Last Word On Sports is doing our annual awards nominations and predictions. We’ll be giving you our nominations and predictions for the Selke Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Calder Trophy, Norris Trophy, Jack Adams Trophy, and the Hart Trophy.
Introduced in 1954, the James Norris Memorial Trophy was awarded to the league’s top defenseman. Red Kelly of the Detroit Red Wings was the first recipient after the 1953-54 season, the same year the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. A hard-nosed, checking defenseman that sometimes alternated between the blue-line and the left wing, when injuries called for the switch, Kelly became a fixture on a team headed by Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel. No player has won the Norris more than Boston Bruins Bobby Orr, who placed his hands on the trophy a total of 8 times, all in consecutive years spanning from the 1967-68 season until the 1974-75 season. Only Montreal Canadiens Doug Harvey and Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom sit one behind Orr, with 7 Norris wins apiece.
As the NHL states:
“The James Norris Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”
Last season, Chicago Blackhawks blue-liner Duncan Keith won his second career Norris after putting up 61 points in 79 games while playing on the Blackhawks top pairing. His win, and those of Canadiens PK Subban and Ottawa Senators Erik Karlsson, have opened up the debate of how much stock is put into the offensive numbers of a player that is running for a trophy for defense. Should the near-point-per-game production rate of Karlsson have been considered despite the fact that his defensive game has been highlighted throughout his career as one of his biggest weaknesses? The same can be said for Subban, who won the trophy two seasons ago. As it stands, both point production and defensive game are considered, but unreal point totals shouldn’t go ignored and in this era, they haven’t.
With all that said, we take a look at three possible candidates who could be locks for the James Norris Memorial Trophy this season, and some honourable mentions tossed in as well.
Leading up to his surgery to repair a torn bicep tendon, stopping his 2014-15 regular season short at 61 games, no defenseman in the entire league was as hot as Mark Giordano. The Calgary Flames eventually scrapped their way into the postseason this year, but it would not have been possible without the contribution of their best defenseman before he was forced out of the line-up. In 61 games, the Toronto-native had surpassed his point total from last season, and was well on his way to winning the Norris before his injury. In fact, he would be our first, second, and third ballot vote had it not been for some unfortunate turn of events. Word is that recovery time for his surgery is 4-5 months, so don’t expect him to be back for a playoff run.
St. Louis Blues
Much like Giordano, Kevin Shattenkirk also had to undergo surgery during this season. An abdominal injury forced Shattenkirk out of the line-up for 25 games, where the Blues would post a record of 14-8-3 without him. In 49 games before his injury, the 26-year-old defenseman had put up 40 points, just 5 points shy of last year’s pace where he played 81 games. Since returning, Shattenkirk has just managed 4 points in 7 games, cooling off from his impressive production rate earlier in the season. It may be his ultimate undoing, as before the injury he was seen as a serious candidate to be a finalist for the trophy.
Los Angeles Kings
The toughest addition to our honorable mentions list could possibly find himself as a finalist when the actual list is released. Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings averaged just over 29 minutes of ice time this season, playing on the top pairing with Jake Muzzin. His 45-point season is the second best total point production of his career, while he has also managed to reduce his time in the penalty box. Unfortunately, Doughty struggled on the powerplay, scoring just one goal with the man advantage and the Kings PP% of 19.3 was good enough for 11th in the league. Doughty’s defensive game also saw some kinks in the armor, as his giveaway-to-takeaway ratio finished at a minus-67 and while the amount of blocked shots increased from last season, his hit total took a dip.
The James Norris Memorial Trophy Candidates
For a second consecutive season, Erik Karlsson posted a 20-goal season with the Ottawa Senators and is leading all defensemen with 66 points, 6 ahead of PK Subban. His offensive game has never been in question, as he continues to prove he’s one of the league’s best offensive-defensemen, but it’s his defensive side of the game that has seen much improvement. His giveaways have been reduced from 115 last season to 98 this year. The time spent in his own end has dramatically been reduced, despite playing over 27 minutes a game, the third highest average among defensemen, while his plus-minus rating has gone from minus-15 to a plus-7 in just one year’s time.
Seeing a defenseman from the Nashville Predators in the ballot may not be a hard thing to imagine, but the name isn’t Shea Weber. It’s Roman Josi. A 55-point season is just the tip of the iceberg as to why Josi should receive heavy consideration for the Norris this year. Ten more points than his defensive partner (Weber), the 24-year-old plays on the top pairing and has faced all the toughest matchups this season. Former Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz has referred to the young defenseman as the “Erik Karlsson of the Western Conference” because of his ability to carry the puck up the ice with ease and be a part of the attacking offense. Josi, along with Weber, only get around 44% of their zone starts in the offensive end.
Much like Karlsson, PK Subban’s reputation comes from his flashy, offensive style and his ability to score timely goals and drive the offense from the back-end. After the 60-game mark, it became remarkable just how much the team revolved around Subban’s ability to carry the puck up the ice, as advanced stats had him leading the league in driving possession numbers for both himself and his teammates, whenever he was on the ice (CF%RelTM). After a slow start to his $72-million contract, Subban has lit it up like a Christmas tree and has come to full form, putting up points, laying out big hits and improving defensively every season. Playing on the top pairing with veteran Andrei Markov and logging just over 26 minutes a game, Subban may not be the front-runner this year, but he should be receiving some pretty heavy consideration.
My Ballot Choices
First Place: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
Second Place: Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Third Place: PK Subban, Montreal Canadiens