As the NHL season winds down, the race for the Norris Trophy tightens. Here are five candidates challenging for the award.
Ask Erik Karlsson: the 2017-18 NHL season has not been an easy one for defensemen. That said, the race for the Norris Trophy is in full swing.
Awarded to the defender that is judged to be the best at his position during the regular season, the Norris is one of hockey’s most prestigious trophies. Let’s consider five players who are looking to bring the award home for good.
Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Almost a year after the most successful season of his career, Victor Hedman is the favorite to capture the Norris Trophy.
While he will not be scoring another 72 points, the talented defender continues to combine offensive prowess with defensive responsibility. He’s earned 11 goals and 38 assists over the course of 64 games, but what’s particularly impressive is the way in which these stats are accumulated. He stands fifth among all players in time on ice and is just 3 minutes and 59 seconds shy of averaging 30 minutes per game.
It’s no secret that Hedman is part of a larger system of winning. Yet despite the success of his teammates, Hedman’s irreplaceability has not gone unnoticed. As fellow defender Dan Girardi stated, “There is no other Victor Hedman on this team”.
Verdict: The frontrunner he is and the frontrunner he will continue to be. Look for the words “Hedman” and “Norris” to become all but inseparable in the weeks to come.
Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks)
Last season, the bearded monster that is Brent Burns took the NHL by storm. He led all defenders in points with 29 goals and 47 assists, which resulted in him earning his first Norris Trophy. At times, his name was even uttered in the same breath as contenders for the Hart — a particularly impressive feat for a defenseman.
This season, Burns has continued to serve as a dynamic force on the Sharks’ blue line. He’s third in scoring among NHL defensemen with 10 goals and 43 assists, but his mistakes have not gone unnoticed. He leads the league in giveaways with 108 and is a -19 despite averaging 3:40 of powerplay time per night.
The Verdict: Look for Burns to continue to be included in Norris Trophy discussions. A nomination isn’t outside the realm of possibility, but his liabilities limit his chances of repeating.
John Klingberg (Dallas Stars)
Perhaps the most surprising name on this list, John Klingberg is having the most productive season of his career. He currently leads all NHL defensemen in points and assists and has even led his team in scoring at various points of the season. The latter is especially admirable, as the Stars’ roster includes natural scorers like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov.
Surprise, however, is a double-edged sword. Klingberg’s success is largely defined in relation to his extremely talented teammates, which will inevitably cost him votes. This is also the first season where he has been made an NHL All-Star. The question will be asked: is he really the best defender in the game?
The Verdict: If Klingberg finishes first among defensemen in points, it’s safe to assume that he’ll accumulate votes. Whether he’ll collect enough to win, however, is another story. Look for his shadow to loom large over next year’s radar.
Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings)
His scoring totals are already better than last season’s numbers. He continues to be a subject of interest across the league (Toronto fans, in particular, are all but eagerly stitching “DOUGHTY” onto the backs of their jerseys). Clearly, he’s still “got it”.
But is it enough?
In a recent poll, five out of 19 staff members at NHL.com selected Drew Doughty as the favourite to win the Norris. His tireless efforts, coupled with his ability to score consistently will almost certainly turn heads — timely, as he’s due for a pay day. A stretch of winning games could all but confirm a space for him on the final ballot and his team a shot at a third Stanley Cup.
The Verdict: Look for Doughty to remain a central piece of the Norris narrative. That said, he can’t afford a dip in form. The fact that he’s already won the award may signal that it’s time for a new recipient.
P.K. Subban (Nashville Predators)
If you’ve watched him at any point during this season, there’s a chance that you’ve forgotten — albeit temporarily — that P.K. Subban was the subject of one of the most contentious trades in NHL history not so long ago. His numbers show that he’s determined to establish, once again, his place among the ranks of the NHL’s greats.
What’s most intriguing about Subban, however, is the spirit that envelops his untouchable persona. Whether it’s a visit to a children’s hospital or a public spat with a former teammate, the man exudes a level of confidence unlike that of any other player in contemporary hockey. As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The Verdict: A former recipient of the Norris in 2012-13, Subban was the favourite among 6 out of 19 panelists at NHL.com to win the award. A strong run in his last stretch of games could very well place him at the forefront of the nomination process. But even if he doesn’t win, what matters is that he’s back. Look for Subban’s confidence to shine through as he continues to bury the ghost of uncertainty.