This week saw yet another volley in the “Drew Doughty Should Have A Norris By Now!” war that has been raging for years.
Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times wrote a column entitled, “Kings' Drew Doughty is making a case for recognition at awards time.” It got a lot of attention. About a week before, Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News ran a column effectively saying the same thing, with quotes from new teammate Milan Lucic to that effect. Chris Stevenson of NHL.com soon followed suit.
Each trotted out all the tired stuff you've heard about forever as to why (Very Good Defenseman) has never won the Norris: He plays on the west coast rather than against Eastern Conference opponents, he's not in a major Canadian media market, Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban can do whatever they want going forward, Doughty is a leader while those ahead of him in Norris voting each year are less important to their clubs' infrastructure, they only give the Norris to the defenseman with the most points. And so on.
You could hit every beat of each column without having read them, because they all follow the same pattern whether they're about Doughty or Shea Weber or any other Western Conference defenseman who is clearly very good but has never in his career had the best season of any NHL defenseman.
And that's the real reason why Doughty hasn't won a Norris, and why shouldn't do so this year either: There are always more deserving candidates.
This is a controversial statement, of course. Media members will beat down your door for the chance to evangelize about “Isn't Doughty so great?” and “Isn't he actually the best player alive?” Well, look, no one's saying he's bad. He's often one of the three or four best defensemen in the league in any given year, in fact, and he often has stretches where he looks like the absolute elite of the elite. But let's be honest here: The media always has the option to vote for him for Norris, and literally never does so. He finished second last year, and third in 2009-10, but has never cracked the top-5 in voting for any other season of the seven he's played.
And the reason why is that he has never distinguished himself above his peers. Go through the list of heavy-minutes defensemen and find a season in which Doughty was better than the guy who won the award. You can't do it, but just in case you didn't, here's a convenient guide for you (excluding 2011-12, when Doughty didn't get a single vote):
(Hey, remember that last Norris Lidstrom won, basically as a lifetime achievement award? In hindsight — and at the time — that was pretty damn embarrassing for the PHWA.)
This is just a sampling of the stats available, but these seem to be the ones most conducive to telling the story as to “play at both ends of the ice.” Doughty is rarely an elite defenseman, and only occasionally does he seem to be able to suppress shots against at any particularly strong rate. That his ranks in goals against per 60 minutes are regularly 80th-or-worse among the 120 or so defensemen who regularly clear 1,000 minutes should be telling, but the data suggests he's not all that elite when it comes to reducing high-quality chances, or playing especially difficult competition.
Point being that even if you want to argue, “Well, [insert defenseman here] shouldn't have won that year!” the fact of the matter is that Doughty shouldn't have either. Doesn't matter where he plays his hockey, in LA, Toronto, or on the dwarf planet Ceres: These numbers were never good enough to merit serious consideration for the award. Last year was the only season in which I'd say he had a legitimate chance, but Karlsson often posted comparable or better numbers on a dramatically inferior team, and anyway PHWA voters have long since decided you don't get an award if you don't make the playoffs.
Besides, the last two seasons have been thrown into chaos by the late-season injuries to Mark Giordano, who would have demolished all comers in Norris voting had he not gotten injured with 20 or so games to play. He was so clearly the favorite in both of the last two seasons that Duncan Keith and Erik Karlsson having won instead can and should be seen as something like asterisked awards. Oh and by the way, remind us again about that white-hot mega-populated East Coast media market in which Giordano plays under hot lights and tsunamis of attention every single night.
As to those who say, “Well then, at the very least, this is the year Doughty should win the Norris,” smart observers of the sport would advise them to, as they say, Watch The Games. There is one defenseman running away with the Norris this year — though we must say, too, that this is a knock-on-wood, barring-catastrophic-injury situation — and it's should-be-three-time-winner Karlsson once again. Go down any stats you want, and Karlsson is cleaning up.
And where it concerns Doughty playing a “different type of game” from guys like Subban and Karlsson — hey, by the way, Western Conference defensemen have won three of the six for the seasons we're talking about (and should have won four of them if not for Giordano's bum shoulder), so let's can it with the East Coast Bias whining — the fact of the matter is that these numbers are so granular that they would show up somewhere. He's not elite in terms of high-quality chance suppression, doesn't score a ton himself, usually doesn't play mega-tough competition, etc.
The argument that Karlsson and Subban “only play offense” is true to a certain extent, but that is the extent to which it's all they can do when they have the puck far more often than not. Those two guys are a lot closer to playing like Bobby Orr than Doughty is, because while Doughty is always good, he rarely does the “intangibles-y” thing and Take Over A Game. Believe me, I watch a lot of Kings games, and Doughty almost never has a bad night. He also never has one where you have to pick your jaw up off the floor. He's Al MacInnis Light in that regard. And Al MacInnis is great and a Hall of Famer and everything like that, but he has one Norris to his name because he played in an era when Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios and Nick Lidstrom just won the Norris every damn year and then another guy occasionally had a scrap thrown to him. If we're calling this another Golden Age Of Defensemen, it's not implausible that Doughty will have to wait until he's in his mid-30s to win, just like MacInnis did. No one knocks Al MacInnis, because he was great. He just wasn't as-great.
And you know what else helps Doughty that does not help Subban or Karlsson? Playing with Anze Kopitar. Try to pick a No. 1 center in the entire league, not just on the Habs and Sens, who is better than Kopitar in all three zones and you're going to come up with a list that ranges from short to non-existent. And boy does a dominant center help you look better as a defenseman.
Again, no one is saying Doughty isn't clearly really good, because he clearly really is. But apart from the Olympics — and hey gang, anyone can have a transcendent two-week or even two-month stretch; Doughty's goalie is being paid huge money until 2023 as a result of just such a run — he's never clearly been the best at his position, or even all that close to it.
There are a few arguable split decisions in his career, but that's the closest it's ever come, and that's the closest it ever should have come. And so far, this season is no different.
All stats via War on Ice unless otherwise stated.
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY: