Arthur, you and I were excited last year at the possibility of Luca Sbisa starting his first full NHL season with Scott Niedermayer. Specifically, the possibility that the combination would be more akin to Francois Beauchemin's time with the old captain than it was to either Festerling's or Wisniewski's.
Sbisa didn't perform to Carlyle's satisfaction then, or to begin this year for that matter, but he appears to be earning his spot now. In fact, the young defenseman spent much of his night with top pairing fixture Lubomir Visnovsky. Arthur, has Sbisa played well enough to earn a spot on the top pairing in this depth chart?
Well, I think it's great that you bring up Beauchemin, because I think the expectations are similar here. For Sbisa to make the top pair, he doesn't have to have the second best toolkit in the lineup, he just has to have one that complements an offensive defenseman and then display the ability to be faithful enough to the system to keep Carlyle's depth chart pencil at bay. He's done those things so far.
Now, another key to Beauchemin's success was his overall physicality. He used his AHL experience to drop the gloves and intimidate top six forwards. I don't know if Sbisa can do that in only his second 25+ game season in the NHL, not that that's a fair comparison. This Ducks team maybe isn't as rough and tumble as that 05-06 Ducks team, but Sbisa has definitely relied on his stick at times when strength, or at least more effective body position, was the prudent play. Again, not a fair comparison when you consider the age gap between Beauchemin and Sbisa when they got their shot at a full NHL season, but definitely a factor in determining whether or not Sbisa can perform to Carlyle's satisfaction on a top pair.
He's earned a look, and because of that, I don't see why he couldn't earn the spot. He'll have to steadily improve his physicality beyond what is some great open ice hitting right now, and he'll have to get a reliable shot on net from the point. But it's chemistry and managing the minutes against top six forwards as much as anything else. And everything Sbisa's done so far looks like it could complement Lubo well.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that this question might just be a ploy that allows me to once again complain that Murray let Beauchemin walk. It is, in my opinion, Murray's unforgivable sin as the Ducks' GM. Readers, take a second and picture a top four that features Visnovsky-Lydman, and Beauchemin-Fowler. Ok, so if Francois stays there's no guarantee we get Fowler. But I miss Beauchemin, and I think that Sbisa can greatly learn from his example to effectively climb the depth chart. But, that shouldn't be the method he employs.
Sbisa has been very solid since his return. He's been the Ducks most effective physical presence, considering that Sutton lacks Sbisa's ability to recover from the big hit and get back on D. I agree that he needs to be more physical in certain scenarios, but I also think we need to remember what kind of toolkit Sbisa really has. When he first got here, he was already a phenomenal skater and had an above average shot. The fact that he's added the physical game to his repertoire means it's time to put him in a situation where he can blossom.
Sbisa isn't meant to be just a complement to a top pairing guy. He's supposed to be the type of player that IS a top pair or top four defenseman. That's maybe not a realistic expectation for his performance in only his second 25+ game season, but it's definitely something to keep in mind. To thoroughly answer the question, I'd have to say that I have my doubts as to whether or not Sbisa has played well enough to unseat Lydman as Visnovsky's partner. But, Sbisa will never be the defenseman he was projected to be if he doesn't start playing some 22+ minute games and seeing ice-time in key situations. The Ducks have to take care of this investment. Sbisa should get this chance. If he holds up over the season, the entire defensive corps will be improved.