April 23, 2009
The field for the Norris Trophy is, perhaps, the deepest for any postseason award this year. Even if you're just going with the glamour stats of offensive contribution, the potential nominees made this one ridiculously competitive. Consider the uninvited:
• Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens: 12 goals, 52 assists, 29 PP points
• Brian Rafalski, Detroit Red Wings: 10 goals, 49 assists, plus-17
• Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks: 14 goals, 45 assists, 32 PP points
• Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks: 16 goals, 41 assists, 32 PP points
• Mark Streit, New York Islanders: 16 goals, 40 assists, plus-6
• Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: 23 goals, 53 points, 251 shots on goal
But elevating any of these defenseman -- and they're all worthy in their own way, but Weber and Boyle perhaps more than any -- would have meant leaving Nicklas Lidstrom off the ballot. Mike Green led all defenseman with 31 goals and 73 points; he was a lock. Zdeno Chara was the leader of a Boston Bruins blue line that helped the team basically wire the field in the Eastern Conference; he was a lock.
Lidstrom wasn't a lock, despite 16 goals, 43 assists and a plus-31. He's had better seasons recently, and chatter about his dominance wasn't as overwhelming for a defending Stanley Cup champ. Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press believes that Lidstrom, "a finalist for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons, will finish third behind those two." That's probably accurate.
So who takes it? Whose 'D' reigns supreme?
Why Green Deserves the Norris: As we debated before, Green's candidacy is a clash of philosophies for those who weigh offense as heavily as defense when it comes to being the "best" defenseman. His critics hit him with claims that he's too offensive, and that's not exactly fair on two fronts. First, he's dramatically improved his defensive game since coming into the League; he's not a shutdown guy, but he doesn't deserve the "all-O, no-D" knock that guys like Brian Campbell usually earn.
More importantly, it can be argued that his offense is his defense. Green's puck possession ability and contributions on offense this season kept attack teams on their heels. By virtue of keeping his opponents defending a defenseman, he's doing his job ... even if it's on the other end of the ice from his goalie.
And as much ink as Alexander Ovechkin gets for his value to the Capitals, Bangin Panger makes the case that Green's contributions are just as vital to wins and losses. And also vital for bandwagon fans to have a hair style to ape.
Why Chara Deserves the Norris: Working past the obvious notion of "he's due," Chara's importance to one of the best defenses in hockey this season can't be ignored. He logged an average of 26:04 per game, and was the best shutdown defenseman in the conference.
Sure, the fact that he can change a light bulb in the arena ceiling by standing on a milk carton helps his dominance; but the difference between Chara and Kjell Samuelsson is three inches, the possibility of being a Norris Trophy winner and the fact that one is Kjell Samuelsson, if you get what we're sayin'.
Why Lidstrom Deserves the Norris: Well, because he's never going to be appreciated for how good he is when an average year still looks like this.
Third in the NHL for defenseman in plus/minus, and as steady as ever despite the shaky situation between the pipes all seasons for the Wings. The voting was over before the playoffs started, but Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets told the Freep what it's like to be humbled by the best:
"He's just so good positionally - he doesn't get out of position very often," Nash said. "He's proven over the years with all the Stanley Cups you don't need to play too physical - he rides out his checks, he makes sure he slows you down, he stays in position. ... I laugh at the critics that say he doesn't play physical."
Lidstrom's bid for a seventh Norris Trophy will fall short. Unless the voters felt Chara's contributions to the Bruins' dominance can't be ignored, he'll fall short. Green, on the other hand, became the seventh defenseman to score over 30 goals and set an NHL record for defensemen by scoring a goal in eight consecutive games.
He's got the numbers. He's got the history. And in Vegas, Mike Green will have his first Norris Trophy.