Grading Each Carolina Hurricanes Defenseman in the 2013-14 NHL Season so Far

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IMarch 26, 2014

Grading Each Carolina Hurricanes Defenseman in the 2013-14 NHL Season so Far

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    The consistent performance of Justin Faulk and breakout campaign of Andrej Sekera have helped an inexperienced and hastily formed Carolina Hurricanes' defense stay afloat in 2013-14.

    Carolina ranks 19th in the NHL with an average of 2.81 goals against per game and 56.4 shot attempts (Corsi) against per game.

    By no means is the unit an elite one, but considering the late warning of Joni Pitkanen's season-long absence, they've held together admirably well in most of the Hurricanes' 72 games to date.

    How have each of the eight regular NHL defenseman still with the team performed by the numbers in 2013-14? What grades do each deserve for their overall impact and consistency? A player-by-player breakdown lies on the coming slides. 

    Note: Box score stats courtesy of the NHL.com stat database. Advanced statistics courtesy of Behind the Net.

Brett Bellemore

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Box Score Stats: 54 GP, 2 goals, 3 assists, minus-5, 17:45 average TOI

     

    Since his long-awaited promotion from the AHL last spring, Brett Bellemore has proved a valuable and perhaps unheralded depth rearguard for the 'Canes.

    Bellemore, 25, is no offensive threat, but the reliability he's demonstrated in his own zone indicates that the former sixth-round pick may be a merely late-blooming shutdown man. 

    His minus-1.65 Corsi differential is highly respectable given the situation in which he is utilized—a unit-high 56.2 percent of his shifts begin in the defensive zone. He also leads the unit with 147 hits.

    Bellemore has essentially assumed parts of the roles vacated by both Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu following their respective trade departures.

    Bellemore doesn't always seem to attract the greatest favors of Kirk Muller, however; he was frequently a healthy scratch earlier in the season and was benched for most of Saturday's game in Winnipeg, as well, playing just 5:19.

     

    Grade: B-

Justin Faulk

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    Box Score Stats: 66 GP, 3 goals, 21 assists, minus-8, 23:19 average TOI

     

    The importance of Justin Faulk to the Hurricanes' defense is often not sufficiently outlined by the numbers alone.

    Faulk, who turned 22 last week, has just three goals this season, but that's partially because of his unlucky 2.5 shooting percentage (Andrej Sekera, for comparison, boasts an 8.1 shooting percentage).

    Faulk's minus-8 rating is also less-than-outstanding, but it, again, fails to take into account that he's faced the toughest quality of competition of any 'Canes D-man. No. 27 leads the unit with a 3.27 Corsi rating.

    Despite a few uncharacteristically rough nights in the month since the Olympic Break, Faulk remains a crucial player for the 'Canes and a decidedly underrated defenseman around the league as a whole.

     

    Grade: A-

Ron Hainsey

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    Box Score Stats: 72 GP, 4 goals, 11 assists, minus-7, 21:17 average TOI

     

    After Joni Pitkanen was ruled out for the 2013-14 season in September, Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford was forced to scramble for a replacement. Ron Hainsey, surprisingly still a free agent at the time, was the chosen man.

    While Hainsey's campaign has been far from extraordinary, his veteran presence has still filled a valuable portion the hole left by Pitkanen.

    Outside of Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera, Hainsey is the only Hurricanes defenseman with a positive Corsi rating, and he's done so with only a 47.5 offensive zone start percentage (OZSP). Hainsey also ranks second on the team with 105 blocked shots.

    While neither a true defensive defenseman nor a notably adept playmaking threat, Hainsey is reasonably capable in a moderate-demand role. The 'Canes coaching staff, conversely, has tried to make a No. 3 defenseman out of a player better suited to be a No. 4 or 5, revealing the team's lack of a legitimate second pairing.

     

    Grade: C+

     

Jay Harrison

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    Box Score Stats: 58 GP, 4 goals, 8 assists, minus-3, 16:10 average TOI

     

    2013-14 has been easily Jay Harrison's worst season since joining the 'Canes in 2009.

    The 31-year-old's production is well below his pace of the past two seasons, and his defensive impact isn't picking up the slack.

    Harrison ranks dead last by a significant margin among 'Canes defenseman in Corsi rating (minus-6.55) despite benefitng from a favorable 54.5 OZSP and unit-high 1023 PDO (an indicator of luck).

    The former third-round pick seems arguably sluggish on the ice, lacking the uncanny awareness of when to pinch and when to retreat that helped him contribute as a playmaker in previous seasons.

    As the team approaches a likely overhaul this summer, Harrison could be playing his last weeks in Raleigh.

     

    Grade: D+

Mike Komisarek

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    Box Score Stats: 27 GP, 0 goals, 2 assists, minus-4, 11:42 average TOI

     

    Mike Komisarek signed in Carolina last summer as an experiment. Eight months later, the experiment—while not boiling over—has failed to produce any meaningful results.

    Komisarek has been basically invisible in his attempt at a career revival. He's yet to score his first goal as a 'Cane, has been a healthy scratch in more than half of the team's games and boasts just two points and 19 shots on goal in 27 appearances.

    Defensively, the 32-year-old has a minus-4.02 Corsi rating, exactly 50.0 OZSP, a unit-low 22 blocked shots and 15 giveaways vs. three takeaways. The statistics paint a less than ideal image of No. 5's overall play.

    With hardly any puck-handling ability and a rapidly decreasing defensive awareness, Komisarek will almost surely be let go when his contract expires in July.

     

    Grade: D

John-Michael Liles

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Box Score Stats (with 'Canes): 25 GP, 1 goal, 5 asssists, plus-10, 19:38 average TOI

     

    John-Michael Liles perhaps hasn't heard all the credit he's deserved since coming to Carolina on New Year's Day.

    He hasn't received nearly as many offensive zone starts as his 2012-13 counterpart—fellow purported power-play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron—did, but is a plus-10 nonetheless and boasts the second-highest Corsi Relative on the team.

    Yet Liles also hasn't helped the man-advantage unit whatsoever (he's actually made it worse somehow) and has a less-than-outstanding one goal in 25 appearances. The one goal, moreover, came in a 6-1 blowout win.

    While not as irresponsible defensively as many forewarned, Liles' tenure in the red and white has been far from eye-opening.

     

    Grade: C

     

Ryan Murphy

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Box Score Stats: 46 GP, 2 goals, 10 assists, minus-6, 18:30 average TOI

     

    For the first three months of the season, former seventh overall pick Ryan Murphy proved to be the quintessential rookie defenseman: flashes of game-breaking ability and offensive defenseman stardom marred by inconsistency in the back end.

    Since, Murphy has ridden the AHL-NHL train several times as the franchise management seeks to give him the most experience possible out of the remainder of 2013-14. With more playing time and better playoff odds available with Charlotte, Murphy could well finish his rookie campaign with 46 NHL appearances.

    Murphy was sheltered with a 63.1 OZSP, yet still finished in the negatives in Corsi rating; he needs time to round out his two-way game and gain confidence in puck battles. However, the bright spots in Murphy's season shone brightly indeed, revealing the potential still unveiled within him.

     

    Grade: C+

     

Andrej Sekera

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    Box Score Stats: 70 GP, 11 goals, 33 assists, plus-1, 23:39 average TOI

     

    Andrej Sekera has been, without question, the MVP of the Carolina Hurricanes' 2013-14 defense.

    After more than a half-decade submerged in the impotent Buffalo organization, the 27-year-old blueliner has had a tremendous breakout campaign in every regard in his first season with Carolina.

    Sekera ranks first among all NHL defensemen in takeaways (67) and ninth among all NHL defenseman in points (44). He ranks first on the team in blocked shots (120) and average ice time. He ranks second on the team in assists and power-play points. And he is the 'Canes leading road scorer, topping even Eric Staal and everyone else in the forwards unit.

    In advanced stats, he also leads the club in Corsi Relative while facing the highest Corsi Relative quality of competition.

    It's been a marvelous campaign for Sekera, who seems poised to pose a true No. 1 pairing along with Justin Faulk that, in coming seasons, will be able to compete with the league's best.

     

    Grade: A