Playing defense in the NHL is a multifaceted job. Long gone are the days when defensemen were immobile, bruising players who were just trying to slow down their opponents.
Sure, one must match up on the defensive end against the opposing teams' top forwards, but one must also have enough vision, stickhandling and passing skills to generate breakouts from the defensive zone.
On top of that is the play at the offensive end of the ice, where the best defensemen are able to make plays to set up their teammates as well as their own shots. Quarterbacking the power play is another attribute to consider when assessing top-flight defensemen.
Using the VUKOTA projection system found in Hockey Prospectus 2013-14, we are able to predict who the league's top defensemen will be for the upcoming campaign. In 2013, P.K. Subban broke out, to the tune of a Norris Trophy award, and our system believes he'll record another strong season.
You'll see the use of the metric GVT in the following rankings, which stands for goals versus threshold and is the cornerstone of our projection system. Click here for an introduction to GVT.
1. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens: 14.4 GVT
Subban has played three full NHL seasons, notching 38, 36 and 38 points, which would be fairly ordinary, until the "games played" column is taken into account. By notching 38 in 42 games in 2013, the Norris Trophy winner shattered his previous best points-per-game output, thanks to his skyrocketing power-play production. With seven goals and 19 assists on the man advantage, his 26 power-play points set a new career high by eight, in roughly half as many games.
Worth considering is the fact that his even-strength points-per-60-minutes rate has finished between 0.85 and 1.00 in all three of his campaigns, which indicates that he still has room to take his game to another level at 5-on-5.