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Top 10 of the 2010s: Defensemen

Since I’ve been manning the point in this exercise, there’s no better time to spice things up a little than with the defense. For the series so far, the structure has been a countdown of each position from ten to one and then listing the rest not mentioned. Since there’s 30 defensemen that qualified, I’ll not only do the normal countdown, I’ll also do a “Next 10” with full rankings listed.

If you’re not familiar yet with what has occurred, all week I’ve been breaking down the top players of the last decade by position using analysis from Evolving Wild’s RAPM and GAR models, as well as my own models. We started with the centers, followed by the left wingers and right wingers. For the sake of organizing and generalizing these stats, I created three categories to rank, “Offense”, “Defense”, and “Overall”.

As I’ve previously noted, these rankings are based off a per-60 rate basis, allowing us to compare players with sizable differences in total games played and ice time throughout the decade. I didn’t want to reward or discredit players for their length of time in Buffalo, since that is mostly out of their control. Instead, I felt it was more appropriate to see which player played the best in his time given.

Consistency is the key here, as this is not a ranking of peak seasons. I did, however, list the best season for the top 10 for the sake of nostalgia. With that said, here are the defensemen:

The Next 10

20 – Craig Rivet

Overall – 59th

Offense – 65th

Defense – 33rd

19 – Brandon Montour

Overall – 58th

Offense – 49th

Defense – T-54th

18 – Nikita Zadorov

Overall – 56th

Offense – T-32nd

Defense – 72nd

17 – Marco Scandella

Overall – 53rd

Offense – 34th

Defense – 70th

16 – Henrik Tallinder

Overall – 52nd

Offense – 36th

Defense – 51st

15 – Colin Miller

Overall – 51st

Offense – 61st

Defense – T-40th

14 – Tyler Myers

Overall – 44th

Offense – T-32nd

Defense – T-54th

13 – Zach Bogosian

Overall – 43rd

Offense – 21st

Defense – 66th

12 – Jordan Leopold

Overall – 41st

Offense – 27th

Defense – 61st

11 – Jake McCabe

Overall – 37th

Offense – 52nd

Defense – 29th

10 – Nathan Beaulieu

Overall – 36th

Offense – 19th

Defense – 67th

Best season – 2018-2019

Beaulieu went through a couple seasons where he was battling to be in the lineup, but, when he was, he fared pretty well. Due to this, his trade request in he second season was somewhat warranted, since the names ahead of him in the lineup are mostly names behind him on this list.

9 – Cody Franson

Overall – 30th

Offense – 39th

Defense – 14th

Best season – 2016-2017

Not the fleetest of foot, Franson looked suspect at times on the ice upon first glance. He always measured well in the analytics community, however, and his 2016-2017 season was considerably better than his previous. Positioning and composure under pressure were qualities that helped his defensive game, and specifically helped his expected goals against.

8 – Casey Nelson

Overall – 28th

Offense – 62nd

Defense – 6th

Best season – 2018-2019

Brought in as a college free agent signing with hopes of becoming a powerplay quarterback, Nelson bounced between the AHL and NHL refining his game in a completely different way. He measured as the third best defensive defenseman of the decade, which makes you wonder if he deserved a shot to play in the NHL again this past season.

7 – Mark Pysyk

Overall – 26th

Offense – 41st

Defense – 12th

Best season – 2015-2016

Point-blank, Pysyk’s 2015-2016 season made him an analytics darling. At even strength, his expected goals percentage and corsi percentage were remarkable, suggesting that he was poised to become a pivotal part of a suspect blueline. Instead, Tim Murray traded him for Dmitry Kulikov, turning the tide significantly.

6 – Toni Lydman

Overall – 24th

Offense – 31st

Defense – 16th

Best season – 2009-2010

Lydman’s tenure only carried one season into the 2010s, but he is remembered as one of the most consistent defensemen in Sabres history. His play waned a bit after time, as did his team’s, but he was still able to still successfully limit goals against despite giving up better quality opportunities.

5 – Andrej Sekera

Overall – 19th

Offense – 20th

Defense – 15th

Best season – 2011-2012

Seemingly Brian Campbell’s successor, Sekera had big shoes to fill. He put up a couple really strong seasons in the decade, although he molded himself into a mobile defensive defenseman as opposed to Campbell’s powerplay quarterback role. Shots attempts and shot quality were hard to come by with Sekera, which vaulted him to fifth on this list.

4 – Steve Montador

Overall – 15th

Offense – 21st

Defense – 5th

Best season – 2010-2011

Montador was a fan-favorite, and put up his best offensive years in Buffalo. His corsi-for numbers at even strength were stellar, and he did an even better job at limiting chances against before moving on to Chicago. Unfortunately, Montador suffered from CTE and post-concussion depression after his time in the Windy City, and tragically passed in 2015.

3 – Chris Butler

Overall – 13th

Offense – 11th

Defense – T-40th

Best season – 2009-2010

If you were waiting for a surprise in the rankings, well, you’ve probably found it here. Chris Butler put up two strong seasons to begin the decade, despite playing only 59 and 49 games, respectively. 2010-2011 was the stronger of his two seasons at even strength, but it was his special teams play that boosted him up this list. Butler was remarkably efficient in 2009-2010 on the powerplay, and nearly as effective on the penalty kill when given the opportunity.

2 – Christian Ehrhoff

Overall – 11th

Offense – 10th

Defense – 37th

Best season – 2012-2013

Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff were acquired in the same offseason, giving the Sabres two shiny new big-named defensemen in the lineup. Only one, however, prospered in Buffalo. Ehrhoff was very strong all-around, providing offense that turned out to be the best from anybody on the back-end in the decade. Heck, he even teamed with Alexander Sulzer and turned that into a formidable first pair. His ranking should come as no surprise, taking a backseat to the only one blueliner he possibly could.

1 – Rasmus Dahlin

Overall – 6th

Offense – 12th

Defense – 2nd

Best season – 2018-2019

Where to begin? Dahlin burst onto the scene as advertised, playing with incredible poise as an 18 year-old. He started a little slow in his sophomore season, but by the new year was back to form. Dahlin’s defensive numbers were second-best among all skaters, and his offensive numbers were very strong, specifically on the powerplay. It will be interesting to see if the even strength production takes off in the coming years, as well as how he’ll fare if he ever receives time on the penalty kill.

Not mentioned:

Shaone Morrisonn (60th overall)

Josh Gorges (63rd)

Mike Weber (66th)

Rasmus Ristolainen (67th)

Henri Jokiharju (69th)

Justin Falk (71st)

Andrej Meszaros (73rd)

Jamie McBain (74th)

Robyn Regehr (76th)

Andre Benoit (80th)

Other position rankings:


Left Wingers

Right Wingers


If the poll below is not showing up on your newsreader, please click here to go vote.

Who would you rank as the Sabres best defenseman of the decade?

Rasmus Dahlin 98
Christian Ehrhoff 21
Other 18

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