EP Rinkside Top 30 defencemen rankings for the 2021-22 season
Evaluating forwards can be complicated but ultimately it comes down to a pretty simple benchmark: Does this player help his team out-score his opponents by putting the puck in the net, set up his teammates to put the puck in the net, or help prevent the other team from putting the puck in the net? So even an analytics-infused ranking — especially one that does not include bottom sixers — might have a few controversial picks but it will ultimately share similar contours to public perception.
Defencemen are a whole different ball game. The borderline uselessness of points when assessing them, since so many come from noisy secondary assists and are dependent on who they play with and how much powerplay time they get, means that the strongest common currency in hockey discussion goes pretty much out the window. As tough as it is to admit, a lot of the perception around the league's top defencemen is based as much on vibes as it is anything legitimate, and when you consider how different people might value physicality, turnovers, scoring, etc. it's just a mess.
So undoubtedly, this will be my most controversial ranking here. I did limit myself to players who have a significant #1 or top pairing role on their team, because when you're talking about the best of the best there needs to be some kind of cut-off where we can take the results seriously. As with the other rankings, the statistics factored in include TopDownHockey's Wins Above Replacement model, InStat's tracked microstats, and Corey Sznajder's All Three Zones project.
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