- Craig Custance
On Tuesday we explored the Top 10 forward groups in the NHL this season, but scoring alone won't win you a championship. So let's have a look at the NHL's best teams in terms of depth on defense.
Chicago's depth and mobility on defense was as big a reason the Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup as their outstanding group of forwards (which ranked second overall in those ranks). They lead off our Top 10 groups of blueliners in the NHL this season.
The strength of this defense is its skating and ability to lead Chicago's transition game. From Duncan Keith to Nick Leddy, the Blackhawks' defense is loaded with strong skaters. The addition of Johnny Oduya slotted everybody into place by solidifying their second pair, and the Blackhawks have been winning ever since.
The return of Michal Rozsival keeps the group's depth in place, although Leddy is going to have to recover from a less-than-stellar performance in the playoffs. "If Leddy is your No. 6, that's pretty good," an NHL scout said. "I don't think there will be any residual effect [from his postseason struggles] but it was certainly noticeable that his minutes were trimmed."
You could have a defense with Zdeno Chara and five AHL defensemen and it might be in the league's Top 10. Chara is that dominant. Even with the loss of Andrew Ference, this group retains its mix of experience and physical edge. The pair of Chara and Dennis Seidenberg is among the league's best. Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid bring even more toughness after Chara.
The Bruins' defense can also make significant contributions in the offensive zone. "A lot of people didn't even realize that they got a lot of goals from their defense in the playoffs, too," the scout said.
The Bruins will rely on youth more this season, with an opportunity created for Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski. It's extra pressure on the younger players, but Krug especially showed he could handle the pressure during the playoffs last season. "There's definitely a mental side of the game where you have to have the right frame of mind and understand how to take opportunity and go with it," Krug said when we chatted on Tuesday. "That's kind of like what my career is all about."