Defensive depth and puck movement are integral to sustained success in today's NHL, and consistency in those areas depends on a reliable blue line. Three teams in particular who finished low in their respective divisions have aggressively retooled their rosters to have a better campaign this year.
Coyotes Trade For Hjalmarsson
We touched on it earlier in the month, but Arizona's decision to trade for Niklas Hjalmarsson is just one part of an aggressive approach to the new year after a disappointing campaign last season.
The Coyotes' acquisition of Hjalmarsson is destined to bring high rewards for Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the defenseman who tallied 39 points a year ago. It was reported by Elliotte Friedman that Ekman-Larsson had a hand in bringing his countryman to the desert -- Ekman-Larsson and Hjalmarsson are both Swedish -- where the two are likely to play together.
Hjalmarsson, 30, is a veteran with three Stanley Cups on his resume and is well known for his impeccable defense, which will act as the perfect buffer for Ekman-Larsson to jump into the play.
Among all defensemen, only Brent Burns has scored more goals than Ekman-Larsson in the past three seasons. Moreover, only 15 other defenders have recorded more points in that span.
The Swede probably would have been higher on that list, but he had a dip in productivity last season after racking up 55 points two years ago. It is perhaps worth noting that Ekman-Larsson played last season as his mother battled cancer and eventually passed away.
Arizona granted him a leave of absence for the final three games of the season and he promptly returned home to Sweden.
Ekman-Larsson has shown the aptitude to score at rates that compare to Burns and Erik Karlsson, and it's clear that Hjalmarsson will act as Marc Methot has for Karlsson over the past five seasons.
Stars Deal With New Club
Speaking of Methot, the Dallas Stars -- another vastly improved Western Conference team -- have brought in Karlsson's old partner to play with John Klingberg, once called "Karlsson of the west."
Dallas' ability to bring in Methot from the brand-new Vegas Golden Knights gives their thin blue line a new tool, one that will be the insurance policy for Klingberg's high-risk play.
The 24-year-old Klingberg has shown a unique ability to score and move play in the right direction. He also has the enviable position of playing with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
Methot, 32, has played parts of 11 NHL seasons and has made a name for himself by bailing out Karlsson's rare play that didn't result in a goal. He'll have a lot to teach the Stars' young blue line, which will likely involve high-end prospects Esa Lindell and Julius Honka full-time in 2017-18.
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New coach Ken Hitchcock -- who coached Dallas in the late '90s and early 2000s -- is known for his defense-first style of play and will likely look to keep Klingberg at bay until he earns his trust. When that happens, Hitchcock will inevitably give the skilled skater more room to be himself, in which case Methot will maintain his place on the blue line in case offensive play goes awry.
Sabres Secure Two Defensemen
The Buffalo Sabres have also been active on the trade market for defensive solutions. The Sabres brought in the defense-first Marco Scandella as well as 24-year-old Nathan Beaulieu, who seemed to fall out of favor with Montreal.
Scandella, 27, is a veteran of seven NHL seasons and has always been trusted on the defensive side of the puck, starting 55.8 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone throughout his career.
Scandella is likely to be deployed on the left side of the up-and-coming Rasmus Ristolainen, who has been a high scorer on the blue line for the past two seasons.
It will be up to Beaulieu to secure his position in the pecking order. He's still at the beginning of his career and has consistently built on his offensive totals. The former 17th pick is likely to line up alongside Zach Bogosian, the former No. 3 pick who hasn't quite lived up to his potential.
Buffalo also brought in coach Phil Housley, who was a part of one of the game's premier blue lines during his playing days. He spent the previous four seasons as Nashville's defensive coach and built it into one of the league's best.
Housley also played a large part in the impressive postseason run from the Predators, who boast one of the top defenses in the NHL.
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