This year in the NHL has seen the rise of some great players and as expected the NHL awards have some new faces. I think there are some players, such as Holtby, who are destined to win their respective award (Vezina) after having a career season and tying an NHL record in wins by a goaltender. There are other races that will be much tighter. Today I will focus on the Norris race.
The Norris trophy is awarded annually to the defenseman who throughout the season, demonstrated the greatest all-around ability at the position. In my opinion, the focus needs to be on two key phrases; throughout the season and all-around ability. The finalists for the trophy are Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.
All three players played the full 82 game schedule so that becomes a non-issue. When determining greatest all around ability, there are several factors that should be included. In my opinion, points, plus/minus and time on ice (TOI) are keys for all-around defensive ability.
Karlsson leads the pack in points with 82, while Burns is second at 75 and Doughty third with 51. Karlsson and Burns finished as the two highest scoring defensemen, while Doughty finished 9th overall. In terms of plus/minus, Doughty leads the finalists with a +24 rating (5th overall), while Karlsson was at minus two (181st overall) and Burns at minus 5 (220th overall). Before we get all freaked out about the parity of plus/minus, we first need to account for how much these guys were on the ice.
Karlsson led the league in TOI with an average of 28 minutes and 58 seconds. Doughty was third in the league with an average of 28 minutes and 1 second, while Burns was seventh in the league at 25 minutes and 51 seconds. That is a pretty considerable jump from third to seventh. Over two minutes more of ice time per game for Doughty and Karlsson.
So Burns plays less than the other two, has the worst plus/minus, but finished second in the league in scoring. If he had played as much as Karlsson, would he have scored more points? Would his plus/minus have improved or dropped further?
Karlsson leads the league in ice time and points, but his plus/minus is not good at all. Is this due to a lack of defensive prowess or the fact that he is on a mediocre team? On the other hand, Doughty eats quite a bit of ice, has an outstanding plus/minus, but doesn’t score as much. Does this prove Doughty is the best on the defensive side? Does a defensive minded LA team with a future HOF goaltender help Doughty’s numbers?
In 2015 Erik Karlsson won the Norris, leading defensemen in scoring, having a plus/minus in the 60th overall range and being third overall in TOI. In 2014 Duncan Keith won the Norris finishing 2nd in points overall, 10th in plus/minus and 15th in TOI. In 2013 P.K. Subban won the Norris finishing 2nd in points, 19th in plus/minus and 35th in TOI.
In analyzing the previous recipients, it becomes clear that scoring is a major factor in deciding the winner. TOI and plus/minus seem to be all over the map for previous winners. The one thing that hasn’t been noted and will be mentioned now is the fact that the previous three winners saw their team reach the Stanley Cup playoffs. Will Karlsson be knocked out because of that? Will Burns be able to win with one of the worst plus/minus by a finalist in recent history? Will Doughty prevail despite scoring less points?
It is a very difficult decision, you have three different defensemen. Karlsson is a talented and skilled, offensive minded defensemen. He probably leads the league in ice time simply because he has to in order for Ottawa to compete. Burns can be slotted anywhere in terms of position and it could be argued he is not a true defensemen. He has the worst plus/minus of the three and the least amount of TOI, both causes of concern. Doughty goes about his business quietly and has help from talented teammates. He doesn’t have to be the superstar, but does his job very, very well.
In the end, my prediction will be that Burns wins the trophy. He excelled during the regular season in terms of points despite less ice time. His plus minus is the only big concern about him, but he clearly helped his team make the playoffs. More importantly he currently has 11 points in 8 playoff games on a team that looks like they could hoist the Cup with only 5 or 6 losses during their run. If San Jose does make a deep run, I think it solidifies Burns as the Norris trophy winner.