The price for NHL D-men is at an all-time high

Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports

Blame David Poile and the Nashville Predators.

The Preds made it to the Stanley Cup Final on the foundation of a strong defense corps. It hasn't gone unnoticed by the other 30 NHL teams, and is already causing a rippling effect throughout the league.

The Calgary Flames, for example, have tried to mimic Nashville's core-four, adding Travis Hamonic to a unit already featuring Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and T.J. Brodie. It cost the Flames dearly, though - one first-round pick and two second-round picks.

One day before Hamonic was traded, the Edmonton Oilers re-signed Kris Russell to a four-year extension worth $16 million. Earlier this week, rearguard Brendan Smith re-upped with the New York Rangers to a reported four-year, $17.4-million contract.

Russell and Smith are both second-pairing defensemen at best. Here is how they match up to similar style D-men who signed for comparable money four-to-seven years ago:

Player Age Year Signed Term AAV (Cap%) ATOI PS/82
Russell 30 2017 4Y $4M (5.3%) 21:13 3.7
Smith 28 2017 4Y $4.35M (5.8%) 19:15 3.7
Dennis Seidenberg 28 2010 4Y $3.25M (5.5%) 22:55 6.6
Marc-Edouard Vlasic 26 2012 5Y $4.25M (6.1%) 23:09 5.9
Carl Gunnarsson 26 2013 3Y $3.15M (5.6%) 21:17 6.0
Niklas Hjalmarsson 26 2013 5Y $4.1 (6.3%) 20:54 5.7

Legend:
Age = age of player when contract was signed
AAV = average annual value
Cap% = the player's cap-hit percentage of the cap ceiling for the upcoming season when deal was signed
ATOI = average time on ice in the year prior to signing the contract
PS/82 = point shares, courtesy of Hockey Reference (how many of a team's points a player was responsible for), per 82 games, taken from the season prior to signing the contract

When a team spent upwards of six percent of its salary cap on a defenseman four-to-seven years ago, it was getting a much better player than Russell or Smith. Seidenberg and Vlasic, specifically, were top pairing D-men at the time.

Hjalmarsson and Gunnarsson logged similar minutes to Russell and Smith, and were much more valuable players prior to signing their contracts.

In comparison, here is how much a team had to spend four-to-six years ago on a defenseman who closely resembled Russell and Smith in terms of their ATOI and PS/82 the season prior to signing their contracts:

Player Age Year signed Term AAV (Cap%) ATOI PS/82
Russell 30 2017 4Y $4M (5.3%) 21:13 3.7
Smith 28 2017 4Y $4.35M (5.8%) 19:15 3.7
Roman Polak 25 2011 5Y $2.75M (4.3%) 19:57 3.3
Kevin Klein 28 2012 5Y $2.9M (4.1%) 19:56 4.2
Ben Lovejoy 29 2013 3Y $1.1M (1.7%) 17:50 4.5
Ron Hainsey 33 2013 3Y $2.83M (4.1%) 21:26 3.3

As you can see, teams had to spend roughly one-to-two percent less of their salary cap to acquire a comparable D-man. This may not seem like a lot, but in the salary cap era when every penny counts, it's a huge deal.

Nashville's success is a part of why we're seeing middling blue-liners suddenly get overvalued, but the new wave of analytics has played an even larger role.

Teams have placed a higher precedent on defensemen who can move the puck out of the defensive zone, and in a perfect world, enter the offensive zone with the puck on their stick. There's more and more D-men in the NHL who can skate like the wind and handle the puck like a forward, even if they are undersized.

Russell (shot blocking) and Smith (shot suppression) certainly have their strengths, but neither are capable of anchoring a defense corps the way Nashville's top four did this postseason.

Russell's contract, for example, could come back to hurt Edmonton when it has to pay Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl a combined $20 million per season.

What all of this means is that pending UFAs - such as Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Michael Stone - are in for bigger pay days than most expect, given how high Smith and Russell set the bar.

Moreover, teams with a surplus of defensemen, such as the Carolina Hurricanes, are in the driver's seat when it comes to the trade market.

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The price for NHL D-men is at an all-time high
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