The NHL has announced the Norris Finalists for the shortened 2020-21 season. Adam Fox (New York Rangers), Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning), and Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche) are the three finalists up for best defenceman.
Introducing the Norris Trophy finalists!
— NHL (@NHL) June 9, 2021
Adam Fox, Victor Hedman, and Cale Makar Norris Finalists
The NHL awards the James Norris Memorial Trophy yearly to: “the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”
Underrated in 2019-20, Adam Fox finally started to get recognition for being a strong two-way force on the backend. In 2020-21, Fox scored five goals and 42 assists in just 55 games. Fox tied for sixth in the entire league in assists with Mark Scheifele while leading all defencemen in assists. Tyson Barrie was the only defenceman to score more points than Fox: 48 points to Fox’s 47.
Fox saw greater defensive responsibility with his defensive zone starts increasing this year. In addition, Fox averaged the 11th most ice time for defencemen in 2020-21 after averaging the 123rd most in 2019-20. Though Fox’s Corsi Against per 60 was worse than 2019-20, he handled the increased defensive responsibility well. Fox recorded a better Expected Goals Against per 60 and Goals Against per 60, ranking in the top 20 for defenders for both.
Victor Hedman finds himself a Norris Finalist for the fifth straight season, winning the award in 2017-18. He was fourth in scoring for defencemen in 2020-21, with nine goals and 36 assists in 54 games. Hedman receives the nomination in a year where his usually strong possession stats were far down. Surprisingly, Tampa Bay had a higher share of Expected Goals Percentage with Hedman off the ice.
Though the statistical production was there, the Norris is awarded in theory to the most well rounded defender. Defensively, Hedman appeared to struggle, allowing the most GA/60 and xGA/60 for Lightning defenders. Despite his defensive shortcomings, the Norris has favored offensive production over defensive play and Hedman is certainly a household name.
Cale Makar went point per game in 2020-21 with eight goals and 36 assists in 44 games. If he didn’t miss time with injury, it’s completely fathomable that Makar could’ve led defenders in points this year. A clear indication of his playmaking ability, Makar had more primary assists than every defender not named Kris Letang. Makar’s offensive metrics were elite, with him finding himself in the top 10 for GF/60 and CF/60.
Makar is clearly an offensively electric player whose offensive impact far outweighs his defensive impact. Defensively, Makar is yet to be as strong as Fox or Hedman has previously been. Frequent linemate Devon Toews appears to have a much stronger impact on Colorado’s defensive game, with far superior Corsi Against and Expected Goals Against figures. Looking at Makar’s defensive game is not to diminish his immense talent, but rather evaluate if he is deserving of the Norris as the league’s most well-rounded defenceman.
2020-21 Norris Prediction
If the Norris is to be awarded to the defenceman with “the greatest all-around ability;” Fox seems like the most deserved option. Fox had the best two-way game of the three this year and Hedman’s nomination streak should not bias the decision. Makar is only 22 and it’s completely credulous to think he can round out his defensive game and one day be a future Norris winner. Regardless of Fox’s stronger two-way season, it’s far more likely Hedman’s household name and nomination streak will make him this years 2020-21 Norris winner.
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