Projected Defensive GVT Leaders
With two of the top five defensemen in the NHL and two of the top three defensive forwards, the Red Wings easily top the ESPN The Magazine projections as the top defensive team.
Player Team DGVT
1. Nicklas Lidstrom DET 7.1
2. Duncan Keith CHI 6.5
3. Mike Green WSH 6.3
4. Marc-Edouard Vlasic SJS 6.1
5. Brian Rafalski DET 6.0
Player Team DGVT
1. Pavel Datsyuk DET 4.7
2. Mikko Koivu MIN 4.4
3. Henrik Zetterberg DET 4.3
4. Alexander Ovechkin WSH 4.3
5. Zach Parise NJD 4.2
After acquiring the services of defenseman Chris Pronger this offseason, the popular belief is that the Philadelphia Flyers had established themselves as one of the elite defensive teams in the league. Those who have bought into that thinking might want to reconsider.
The Flyers' defensive depth is remarkably poor when calculated by Puck Prospectus' defensive GVT (DGVT) metric. After Pronger (4.5 DGVT), Kimmo Timonen (4.6 DGVT) and Braydon Coburn (4.0 DGVT), the Flyers have no one else with a defensive GVT over 4.0. Two of Philadelphia's defenders and 10 of Philadelphia's forwards have defensive GVTs below 2.0. To put that in context, 2.0 is the average mark for NHL forwards. The average for defenseman is 3.5.
There are several factors that go into defensive GVT, but one of the main components is the number of shots on goal a team allows below the league average. By that measure, the Flyers -- who allowed an average of 32.5 shots on goal per game last season, tied for the fifth most in the NHL -- were abysmal. Don't get us wrong: Pronger is a great addition. It's just that one player alone won't mask an entire team's deficiencies on defense.
By contrast, Detroit is the best defensive team on the list. The Red Wings have big-time defenders Nicklas Lidstrom (7.1 DGVT) as well as Brian Rafalski (6.0 DGVT) in the first pairing. When your first pairing involves two of the top five defenders in the game (see chart), you know you're off to a great start on the defensive side of the puck. Add to the mix the underrated Niklas Kronwall (5.4 DGVT) and two of the top three defensive forwards in the game, according to VUKOTA's projections, in Henrik Zetterberg (4.3 DGVT) and Pavel Datsyuk (4.7 DGVT), and very few shots ever get put on net.
Minnesota and Boston are not nearly as good as Detroit, but they both are still above-average defenses. Flaunting one of the top-five first-pair defensive combinations in hockey -- Dennis Wideman (5.9 DGVT) and Zdeno Chara (5.4 DGVT) -- helps Boston. The Wild don't have the elite defensemen that both Boston and Detroit have, but they do have more of a balanced group of defenders. With Brent Burns (4.4 DGVT), Kim Johnsson (4.5 DGVT), Nick Schultz (4.2 GVT) and Greg Zanon (4.4 DGVT), Minnesota has above-average defensemen at all three of its active defensive pair units. No team can bring the defensive depth that Minnesota has.
The Dallas Stars also feature a lot of defensive depth, after signing Karlis Skrastins in the offseason to a two-year, $1.375 million deal to improve the defense. How will this work out? Well, VUKOTA sees Dallas as being 11th in the league on defense with only 242 goals allowed. However, the strong projection for the Stars has more to do with the strong defensive play of last season's players, such as Stephane Robidas (5.1 DGVT), Matt Niskanen (4.4 DGVT) and Trevor Daley (4.3 DGVT), as opposed to Skrastins. Skrastins, according to VUKOTA, will be only the sixth-best defenseman on Dallas with a 2.5 DGVT, so he shouldn't be more than a third pair option.
One of the worst teams on defense this year, according to VUKOTA, will be the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto allowed a league-high 293 goals last year, and things aren't expected to get better this year. In the process of becoming tougher, the Leafs did in fact do something positive. Adding Jonas Gustavsson addresses the constant goaltending issues they've had in Toronto, but the Leafs have done little else to improve the team elsewhere.
Defensemen Mike Komisarek (2.9 DGVT) and Francois Beauchemin (2.2 DGVT) will be largely ineffective in their own end, and 31-year-old Tomas Kaberle (3.1 DGVT), the subject of many trade rumors, should have already been dealt. The player Leafs fans cling to as a hope for the future, youngster Luke Schenn (2.0 DGVT), is still years away from being productive.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Andrew by clicking here or click here to see Andrew's other articles.