Norris Trophy Finalists: Letang vs. Subban vs. Suter

The 2012-13 Norris Trophy finalists were announced on Tuesday, as Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins, P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens and Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild are up for the award given “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

The coolness: All three are first-time nominees, which is only fitting in the first post-Nicklas-Lidstrom-Norris-Trophy-Stranglehold season. No Zdeno Chara among the finalists. No Shea Weber either, which obviously makes the Suter nomination one of the most delicious plotlines of the awards season.

All three are worthy candidates, although our hearts go out to the defensive defensemen who will never have a sniff of this award because they aren’t among the League’s top scorers. Alas, the Norris is for “greatest all-around ability”; where’s our Rod Langway Award already?

So who wins the Norris this season?

Why Kris Letang Deserves The Norris

The NHL says:

Letang finished second in the scoring race among NHL defensemen despite missing more than a quarter of the schedule, posting 38 points (five goals, 33 assists) in 35 games to help the Penguins capture the Atlantic Division title and No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The 26-year-old Montreal native led all defensemen in assists and was the only NHL blueliner to score at a point-per-game rate. Letang also posted a +16 rating, led the Penguins in average ice time per game (25:38) and ranked third on the club with 59 blocked shots.

Letang’s speed is a difference maker on both ends of the ice. Offensively, he wasn’t just leeching off the Penguins’ power play: 25 of his 38 points came at even strength. The primary knock on Letang: Penguins fans will tell you he wasn’t even the best overall defenseman on his team this season, with a resurgent Paul Martin getting that nod.

Why P.K. Subban Deserves The Norris

The NHL says:

Subban topped NHL defensemen in scoring, recording 38 points (11 goals, 27 assists) in 42 games as the Canadiens won the Northeast Division crown and posted the League's fourth-best record. The 23-year-old Toronto native also led defensemen in power-play scoring with 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists), helping Montreal post the League's fifth-best success rate with the man advantage (20.7%). Subban ranked second on the Canadiens in points, plus-minus (+12) and average ice time per game (23:14).

The intangible thing with Subban’s candidacy is maturity. He took flack before the season for a restricted free agent “hold out” that wasn’t his doing. He’s been long seen as a hot-headed player with a personality that rubs opponents and veterans in his own room the wrong way (see: Gorges, Josh). This season, that all went to the back burner and Subban flourished on both ends of the ice – an especially on the power play. It was a star-making year; considering how far ahead Andrei Markov was for this award in the first two months of the season?

Why Ryan Suter Deserves The Norris

The NHL says:

Suter anchored the Minnesota defense in his first season with the club, helping the Wild earn its first playoff berth since 2008. The 28-year-old native of Madison, Wis., led all NHL players in average ice time per game (27:16), including six games of 30-plus minutes in his final 11 contests. He capped the season by logging a season-high 32:54 and +2 rating in the team's playoff-clinching 3-1 win at Colorado. Suter also contributed to the offense, ranking second among NHL defensemen in assists (28) and third in points (32). His uncle, Gary Suter, finished third in Norris Trophy balloting in 1988 with the Calgary Flames.

Oh, wait, he’s a legacy? Just give him the Norris then …

What Suter was able to accomplish for what was an average at best blue line was extraordinary, especially down the stretch. He’s was the foundational player his contract promised he’d become. And while Jonas Brodin wasn’t your typical rookie, this was Suter’s first season away from Weber, and he showed he can carry the freight in a defensive pairing.

Who Wins The Norris?

Suter. The buzz was loudest for Suter near the end of the season, as the Wild made their playoff push. He’s going to get the majority of support from the Western Conference voters, while the East might be split between Letang and Subban.

Our Ballot

1. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
2. Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim Ducks
3. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
4. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
5. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

Yes, Beauchemin. He played 23:27 per night, was a plus-19 and posted his the second best points per game average (0.50) of his career. Granted, he didn’t finish all that strongly, but overall he was a rock defensively for the Ducks and deserving of inclusion on any ballot.

Keith had a very strong season at 24:06 per night and 27 points, 10 of them on the power play. The Chicago defense was as much a reason for their President’s Trophy as their offense, and Keith was a vital part of both.

In the end, I felt Suter’s workload and effective play in both ends warranted him winning this award. He emerged from Weber’s shadow and became a star this season, even while carrying the weight of that free-agent contract. Subban was fantastic, as was Letang – although I agree that in some ways, Martin was better – but this is Suter’s year.