Top-four defensemen are at a premium these days, and teams who have suffered recent injuries, or whose cap restrictions prevented them from adding one in the offseason, have had to experiment with journeymen and rookies. These gambles have paid off perfectly in some cases, like with Jan Rutta of the Chicago Blackhawks, but most of these teams should start looking elsewhere.
Here are 10 of the most unexpected top-four deployments of 2017-18, how each one has worked out so far, and the deployment each team should consider going forward, based on those early results.
Injuries to Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Nathan Beaulieu and Rasmus Ristolainen have thrown Buffalo’s blue line into disarray. To fill the holes, new coach (and Hall of Fame NHL defenseman) Phil Housley pressed journeyman stay-at-home defenseman Matt Tennyson into a second-pairing role. Prior to this season, Tennyson, who is 27, had averaged 13:42 minutes per game in 105 NHL contests in a depth role with San Jose and Carolina.
So far, the results have not been encouraging. At 5-on-5, the Sabres have been outscored 19-7 with Tennyson on the ice. Housley has tried Tennyson with partners like Marco Scandella, Beaulieu and Jake McCabe, and has already started to experiment with fellow stay-at-home journeyman Justin Falk, who is 29, on the top pair with Scandella. It’s only a matter of time before he abandons the Tennyson experiment altogether, and considers someone like Taylor Fedun, Zach Redmond, Viktor Antipin or prospect Brendan Guhle for a top-four role instead.
Looking ahead: Injuries or not, this experiment is likely to end soon.