April 23, 2010
The Norris Trophy for the NHL's best defenseman will be handed out at the League's awards ceremony in late June. But much like the Lenten season that precedes Easter, the NHL's night of self-congratulation is preceded by its own weeks-long tradition: Complaining that an offensively-inclined blue-liner "doesn't play defense" and hence shouldn't be nominated for the Norris.
Last year, that maligned defenseman was Mike Green(notes) of the Washington Capitals, and he'll serve the same role this year. It's a reputation he's yet to shake with puckheads and pundits, although his back-to-back nominations from the Professional Hockey Writers Association indicates at least a minimal appreciation for his defensive game. Or a complete infatuation with this stats. One of the two.
The finalists for the Norris Trophy this season are Green, Duncan Keith(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks and Drew Doughty(notes) of the Los Angeles Kings, who has a chance to be the second-youngest Norris winner behind Bobby Orr. Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) of the Detroit Red Wings isn't up for the award he's captured six times, despite a Norris-worthy (if not completely Lidstrom-like) season. A slow start torpedoed his chances.
Other worthy candidates included Shea Weber(notes) of the Nashville Predators, Dan Boyle(notes) of the San Jose Sharks, Christian Ehrhoff(notes) of the Vancouver Canucks, Zdeno Chara(notes) of the Boston Bruins and Chris Pronger(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers. Debates will rage, and rightfully so: It was a deep field this season.
So who wins the Norris from the three finalists?
Why Mike Green Deserves The Norris. Here's the NHL take on Green:
Runner-up to Zdeno Chara for the 2009 Norris Trophy, Green followed up his 31-goal 2008-09 season by leading NHL defensemen in both goals (19) and points (76) for the second straight year. He led the League's blueliners in assists (57) and power-play goals (10), quarterbacking the NHL's most lethal man-up unit -- Washington's 79 power-play goals were nine more than any other team and its 25.2-percent success rate easily outpaced the competition. Green also ranked among the League's top 10 defensemen in plus/minus (second, plus-39), game-winning goals (second, four) and average ice time (ninth, 25:28).
"Does he play defense?"
Sure, but not nearly as well as the other two candidates do. But they don't have the offensive numbers Green does, either. So then it comes back to the uncomfortable semantic argument about what the Norris Trophy is intended to reward, which is "the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position."
Green's gotten better defensively, but that's an unwinnable argument with those hung-up on his Olympic snub and the talent he plays with in D.C. and how his hair looks with those tattoos. Again: He's not better defensively than the other two, and probably the top 5 on most ballots. If you consider that aspect to be the critical factor in who wins the award, then he falls short. If the totality of his game is more important, then he's worthy.
Why Drew Doughty Deserves The Norris. Here's the NHL's take on Doughty:
Doughty, who won't turn 21 until Dec. 8, is vying to become the second-youngest Norris Trophy winner -- Bobby Orr won his first of a record eight at 20 years, 3 months of age. With 59 points, Doughty ranked third in the NHL in scoring among defensemen, behind fellow finalists Mike Green and Duncan Keith. Doughty's 16 goals -- including five game-winners, tops among NHL defensemen -- tied him with Nashville's Shea Weber for second most among League blueliners behind Green's 19. He logged 24:58 of ice time per game, which led the Kings and ranked 13th among all NHL players, and posted a plus-20 rating.
The addition of Rob Scuderi(notes) last summer elevated Doughty's game. He played with more confidence than in his rookie season, which is quite a feat considering he looked like a 10-year veteran on most nights last year. The numbers don't tell you how many top lines he helped slow or how many impressive hits he doled out. Doughty arrived this season, and the playoffs have offered further evidence of that.
Why Duncan Keith Deserves The Norris. Here's the NHL's take on Keith:
Keith played all 82 games this season for the third time in his five-year NHL career. In doing so, he logged a total of 2,180:24 of ice time, the most among all NHL players. Having steadily increased his production each year, he took his offense to another level this season, registering career highs in goals (14), assists (55) and points (69). Keith ranked second to Washington's Mike Green among NHL defensemen in assists and points. He posted a plus-21 rating and is plus-84 over the last three seasons.
He was the lynchpin for what was the best defensive team in hockey for most of the season, before both he and the Blackhawks played a bit inconsistently after the Olympic break. He's a rock defensively and his offensive game flourished this season. Like Doughty, he's tasked with shutting down other teams' top pairings. It was a tremendous season for Keith.
Who Wins The Norris? Keith is going to have a ton of support here, as an Olympian and as the name mentioned most prominently during the season as a Norris winner (like Chara was last season). Green wins if the media has finally overcome the litany of negative impressions he's left in the last two seasons. Doughty wins if age ain't nuthin; but a number.
It's a fairly wide-open award. Here's what our ballot looked like:
1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
2. Mike Green, Washington Capitals
3. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
4. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
5. Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers
There are a couple of numbers that I couldn't get past for Mike Green. First, he was on the ice for more goals-against at even strength (50) than Doughty (45) in fewer games, and Doughty had a better goals-against-per-60-minutes of even-strength hockey (1.95) than Green (2.36) and Keith (2.77).
Keith played against the toughest opponents 5-on-5, with a Quality of Competition rating of 0.081. (Head here for an explanation for how it's computed.) Doughty's (0.027) was higher than Green's (0.005). All stats are via Behind the Net.
In watching Doughty play this season, I felt he was the best all-around defenseman I had seen. Keith impressed me, too, but I see Doughty has having had the stronger (and more consistently strong) season.
Plus, Doughty used to be a fat kid. The Norris Trophy is great for self-esteem. Let Doughnuts have it.