Early Norris Trophy Favorites

If things keep going the way they are right now, it will be a given that Sidney Crosby wins the Hart Trophy seeing how he leads the league in goals, points and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The race for the Norris trophy, on the other hand, isn’t that much of a landslide. In fact, I have yet to see a clear cut favorite for this trophy. Last year, Duncan Keith won for his outstanding play in the defensive zone and contributing offensively. Also added to him winning were the Blackhawks being one of the leagues best defensive teams and winning a lot of games while not giving up a lot of shots. Keith and defensive partner Brent Seabrook had a lot to do with that. Finding a front-runner for this year is tough but I looked through the stats and there are a handful of defensemen I could see taking home the Norris this year.

Nicklas Lidstrom

Was it any surprise that he would be one of them?  Lidstrom, along with the rest of the Red Wings, had a down season last year for their standards but both have responded nicely. Lidstrom’s putting up points (26 in 32 games), killing penalties and facing tough competition on the Wings first defensive pairing every night. He may be 40 but he still has a lot left in the tank. The fact that he’s already won six Norris Trophies will also earn him a few votes. The Wings surrender more shots with Lidstrom and Brad Stuart on the ice, but their Corsi numbers are the best on the team when adjusted to their quality of competition they face every night. Also, him and Stuart are the team’s best penalty killing defensive pair.

John Michael Liles

Liles is also doing very well in terms of contributing both offensive and defensively for the Avalanche. Liles has 28 points in 34 games and has helped spark Colorado’s powerplay. He is also the team’s best defenseman at even strength and getting top 2 minutes per night. Also add in the fact that he’s one of the team’s most consistent point-getters next to newcomer, Kevin Shattenkirk, who I will talk about in my Calder preview. The fact that his goals for/goals allowed while on ice ratio is pretty low also helps his cause. One thing that might drag him down is that he’s not facing the toughest competition every night despite playing top 2 minutes and killing penalties. Ryan O’Byrne has been the Avs best defensive blue-liner but Liles’ all-around ability could earn him some serious recognition this season.

Zdeno Chara

Being the Bruins top defenseman, he sees the other teams stars every night and aside from being outshot by opponents while he’s on the ice, he’s done a good job of shutting them down. It should be noted that Chara’s corsi rating relative to his quality of competition isn’t bad, it’s just outnumbered by the ridiculous corsi rating his opponents have. Chara also has one of the lowest goals on ice for ratings but that could be an assessment to the year Tim Thomas is having rather than Chara’s.

Kris Letang

Pretty surprised at how good of a season he’s having. He’s leading Pittsburgh defensemen in points and has done solid work on the penalty kill this year for the Pens. It’s hard not to give him some consideration since he’s playing tougher minutes and managing to put up points and outshoot opponents in those situations. He’s at least proving his contract’s value.

Dustin Byfuglien

This is an interesting case since Byfuglien literally acts as a 4th forward for Atlanta. He’s mainly used on the powerplay, doesn’t kill penalties but he leads all NHL defensemen in goals and points. That’s hard to ignore. Because he’s always used on the powerplay, there aren’t a lot of shots directed towards the opponents net, thus making his Corsi numbers better but he doesn’t face weak competition since he usually plays on the top defensive pairing with Tobias Enstrom (who is also having a great year). I think he will definitely get some consideration given the numbers he’s putting up but I wouldn’t expect him to win it since he doesn’t kill penalties and isn’t used in defensive situations. It’s good that Craig Ramsay knows how to use him because he’s been one of the key’s to Atlanta’s success.

Other candidates: Drew Doughty, Brent Seabrook, Chris Pronger, Shea Weber, Lubomir Visnovsky, Ryan Whitney

This might be a tough time to look at these since it’s only December and we’re only 30-something games into the season and there could be some other players who start to turn it on later in the year and make a significant push for the Norris. I’m looking at you Drew Doughty and Mike Green. As for now, I think these five players have made strong cases for the Norris this year. That could easily change soon, though.


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