3 NHL Teams That Are Hoping Blue Line Upgrades Lead To Offensive Spark

© Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports NHL: New Jersey Devils at Chicago Blackhawks

This summer hasn't seen the blockbusters of Taylor Hall for Adam Larson or P.K. Subban for Shea Weber, but a number of teams have completed savvy trades to land experienced, productive defensemen. These moves will prove more important on the ice than they may initially seem on paper. 

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.


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. 


Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @JMessing23.

5 NHL Teams That Could Use Jaromir Jagr In 2017-18

© Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports NHL: Florida Panthers at Buffalo Sabres

By Jacob Messing

The NHL is a month and a half into free agency, and the growing trend of ageism is claiming another group of veterans.

Jarome Iginla, Thomas Vanek, and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr are just a few of the formidable players still searching for new contracts.

Jagr, 45, remains a force on the ice despite having his worst full season in terms of point production. Last year, he tallied 46 points; the year before, with similar ice time and games played, he reached 66 points. However, he was stuck on a surprisingly underwhelming Florida Panthers team that was dealing with a reconstructed defense, significant injuries, and front-office turmoil.

5 NHL Breakout Candidates For 2017-18

© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Columbus Blue Jackets

By Jacob Messing

With each new season, fans get to see breakout performances from some of the NHL’s emerging talent. These budding superstars show glimpses of the league’s future.

While some players are stuck in the developmental level of their careers -- learning hockey at its highest level -- others consistently deliver highlight-reel action every time they step onto the ice. Last season, players such as Viktor Arvidsson, Mikael Granlund, and Nikita Kucherov moved from the former category to the latter. Who could do the same this year?

Introducing The U.S. Olympic Hockey Coaching Staff

© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports NHL: Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins

By Jacob Messing

The reality of a 2018 Winter Olympics without NHL players is sinking in after the recent announcement of the U.S. men’s national team’s coaching staff.

Last week, the brass for the United States named its coaches for the upcoming international tournament, starting with Wisconsin Badgers head coach Tony Granato, who will serve in the same role for Team USA.

A Radical Solution To The NHL's Inconsistent Suspension Policy

© Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins

By Jacob Messing

In 2016-17, the NHL had its lowest numbers of suspensions since the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season.

The number of suspensions, cumulative games lost, and number of NHL teams that had a player suspended were all meaningfully lower than the previous three seasons.

'Soap Hockey' Offers Slippery Alternative To Backyard Pickup Games

The Soap Hockey Project Soap Hockey

By Jacob Messing

What happens when six people try to play hockey on a soap-slicked tarp in the middle of the summertime?

Apparently, they found the answer in Sweden. It’s called “Håsjösåpan,” and it’s sweeping the internet.

No NHL, No Problem: AHL Players With Olympic Potential

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The NHL recently issued a statement to its teams that AHL players can be released for Olympic participation in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo Poised For Career Year

© Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports NHL: Arizona Coyotes at St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues unwrapped a somewhat hidden present in Alex Pietrangelo after the team traded Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline last season.

Fantasy Hockey: Dark Horse Player For Each Eastern Conference Team

© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports NHL: Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning

The NHL offseason is winding down after a busy summer of high-profile free agency moves, league expansion, and entry draft selections.

Fantasy Hockey: Dark Horse Player For Each Western Conference Team

© Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports NHL: St. Louis Blues at Winnipeg Jets

The 2017-18 fantasy hockey season is approaching fast, and since your league members are already preparing so should you.