If you’re betting on 2015’s Norris Trophy winner, the smart money should be on Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns or P.K. Subban, the NHL’s three highest-scoring defencemen.
Although the Norris is intended to be raised by the “defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” only twice in the last 15 seasons has the Norris winner not finished top three in scoring among D-men. Only once since 1998 has the Norris champ finished out of the top five.
In 2009, Boston long man Zdeno Chara captured the trophy despite finishing 12th in defenceman scoring. Since Chara’s victory six years ago, the individual award has only been claimed by either the highest-scoring defenceman (twice) or the second-highest-scoring defenceman (thrice).
Maybe a good offence is the best form of defence. Maybe the voting writers need to dig beyond the scoring leaders page. Or maybe defencemen, strange as it sounds, need their own incarnation of the Frank J. Selke Trophy, one honouring the defenceman who best demonstrates defensive skill.
Drew Doughty tied for 14th among NHL defencemen in points and 55th in goals by blue-liners. Hardly traditional Norris material. But Doughty’s defensive game — a talent more difficult to quantify statistically — is ridiculously on point, and a significant reason why the 25-year-old already has two Olympic gold medals and two Stanley Cup rings.
This isn’t a career acknowledgement, however. Doughty’s defensive game has been the backbone of a 2014-15 Kings team that fell just short in their playoff push.
So what if he just came off the most enduring playoff run ever and a full slate of Olympic games? Doughty is second in the league in ice time, skating nearly half of every game at a mind-boggling average ice time of 28:59.
He also handles the most short-handed minutes for the Kings (2:38), a team whose sub-par attack (they rank 18th in offence) is buoyed by the league’s fourth-best goals against.
A big reason why partner Jake Muzzin is a fancy-stats darling, Doughty ranks among the league-leading defencemen in Corsi-for percentage (55.7) (According to HockeyAnalysis.com), and no D-man ahead of him that category starts more face offs in the defensive zone (31.3%).
But it’s the eye test that seals it: Doughty’s composure with the puck, his shutdown of great players in important games, and his dedication to being in the right spot (or busting his ass to get to it) that make this a relatively easy choice.
He’ll probably never come close to outscoring Karlsson again, and he may get overlooked for a Norris nomination in Las Vegas, but Drew Doughty is our Defensive Defenceman of the Year.
Defensive Defenceman of the Year Runners-up
True, Giordano only played 61 games before going out with a biceps injury, but the Flames captain was always Exhibit A in the case for the Flames nearly making the playoffs. In addition to heart and soul, Giordano played Calgary’s most minutes and posted a an impressive Corsi Rel of 5.2 (this is good) despite starting more in the defensive zone (38.9%) than he did in the offensive zone (28.4%).
The top penalty killer on a team improved from 23rd in that category last season (without Stalman) to ninth this year (with him). Though overshadowed by the more imposing Viktor Hedman, Stralman’s Corsi Rel (4.78) ranks top-10 among defencemen and his plus/minus (+22) is among the NHL’s best.