As the NHL hits the halfway mark of the 2015-16 campaign, sportsnet.ca sizes up the races for hockey’s major individual awards. Today we look at the top blueliners vying for the Norris Trophy.
Erik Karlsson – The sheer amount of offence this guy can produce is ludicrous. He leads all defencemen in points this season, just like he has in three of the past four seasons, and the one year he didn’t was because he missed most of it due to injury.
What’s crazy is the two-time Norris winner (2012, 2015) is in the midst of perhaps his best season. His tremendous skating ability and vision keeps opposing teams on edge every time he’s on the ice. You can easily make the argument he’s more valuable to his team than any other defenceman out there.
On top of everything, as our Hockey Central panel found out first hand, the Senators captain is always willing to lend a helping hand.
Two Stanley Cups to go along with two Olympic gold medals and a solid stat line is nothing short of impressive. One thing he’s missing, though, is a Norris Trophy. If Doughty’s second half of the season is as good as the opening half, his first Norris could realistically happen this year.
Look at the play he makes to set up this Jeff Carter overtime goal. Beautiful stuff.
Ryan Suter – Suter is second only to Karlsson in ice-time and is quietly on pace to set career highs in goals, assists and points, but it’s the subtlety in Suter’s game that sets him apart from the majority of blueliners in the NHL.
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk recently spoke about this in an interview with ESPN’s Craig Custance.
“Everything isn’t moving 100 mph for him,” Dubnyk said. “He knows things to do to evade guys and get the puck and make a quick pass or hold on to it, and all of a sudden you’re out of the zone. It doesn’t look like anything, certainly if you’re watching on TV, it doesn’t look like much. It’s just that calm, go back there, get it to somebody else to break it out of the zone.”
Shea Weber – If you look at the stat sheet, Weber is being outperformed by his defensive partner Roman Josi, however, the Norris Trophy isn’t all about the numbers.
Name five defencemen you’d rather have on your team than Weber. You probably can’t. With Seth Jones now in Columbus, there’s more pressure on Weber to continue his strong play in order to ensure the Predators make the playoffs for a second straight season.
Through 44 games in his sophomore season, the 23-year-old Swede ranks second in defencemen scoring and is third in assists among all players. He’s also doing it with an average ice-time of 23:24, which is less than his fellow Norris contenders.
Honourable mention: Duncan Keith, John Carlson, Brent Burns
Mid-term winner… Drew Doughty
While Karlsson is probably the favourite at the moment, we’re giving the mid-term Norris to Doughty – and it has nothing to do with the fact hasn’t won one in the past. Doughty, who put an emphasis on improving his diet and conditioning in the off-season, is everything you want in a defenceman. He's putting it all together this year.
"He knows how to play right," Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who coached Doughty to two Olympic gold medals, told reporters in December. "The bigger the game, the better he plays. He can stickhandle in a phone booth, he can shoot it, he's got the big butt there. He doesn't mind drilling you the odd time. He's a real hockey player."