That’s Boston’s Don Awrey up against Walter Tkaczuk, 40 years ago. Awrey was a stay-at-home defenseman, and every team had two or three. Shot blockers, penalty killers, tough-as-nails and absolutely filthy compared to the game today. Stay-at-home defensemen aren’t stellar puck movers and passers, and the game’s progress away from defense and toward controlled retrieval and the outlet pass have made this group less important by the year. Comparing this summer’s first round to the 2004 draft—just ten years ago—puts things into perspective.


  • No. 3 overall—offensive defenseman Cam Barker. His player type remains valuable in today’s game.
  • No. 9 overall—defender Ladislav Smid. His style has become less valuable in the last decade.
  • No. 10 overall—extreme defensive defender Boris Valabik. He would not go in the first round today.
  • No. 12 overall—puck mover A.J. Thelen. Although he didn’t work out, his player type has value.
  • No. 23 overall—complete defender Andrej Meszaros, whose range of skills always have value.
  • No. 27 overall—defensive defender Jeff Schultz. Might not go in Round 1 today.
  • No. 28 overall—defender Mark Fistric. Would not be a first round candidate today.
  • No. 29 overall—offensive defender Mike Green. His skills have held their value.
  • No. 30 overall—defensive defender Andy Rogers. Extreme stay-at-home blue.

Nine defenders, and four of them (Barker, Thelen, Meszaros and Green) are either puck movers or complete defensemen.

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*Note: This was regarded as a less impressive draft for defensemen.

  • No. 1 overall—complete defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
  • No. 7 overall—two-way defender Haydn Fleury. Range of skills.
  • No. 14 overall—offensive defenseman Julius Honka.
  • No. 17 overall—defender Travis Sanheim, who can move the puck effectively.
  • No. 19 overall—offensive defenseman Anthony DeAngelo. Power play quarterback.

Five defenders, and all of them can move the puck. The first “stay at home” defender in this year’s draft came at No. 47 overall (Ryan Colliins). The stay-at-home defenders are losing ground at the draft.

smid common2


That’s not the worst news for stay-at-home defensemen this summer. The nadir came in the reaction to Brooks Orpik’s free-agent contract with the Washington Capitals. When it came down the pipe, I was prepared for the slings and arrows from the blogging and advanced stats community—that contract is too much and too long and too everything—but unprepared for the reaction by networks and the traditional media.

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  • Mike Johnson: “I don’t want to pick on Brooks Orpik right now. We’re delighted for him that he got that contract, absolutely. But I
    think on July 1, there may be no group of players that are more
    overvalued than defensive defensemen. And Brooks Orpik is good at his
    job, but that kind of term, that age, when he skates like that, that is
    going to be tough for them to handle down the road. That might just be a
    little too long for Brooks Orpik.”


And with that, I think it’s probably over. I went on the radio and suggested the Orpik signing was very poor, for the reasons mentioned by Johnson. Others wrote scathing reviews of the signing and used humor as always to make a point. Still others simply looked at the possession numbers and saw a long line of negatives.

The final nail? Possibly this brilliant piece that spends all day trying to find a way to frame the issue, all the while being extremely fair. When the analytics folks are casting about looking for ways to save a defensive defenseman, I think we can safely signal the beginning of the end.


For defensive defensemen, the Orpik deal is already famous and if it ends badly the Capitals will be hammered for foolishness that most people saw as it happened. That’s a bad spot for Washington, and a terrible one for the stay-at-homes.

There was a time when major league teams gave up a lot of offense in the name of a shortstop who could play the position well defensively. There was a time when the Globe and Mail employed a full time calligrapher. Those days are gone. Pure defensive defensemen will need to adjust, and learn how to make effective passes, and they’ll need to be faster. The moment a defenseman loses his foot speed—even a little—he’s in trouble.

Long term contracts for this player-type once he turns 30 are going to be rare in tomorrow’s NHL. This summer’s signings, and there were a few, might be the last time we see it.

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What’s next on the extinct pile? My guess is average goalies. As the NHL spends more and more on the true impact players in the game, that pile of cash has to come from somewhere. One-dimensional defensively and average in goal are two things you don’t want to be as this decade rolls along.

  • Lowetide

    One other type of player which might have the writing on the wall is the old time enforcer. While there is still a perceived need for “tough”, the days of the goon are almost over.

    Teams that are seeking toughness and truculence are starting to look for functional toughness. While a player needs to display some toughness they also have to be able to play the game. This includes skating, passing, accepting passes and having some level of production.

    Your recent article which outlined the shift from an energy fourth line to a defensive line with some offensive upside seems to support this change in thinking.

    • Lowetide

      suspect that was Jon’s article, which I’ll take as a compliment. 🙂 I think enforcers are already on the endangered list for sure, but that’s a position that will have a lot of sustain imo because they don’t cost much.

  • Lowetide

    Not sure what you mean by average goalies…. by definition won’t there always be average goalies? For example, if save percentage is the metric by which we evaluate performance, wouldn’t the 15th best save percentage among the 30 goalies with the most starts be average, regardless of what that number is?

    • Lowetide

      I mean paying for average starting goalies. Like the Oilers signing Dubnyk, or even Khabibulin. Why pay for a guy who is clearly average? That middle group of goalies, which includes everyone outside the top 10 or so, is likely to see a massive pay cut (as a group) in the next few years.

      • I’m not sure I agree. I mean, I agree it should happen. I’d rather pay Scrivens $2 million than a lot of other options.

        That said I don’t think this will happen. Without looking at the details is say miller is about average, as is Hiller (maybe a little below). Crawford isn’t fantastic, nor is Howard. Goalies will wrongly continue to be evaluated on the metric of Wins, Timelyness of saves, Olympic pedigree, playoff games played, etc.

        The reality of goalie contracts is that they will always be a gamble. The Schneider contract is a good example. Bloggers agree (as do I) that it’s a good bet based on sustained save percentage over a number of years. With that in mind we don’t know what he looks like 90 games into a season with the pressure dialed up, so as much as I think it’s a smart bet it’s still very much a bet.

  • D

    One of the better stay at home defensemen in recent memory is Adam Foote. There’s probably still room for stay at homes who operate at his level, but beyond that, the writing is on the wall.

  • Lowetide

    Right… Who won the cup this year… Robyn Regehr stay at home, Willie Mitchell stay at home and everyone remembers Matt Greene stay at home. I know he’s talking about contract money and length but to say the beginning of the end is wrong

    • Ummm in the playoffs Regher played 8 games, Greene playe don average 5 min less then the top four willie Mitchell can at least make a pass. Look at every top teams top 4 – Doughty, Voynov, Muzzin, Martinez – 3 of them are mobile who can move the puck (I have not seen enough of Martinez) Seabrook, Keith, Oduya, Leddy, Hjarmalson, Pietrangelo, Boumeester, Shattenkirk, Leopold, Gunnerson (hell this is exactly why they traded Polak who was a mean as hell d man), 5 of the 6 d men of the ducks are puck movers so yeah it is the beginning of the end of those d men that cannot move the puck

  • Spydyr

    Stay at home defensement wont dissapear, they just wont be taken so high in the first round anymore like he says.

    LA paired a puck-moving defensement, with a shutdown guy.




  • Perhaps Orpik isn’t worth that kind of money and term. I still think he is an absolute amazing defenceman who is now on the downside of his career. Every time I see him play for Team USA he is quite remarkable.

    I remember watching a few games with my buddy who is a $#%#$^ Pens fan. I turned to him and said, “Man, Orpik is one hell of a d-man! Everytime they come down his side they either get it poked away or get nailed or are forced to dump it or shoot it from a bad angle.”

    He replied that Orpik is the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL.

    Ignoring the contract, why do we hate Orpik again? Negative Corsi?

    • Maybe not so much last year but for a few years in a row before that I recall screaming at my TV during the World Juniors, wondering why we had 5 forwards on all the time and were giving up all these breakaways. Then I realized we always had 2 d-men on; they were just ‘offensive d’, as in ‘My god it sure is offensive to the eyes to watch this game. I’m going to need you to go to the liquor store again, Bernice.’

      • Haha, there’s nothing worst than watching these offensive guys get caught cheating for offense, getting knocked off the puck by the wind from a closing gate, or watching them tremble in fear when the puck gets dumped in the corner. Jultz is the most offensive dman to watch. I don’t understand why they don’t just put him on a wing

  • Question: Given the well-documented tendency for increasing complexity and specialization in the biological, social, cultural, and economic realms, are we seeing the opposite trend with respect to NHL defence cores? If so, why?

