mentioned above would deserve consideration. Players like the guys above are regularly ignored despite how much defensive pressure they have to fight through on a nightly basis, and with the Stars not in the playoffs there is no better time than now for us to recognize their contributions to the 2013 NHL season.


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