As we inch closer to the first puck drop of the season, people across the globe have been busy writing down their predictions and rankings for the 2022-23 NHL season. For those readers outside of Canada, TSN (The Sports Network), the country’s second-largest sports network behind Rogers Sportsnet, just began to reveal its list of Top 50 players.
The NHL Network is one of the best places to get insightful information about the game in the United States. On Aug. 28, their experts released their Top 20 rankings for best defenceman in the league. The list had a solid mix of young guns and veterans but not a single Calgary Flames defenceman. Moreover, the team employs one of the best defensive corps in the league with Rasmus Andersson as their crown jewel, yet he didn’t find his way into this particular conversation.
The list of 20 has six former Norris Trophy (best defenceman) winners, with Cale Makar, Adam Fox, and Roman Josi winning the last three awards. Victor Hedman is a former winner (2018), with Brett Burns (2017) and Drew Doughty (2016) earning the award too. Out of the three players who have once been crowned the best defenceman in the league, only Hedman still receives votes yearly. Burns (four years without votes) and Doughty (three years) have not been candidates for some time now. Andersson has no trophies at home yet, but it’s time for him to earn the recognition he deserves.
5 Players Not Worthy of Top 20 Status
Only five players from the NHL Network list failed to gather any votes for Norris Trophy consideration in 2021-22, and that was Burns, Doughty, Rasmus Dahlin, Zach Werenski, and Shea Theodore. One of the main reasons Doughty didn’t receive any votes for the third straight season is he played only 37 games, the least amount of anyone selected by the network. Furthermore, injuries limited his playing time, which hurt his production (31 points), one of the lowest point totals of his distinguished career.
Related: 2021-22 Norris Trophy Tracker
Dahlin is a former first-overall selection (2018) who had a career year in 2021-22 with 53 points, good for 13th in scoring among defencemen. The only thing going against him is that he struggled in his own end, finishing the season a minus-22. Burns, meanwhile, scored 54 points during his final season in the Bay Area, a far cry from his best year (83 points) in 2018-19. Moreover, despite 777 points in 1,251 games, Burns is now minus-35 for his career, finishing his third straight season with a negative rating, minus-15.
Werenski just finished his sixth season as a Columbus Blue Jacket, scoring a career-best 48 points in 68 games. He ended the year with a minus-15 rating on a team who missed the playoffs by 19 points. Additionally, Theodore, who missed only four games, also had a career year in Vegas, scoring 52 points. Out of the five players who made the list without earning Norris Trophy votes, he was the only one to finish the season with a plus-6 rating.
Andersson Leads the Flames’ Defense
Andersson is probably not a household name outside of Calgary or Alberta. However, the native of Malmö, Sweden, just wrapped up his sixth season as a member of the Flames organization. Although he didn’t see much action in his first two years (11 games), in 2018-19, he joined the team full time and never looked back.
In those first few seasons, he averaged less than 16 minutes of ice time and plateaued with 22 points in 2019-20. Most of his production came on the power-play, where he routinely assisted on more than a dozen goals in three straight seasons. Furthermore, Andersson’s ice time increased by a few minutes with each passing season, reaching 21:13 in 2020-21, the year he collected 96 shots on goal, the lowest total of his career.
Everything changed for Andersson and the Flames in 2021-22. After missing the playoffs, the team exploded out of the gate and won the Pacific Division. They also came close to breaking franchise records for points and wins before coming up short of their second Stanley Cup title with a second-round loss. Andersson may not have been Johnny Gaudreau or Matthew Tkachuk, who both scored over 100 points, but he was the team’s highest-scoring defenseman with a career-high 50 points in 82 games.
Those numbers were solid enough to earn him a spot as the league’s 20th highest scoring defenceman, tied with the Detroit Red Wings’ Moritz Seider (#11 on the best defenceman list). Andersson only scored four goals, which didn’t even rank in the top 25; however, his 46 assists were the 10th-best totals out of 345 players. One of the most significant oversights on his stats line is his plus-30 rating, which was the 14th best amongst defencemen. Additionally, he finished one mark behind McAvoy (#5 on the list), who only scored six more points on the year.
Andersson scored most of his points at even-strength (30) while earning only 19 power-play points to go along with one shorthanded point. The Flames may have had an above-average power-play (22.88%) and penalty-killing (83.20%) unit, but the numbers show that he was more valuable to the team at even-strength.
Andersson’s Place Amongst NHL Defenceman
The Flames went out this past summer and acquired the services of MacKenzie Weegar, who had a career year with 44 points and a plus-40 rating on a Florida Panthers team that finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference. He is in contract negotiations with the Flames, with experts across the industry expecting him to sign for top dollar. However, when the NHL Network released its rankings, he did not crack the top 20, despite now being on the Flames’ top defensive pairing.
According to lineup combinations on Daily Faceoff, Andersson is penciled in on the second defensive pairing while anchoring the Flames’ first power-play unit and serving on their second penalty-killing unit. In just a few seasons, he has become a critical player for the franchise, which values his skillset in all situations. Many players don’t find themselves in special team situations like Dahlin, who doesn’t kill penalties, and Alex Pietrangelo, who doesn’t skate on the power-play.
Any player with the skill set to assist their team in any given situation puts them above the average player who is limited in what they bring to the table. Andersson had a fantastic season on a team that destroyed all projections to be one of the league’s best. There is no way the Flames would have been as successful without him on the ice. Sadly, when looking at his competition across the league, it is a shame that he hasn’t garnered the respect he deserves based on the efforts he produces night in and night out.
Related: Flames Top 5 Player Contracts Ranked
Most of the names on the NHL Network’s defensive rankings deserve to be there. However, a few are on the backside of their careers or haven’t rounded out their game yet. Unless you are Makar or Fox, game changers on the back end, putting together a list without excluding a few who deserve to be on it isn’t easy. There will always be a new list, and with another stellar season, Andersson could find his name amongst the game’s brightest stars as soon as next season.
Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.