March 29, 2010
The stats are also completely besides the point when it comes to Mike Green and the Norris Trophy for top defenseman, because his 31 goals, 73 points and plus-24 last season was overcome by those turned off by his swagger (that hair!) and the perception that he didn't play enough defense to win a defenseman's award. At least in the minds of the Professional Hockey Writers who cast their ballots for the Norris, he was the clear second choice behind Zdeno Chara(notes) of the Boston Bruins.
Chara's all but out of the Norris hunt this year, and there's a sense that the field is open for the award. Whether Green wins or loses will be a product of two factors:
1. If playing for an offensive powerhouse is seen as a numbers-inflating knock on his candidacy. It's something that didn't hurt Paul Coffey in the 1980s, but has evidently changed with the times — see the knock on Ovechkin in some corners.
2. If he has overcome the negative opinions that have dogged him in all-star snubs, a Team Canada roster rebuke and his runner-up status in the Norris voting last season: That he's immature as a player, and that there's no 'D' in Mike Green.
Already, there's some evidence that voters are willing to lift Green from his offensive-defenseman purgatory and into the Norris this season.
In September, Mike Brophy of Sportsnet had Green ranked 35th in his top 50 players list, behind four defenseman and right ahead of potential 2010 Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber(notes) of the Nashville Predators. From Sept. 2009:
There are few players who are as much fun to watch as Green, especially when he is rushing the puck. But the wheels came off in the playoffs when he had just one goal in 14 games. A word of caution: If you want to show up with a goofy playoff haircut, you need to play better.
Booooo, individuality! Down with personal expression!
But another outstanding season from Green appears to have pushed Brophy closer to accepting him as a Norris winner. From Monday, on Sportsnet:
With 17 goals and 71 points in 70 games, Green certainly has the offensive credentials. Not only that, his plus-33 is second best in the NHL amongst defenseman. Only teammate Jeff Schultz's(notes) plus-37 is better. How much of a defensive liability can you really be at plus-33?
Also boding well for Green is the fact he also led the NHL in scoring among defensemen last season, with a whopping 31 goals and 73 points in 68 games. Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins edged Green out for the Norris Trophy last season, but it is easy to imagine voters looking at Green's body of work over two seasons and deciding he has earned the honor this year.
In speaking with other voters informally, Brophy's not alone. There are some who voted against Green last season, felt affirmed when he tanked in the playoffs, but now feel he's a special player whose defensive liabilities aren't as prevalent as perceived.
But are there enough of those voters for him to win?
We're not sure. Duncan Keith(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks has three things going for him: That he's the defensive lynch pin for what was, at one point, the best defensive team in hockey, much like Chara last season; that he's been chatted up as a Norris finalist for months; and that he made Team Canada while Green wasn't selected, which may factor into the thinking in a close vote.
Chris Pronger's(notes) statistic achievement and workload on the Philadelphia Flyers blueline makes him a strong candidate. Drew Doughty(notes) of the Los Angeles Kings could win the award without a second thought, if not for the fact that there's a "wait your turn" vibe from the voters for the 20-year-old future star. Weber, Dan Boyle(notes) of the San Jose Sharks and Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) are in the mix, too.
The finalists? We'd go with Green, Keith and Doughty, who sucks up Pronger's West Coast support and who was an absolute star in Vancouver. (Again, this shouldn't matter ... but it will.)
The winner? Unless more influential mainstream writers lend their voices to supporting Green, it'll be Keith — because he's already getting that support.