    • In an ideal world, you want someone who is a specialist at everything. They can do everything all the time.

      In the real world, where complexity has increased so much, we can be generalists in many facets but only specialize in a couple of subfields of any particular discipline.

      But there are 7 billion people on the planet.

      On the hockey ice, there are still only 6 men on the ice at any given time. These 6 men need to be able to cover all the skills necessary to succeed.

      Hockey players specialize, but they also better be damn good generalists or they will fail miserably. And by fail miserably, I mean they still get paid to play hockey in Europe.

  • I don’t think this article looks at what it takes to be successful in the playoffs. Shot blockers and guys that can grind the other team over the course of a series will always be important to success.

    On another note, going back to the ad naseum centre debate, could the Oilers maybe make a pitch to Glencross in Calgary? He has a no move clause, but I can see him coming back up to E town. He’s 32 though and would probably be looking for something in the 3 mill for a long time.

  • Spydyr

    Someone has to keep the puck out of the goal,clean the front of the net and battle to dig the puck out of the corners.All things I cannot seeing Justin Shultz ever doing.

    Winning the one on one puck battles more often than not wins the game.

    What will change IMO is all defencman will have to make the good first pass.The hand of stone guys will become extent.Not the defensive battlers.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Hmm. I don’t know if I agree with you, Lowetide.

    I mean – I suppose you’re right. Gord Kluzak probably wouldn’t go first overall in any draft nowadays … and likely wouldn’t even go in the first round. But to say that “defensive defencemen” in the classic mold aren’t still valuable and highly regarded? That’s a stretch.

    I’d love it if the Oilers could jump in a time machine and bring back … say … Jason Smith, circa 2001. Or a Teppo Nuuminen, circa 1996. Or Jeff Beukeboom and Craig Muni, circa 1989. Or a Ken Morrow, circa 1981. If they could even just get two of those kinda guys, many of their problems would be solved.

    I also disagree with your assertion here:
    “Pure defensive defensemen will need to adjust, and learn how to make effective passes, and they’ll need to be faster.”

    To me, this sells the guys I’ve noted above very short. With the possible exception of Teppo, none of the above guys had a single offensive instinct in their body but in their prime all were stay-at-home defencemen who could advance the puck up the ice effectively and efficiently. And they could do it in any era, including this one.

    Part of the problem nowadays is simply the nomenclature we’re all using to describe defencemen. A puck-moving” defenceman is now any “specialist” defenceman who can advance the puck up and out of their zone to the forwards (but not necessarily score or set up goals). I’d argue that all defenceman, of any pedigree, should be able to do that, regardless of whether they’re Bobby Orr or Dallas Smith.

    Good, stay-at-home defence, when it’s done well, is still a skill unto itself and it’s just as valuable now as it was 20 or 30 years ago.

    • I also disagree with your assertion here: “Pure defensive defensemen will need to adjust, and learn how to make effective passes, and they’ll need to be faster.”

      To me, this sells the guys I’ve noted above very short. With the possible exception of Teppo, none of the above guys had a single offensive instinct in their body but in their prime all were stay-at-home defencemen who could advance the puck up the ice effectively and efficiently. And they could do it in any era, including this one.

      Part of the problem nowadays is simply the nomenclature we’re all using to describe defencemen. A puck-moving” defenceman is now any “specialist” defenceman who can advance the puck up and out of their zone to the forwards (but not necessarily score or set up goals). I’d argue that all defenceman, of any pedigree, should be able to do that, regardless of whether they’re Bobby Orr or Dallas Smith.

      I really think you’ve hit on something here. It is all too easy to gloss over the all-important details by getting caught up in loaded terms or labels, i.e. nomenclature.

      The stereotype of the defensive defenceman seems to be inherently negative; a guy who is slow, big and tough with hands of stone who you don’t want to have the puck because at best he treats it like a hot potato and smashes it off the glass and out, giving it to the other team.

      Thus, the argument that this breed is on the way out of the league is sort of a straw man: as we see with the enforcer type, guys who can’t play hockey very well are on the way out. Few would argue this.

