Believe it, it's true. With Tomas Kaberle unceremoniously back in the fold, there are very few teams in the NHL that can match the Buds defensive unit one though eight. Of course, this is the problem that "Master Genius" Brian Burke did not want to face. His goal was to turn the asset of Kaberle into a top flight forward, yet now his squad has a veritable cornucopia of NHL calibre defensemen and a black hole of top calibre forwards.
In truth however, the Leafs are blessed with a fine octet of defensemen. Their top four of Dion Phaneuf, Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek are superior to most NHL teams. When their next four are included (Schenn, Gunnarsson, Lebda and Finger) there are even fewer teams that can compare. Shall we look?
Boston. Sure they have Chara, but Seidenburg, Boychuk and Hunwick do not match up with the Leafs 2 thru 4. The Bruins 5 thru 8 may include two rookies along with Andrew Ference and Mark Stuart, advantage Leafs.
Calgary's top four of Bouwmeester, Regehr, White and Giordano are fine, but they really drop off the table with Sarich, Staios, Adam Pardy and various minor leaguers.
Few teams (Toronto included) can compete with Chicago's top four of Keith, Seabrook, Campbell and Hjalmarsson. Lucky for them they rarely use fifth thru eighth defenders as they only can muster Nick Boynton, Jordan Hendry and spare parts after the top four. Slight overall advantage to Chicago still merely on the strength of their top four.
Detroit's top four of Lidstrom, Kronwall, Rafalski and Brad Stuart is still one of the tops in the league, but after those guys, the depth of Ericsson, Salei, Derek Meech and Jakub Kindl cannot compare to Toronto's. Overall advantage, Leafs.
Los Angeles is top heavy with Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson but Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene Davis Drewiske and Peter Harrold are a definite drop off from the Leafs 3 thru 6.
Montreal sports a well-rounded defense group led by the oft-injured Markov, Gill, Gorges, Hamrlik, Spacek and up and coming Subban. The Habs 7 and 8 of O'Byrne and Alexandre Picard keep the Habs top eight defense ranked lower than Toronto's.
Nashville boasts Shea Weber and Ryan Suter and a glut of young d-men in Cody Franson, Ryan Parent, Jonathon Blum and Ryan Ellis. For now however, Toronto's eight has the advantage.
The Rangers are surprisingly strong on the back end with Marc Staal, Rozsival, Del Zotto and Girardi as well as Matt Gilroy, Steve Eminger and over-paid afterthought Wade Redden. Still not enough in my mind to surpass the Leaf group. With the addition of Sergei Gonchar and the emerging Erik Karlsson to go with Phillips, Kuba, Campoli and Carkner, Ottawa definitely has a nice defensive group. Not superior to Toronto's though.
Philadelphia possesses one of the top ranked defensive units in hockey with Pronger, Timonen, Carle and Coburn. Sean O'Donnell and Andrej Meszaros at fifth and sixth is more than adequate, but I would probably take Toronto's Lebda and Finger over Matt Walker and Oskars Bartulis. Still, the Flyers along with Chicago are two of the few teams to challenge the Leafs overall back end.
San Jose falls short of Toronto even with Dan Boyle, Vlasic and Murray. Nic Wallin, Kent Huskins, Jason Demers and Jay Leach just dont measure up to Komisarek, Schenn, Gunnarsson and Lebda.
The last team that is close to matching Toronto on defense is Vancouver. Their top four of Ehrhoff, Edler, Hamhuis and Ballard are steady if unspectacular. Throw in Bieksa, Salo when healthy), O'Brien and Rome and you have a solid eight defensemen. Washington can put forth the offensive talents of Mike Green and John Carlson along with Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz and Karl Alzner. I would take Gunnarsson, Lebda and Finger over John Erskine, Tyler Sloan and Brian Fahey though.
So, as absurd as it may sound at first, upon deeper investigation it is true...Toronto has at worst one of the top five defensive units in the NHL along with Chicago, Philadelphia, Vancouver and Washington.