With Nicklas Lidstrom entering his final season in the NHL (perhaps), the quest to identify the next dominant defensive force will soon begin in earnest. While it may a long time before another player as consistently elite as Lidstrom appears on the blue line, there's no question that NHL GMs still see immense value in a rearguard who can play at both ends of the ice. Over the last year, Dustin Byfuglien, Christian Ehrhoff and Shea Weber have garnered extended, high-priced contracts thanks to this perception.
These names -- and others -- appear in the following list of the projected top-10 defenders in terms of Hockey Prospectus' player value metric, goals versus threshold (GVT), as predicted by our VUKOTA projection system. (For more information on GVT and VUKOTA, click here.)
1. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: 15.5 GVT
When the Atlanta Thrashers converted Byfuglien back to defense after he spent several seasons as a forward for the Chicago Blackhawks, it seemed like an odd choice. Byfuglien justified that decision, however, by becoming one of the highest-scoring rearguards in the league. His 20 goals and 347 shots on goal were both league highs among defensemen, and his 53 points were the most he's managed in the NHL.
Byfuglien and partner Tobias Enstrom are the club's first choice to play on the man advantage, and they aren't burdened with shutdown duties. This is why VUKOTA projects Byfuglien to have the highest expected offensive GVT (11.1) of any defender this coming season.