      The offensive defenceman, on the other hand, seems to be painted with only positive qualities such as being quick, shifty, able to avoid attackers and beat forecheckers 1 on 1, having great hands and thus good passing and finishing ability.

      No wonder we say that the defensive d-man is going the way of the dodo. Those stereotypical defensive d-men don’t really exist anymore.

      Still, I would kill to have Jultz paired with Orpik. I bet our goalies would agree with me.

      • Spaceman Spiff

        Agreed re: the negative label on defensive defencemen.

        If Ken Morrow, Jason Smith or Craig Muni were in their prime today, I’d wager that none would be slapped with the “defensive defenceman” label at all. All would be described as a “big rangy defender with good mobility and a decent first pass who can move the puck up ice.”

        Just as “locker-room” and “PK” and “RelCorsi” and “jersey” have oddly permeated hockey’s vernacular over the years, for no particular reason, so has the notion of a “puck-moving” defenceman.

        They’re all puck-moving defencemen, people. They better be. That’s why they’ve each been given a stick.

        • The Last Big Bear

          Jason smith was terrible at making a first pass and could not skate it out unless the other team was already in the trap, he is the exact player this article is referring to – get the puck fire it high off the glass, do it again when it gets dumped in. That is not what a puck moving d man is.

    • The Last Big Bear

      I dont care if your the 3rd string goalie or the first line center, if you cant make a simple pass why the hell are you playing the game anyway?

      I do agree though that tough, shot blocking, corner battling Dmen will always be valuable. But good lord you have to be able to make and accept a pass. Especially in your own end.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Offensive puck movers are nice if they can actually get the puck. Call me crazy but if you can’t make a pass you shouldn’t be in the NHL. But defensive dman will always be in the league.

  • Reg Dunlop

    The archetype of the hardnosed, mean defender who is effective even when he never touches the puck… Lee Fogolin. He was not a great skater, when passed the puck it would ricochet off his stick and if he did corral the puck he couldn’t raise it. Exactly the type, according to some, facing extinction. Truth is, he was exceptional at what he did, and the oil would be a few cups lighter if he had stayed in Buffalo. There will always be room for exceptional talent in the NHL. Stay-at-homes may become rarer but, like the coelacanth, they will always wash up somewhere.

  • Reg Dunlop

    The NHL has been in the process of a slow transformation (very slow if you are MacT circa 2005-6) into skill and possession league. The days of tough as nails stay-at-home D-men are done. This is not a over-night change that ‘the trap’ brought in. I think it is becoming very evident that possession is the new buzz word in the NHL and the stay-at-home D-man is just not built for this kind of hockey. It is not that the skills are unimportant, it just requires an expanded skill set of speed, puck possession and overall hockey sense. The drop-back, block the puck and block the player just is not enough any more.

    • Reg Dunlop

      I think it’s just a matter of players getting better. You still need guys to block the puck, block the player and dig out pucks. But you need the. To be able to make a pass too. I don’t think there’s gonna be room for any 1 dimensional players no matter what the dimension is

      • Reg Dunlop

        I completely agree with you. There will be no room for one dimensional players, but it is not in everyone’s ability to just get better, especially at the NHL level. That is what juniors, ECHL and the AHL are for. It is for this reason I am really happy with the Rocky Thomson hire (read that article if you haven’t yet, it’s a good read). The Oilers have spent too long using the NHL as a training ground for it’s young players (out of necessity) but those days are done. If a player can’t adapt then they will be left behind and moved out of the system.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Another possible angle to this is the true ‘stay at home’ defenseman doesn’t even exist anymore. Kids are being trained much differently in Canada. There is a greater emphasis on system play and skill development at an earlier age. Consequently, most defensemen who play competitive hockey at any level have a more rounded skill set. So – instead of the suggestion that this style of defenseman is rarely effective in the NHL, I would suggest that this style of defenseman is no longer available in large enough quantities to make an impact on draft day/in the league.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Randy Gregg ( was an Oiler defenseman that was very efficient at riding all opponents out to the boards and getting possession of the puck without having to try and put the person into row 2 or so . He was also effective in front of net using his size and positioning . He was a good passer but not what one would call an offensive threat , but very efficient none the less .