The first step is admitting you have a problem.
My problem, earlier this season, was that I felt Shea Weber deserved the Norris Trophy because (a) he’s an incredible defenseman and (b) he hadn’t been given one yet because of Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara and Duncan Keith and general apathy toward anything Nashville related by the voting populace. (See Also: Trotz, Barry and Adams, Jack).
It’s a widespread problem. The latest USA Today power rankings reveal that Weber is the leading vote-getter for the Norris from a panel of 12 NHL voters (yours truly included), six of whom voted him first overall.
But here’s the thing: Voting for Shea Weber to win the 2014-15 Norris Trophy makes him Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman.”
Pacino was nominated for the following roles but didn’t win an Oscar: “The Godfather,” “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “… And Justice For All,” “Dick Tracy,” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Some of these losses were the result of being bettered by a greater performance – due respect to Pacino in “Dog Day” but Jack Nicholson was a fairly decent R.P. McMurphy – and some of them were simply a lack of appreciation for his efforts.
So the Academy did what it does and gave Pacino an Oscar in 1992 for a performance that carried a film but that doesn’t belong in the same pantheon as his previous classics; nor did it trump the performances of some of his fellow nominees (two words and a letter: Denzel, “Malcolm X”).
Like Pacino, Weber's been better.
The support for Weber this season isn’t grounded in stats, nor is it linked to impact. His 45 points in 73 games currently have him 10th in scoring by a defenseman, 14 points off of Erik Karlsson’s pace. More importantly, it’s six points off the pace of Roman Josi, Weber’s defensive partner with the Nashville Predators.
Any discussion of Weber’s candidacy has to start with explaining how Josi isn’t just as deserving, or more so. The tale of the tape:
Corsi 5v5 Close
OFF/DEF Zone Starts
Zone Adj. Corsi% w/o the other
Corsi Relative to Quality of Competition
So Weber’s not exactly running away with his thing when it comes to his own teammate, let alone the rest of the Norris field.
As Rob Vollman pointed out on ESPN.com earlier this month, after Mark Giordano’s injury shook up the field (click here for the chart referenced):
As for Nashville's Weber and Josi, the white circles indicate that they join Carlson as the only defensemen under consideration who actually put their teams at a shot-based disadvantage. That is, the Predators actually have a larger share of the team's attempted shots when those two are on the bench, which generally means that they have the puck more frequently, too. Their fans could argue that this is because Weber and Josi play the tough minutes against top opponents in the defensive zone, but even alternate forms of this statistic that adjust for playing conditions -- such as Steve Burtch's dCorsi -- suggest that they are not good possession-driving players no matter where or against whom they play.
So if it’s not Shea Weber for Norris, who gets it?
Absent Giordano – the best defenseman in the NHL two years running, but felled by injuries in both seasons – and with a stick-tap to Victor Hedman – who just won’t have the same body of work – it’s a field of three:
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
As Elliotte Friedman noted, Subban’s playing better this season than when he won the Norris in 2013:
Subban’s great improvement is in using his stick to break up plays, and knowing when to carry the puck up ice as opposed to supporting the rush. The Canadiens prefer their defencemen to support it, because, if a defender is doing so, it usually means forwards have to stop or slow down to accommodate a later arrival.
Subban’s gifts give him more carries than others, but he’s more judicious about it. He’s also played more 30-minute games than anyone else, and gritted through a sore foot two weeks ago when the Canadiens desperately needed it.
He’s fourth in the NHL in scoring for defensemen at 52 points, has a 53.6 5v5 corsi close to lead the Habs. He’s somewhat zone start protected (31 percent of his starts in the defensive zone) but that’s how Michel Therrien chooses to use him.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Speaking of protected, Letang starts 37.7 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. He’s second in the league to Erik Karlsson in points at 54. Like Karlsson, there are those that are never going to see Letang as a complete defenseman, or acknowledge the year he’s had: 55.2 percent corsi close 5v5 for Letang, and the possession numbers for Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin fall off a cliff when they’re not with him.
(Also interesting: 57 giveaways to his credit, less than one per game. Quite low for a puck-mover.)
He skates 25:39 per night in all situations, and is having a better all-around year than he had when he was a Norris finalist in 2012-13.
But the guy that has my vote, at the moment:
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
The same “Scent of a Woman” case can be made for Doughty as it’s been made for Weber: Here’s a Norris bridesmaid that’s had better seasons than the current one, but that is just as “due” a postseason honor as Weber. Perhaps even more so this season.
The Kings lost Willie Mitchell to free agency. Slava Voynov was suspended. The result? Doughty’s ice time spiked from 25:43 per game last season to 29:17 per game this season.
He plays in all situations and starts 40 percent of his shifts in the neutral zone. As usual, he’s a possession monster: 55.8 percent corsi-for in 5v5 close. He’s having his best offensive season since 2009-10 with a points per game average of 0.57, and that’s with a career-low shooting percentage of 2.6 percent (i.e. bad puck luck).
Like I said: Doughty is very much liek Weber this season. He’s had better years. His defense partner – Jake Muzzin – contributes plenty to his success. A vote for Doughty is not only a vote for this season but the cumulative efforts of previous seasons.
If you want to cast your vote based on that criteria, it shouldn’t go to Shea Weber. It should go to Drew Doughty, whose heavy lifting this season on the blueline hasn’t affected his stellar play for the Kings.
Make him your Pacino. Hoo-wah!
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