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Who is the best defenseman in NHL?

Who is the best defenseman in NHL?

13:45 SAST | 22 Feb 2017

Defensemen are always in demand at this time of year in thhe National Hockey League, just like pitchers are before baseball's trade deadline.

I'm reminded of the Vancouver Canucks going through 10 or 11 defensemen during one of their playoff runs a half-decade ago. The stretch run and playoffs can become a war of attrition, so carrying as much depth on defense as the rules allow is mighty important.

It's why even a small move, like the Washington Capitals picking up Tom Gilbert as a depth guy last week, could prove handy down the road. You just never know. The Calgary Flames made a bigger one on Monday by getting Michael Stone from the Arizona Coyotes He's going to get a chance to play on Calgary's second pairing.

Which teams are still looking to potentially add a defenseman? The Pittsburgh Penguins, Winnipeg Jets, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers jump out - but really, few playoff-bound teams couldn't use at least another depth guy.

We've spent enough time telling you about pending unrestricted free agent stud Kevin Shattenkirk. He's at the top of the blue-liner heap. But here are other pending UFA defensemen who could move as rentals between now and the trade deadline at 3 p.m. ET on March 1. So, just for fun, I played matchmaker and paired up a few deserving D-men with teams in need:

Mark Streit, Philadelphia Flyers

The 39-year-old likely doesn't fit into the Flyers' plans past this season, so the question is whether GM Ron Hextall figures his team still has a run at a playoff spot left in it or not. Given the youth in the organization on the blueline, the smartest thing might be to get the best possible draft pick or prospect for the respected Streit. The Flyers would likely have to eat some, if not half, of Streit's $5.25 million cap hit to facilitate a trade. I would love to see Montreal try to bring Streit back to where his career started. Streit is a left-handed shot who plays both sides. He'd fit in nicely on a pairing with Shea Weber. The Alexei Emelin experiment has lasted long enough. Plus, I'm sure that the Habs' power play could use Streit's talent, too.

Dmitry Kulikov, Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres are in a tricky spot. They've been playing their best hockey of the season the past few weeks and have emerged just on the fringes of the playoff race. So does GM Tim Murray hang on to Kulikov? I think the decision on the 26-year-old pending UFA will go right down to the wire next Wednesday and will depend on how the Sabres fare coming out of their break - as well as the quality of offers they get on Kulikov, who has a $4.33 million cap hit. If the Jets remain in the race, I would love for Winnipeg to take a look at him. The Jets and Sabres have gotten together before on a deal.

Kyle Quincey, New Jersey Devils

This guy is flying under the radar. His cap hit alone - $1.25 million - should make him a most sought-after player. He averages 18 minutes a night and can play both the left and right side. The Devils aren't out of the playoff mix, so perhaps they will hold on to him. Given Pittsburgh's cap issues, I'd like to see the Penguins take a look at him. He could provide good insurance for the Pens.

Michael Del Zotto, Philadelphia Flyers

The 26-year-old is a decent puck mover and can slide up and down a team's depth chart. He should net at least a third-round pick. I'm sure the re-energized Bruins would rather land Shattenkirk but if they don't, is Del Zotto - who has a $3.875 million cap hit - a decent Plan B for Boston the right price?

Brendan Smith, Detroit Red Wings

Smith could really beef up a team's third pairing and even move up to a No. 4 role in a pinch. If the Blues do move Shattenkirk but are clearly still in the playoff race, will GM Doug Armstrong try to add a defenseman to help fill the roster hole? I think the Blues should look at Smith, a midround pick, who has a $2.75 million cap hit, if indeed Shattenkirk is moved.

Ron Hainsey, Carolina Hurricanes

Hainsey is a solid veteran who has played all season on the top pairing with Justin Faulk, averaging 22 minutes a game. With his $2.8 million cap hit, he's the kind of add-on a young contender can use.

By Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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