With NHL Awards set for June 24 in Las Vegas, we toil with our inner self and make a case for each nominee — Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban — winning the Norris Trophy, awarded “to the defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”
Which player is most deserving of the hardware? One writer tries to talk himself into all three scenarios.
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If Drew Doughty is your 2015 Norris Trophy winner, the victory will spit in the face of two trends.
Only twice in the last 15 seasons has the Norris winner not finished top-three in scoring among defencemen. With seven goals and 39 assists, Doughty finished 14th in blueliner points. And no Norris winner has represented a team that failed to qualify for the playoffs.
These two shortcomings place Doughty — the oldest nominee at age 25 — as the long shot before even looking at the other finalists’ achievements. But hear us out.
In a season of turmoil and regression in L.A., Doughty was the Kings’ rock. When he should’ve been tired out from 2014’s gold-medal-winning and Cup-winning runs, and their subsequent parties, Doughty played more hockey (more than 2,377 minutes’ worth) than anyone else in the NHL, tallying nearly 29 minutes every game for all 82 games. That pressure placed on the Kings defence with Slava Voynov’s suspension? Doughty’s legs ate that up.
Plus, he does a little thing called penalty killing. Doughty averaged 29 more penalty-killing seconds than Subban and two minutes and five seconds more than the offensive-minded Karlsson.
A stat student’s hero, Doughty’s puck possession was, as usual, something to marvel at; the Kings registered 410 more shot attempts than they allowed with No. 8 on the ice in 5-on-5 situations. A second-time Norris finalist, Doughty deserves to get his proper due one day, offence be damned.
When the Ottawa Senators were on their storybook run from irrelevance to helping Peter Chiarelli move to Edmonton, at the team’s core was the captain.
If P.K. Subban is all hustle, Erik Karlsson is all flow.
“He can skate as good as anybody. He does everything so effortlessly. He passes. There is no pulse, no panic. It seems so easy for him, whatever he’s doing. He sees the ice really well,” Toronto Maple Leafs interim coach Peter Horachek said during the Sens’ rampage to the post-season. “Their D is always in the rush, so there’s four guys up every single time.”
If the best defence is a wicked offence, Karlsson is your guy. You can’t allow Karlsson to get into position. You can’t give him a shooting lane on the power play. Or a passing lane. Or a skating lane.
“If you give him time, he’s going to make a play,” Horachek said. “He’s that good.”
With a career-best 21 goals and 66 points, Karlsson paced all defencemen in scoring for the third time in the past four seasons and retained his crown as the Senators’ leading point-getter (yep, that includes forwards).
While rarely used on the penalty kill, the 2012 Norris winner still found a way to rank third in overall average time on ice (27:15) and was arguably the most dangerous power-play player not named Alex Ovechkin, racking up 30 points with the man advantage.
Like the other nominees, Karlsson’s team puts the game on his stick in the most crucial moments. During the Senators’ elimination game Sunday, Karlsson skated a staggering 32:11 of 60 minutes and generated a game-high 10 shot attempts.
P.K. Subban’s greatest roadblock to winning his second Norris may be his closest teammate. How often have you heard that the Montreal Canadiens would be nowhere this year without Carey Price? That the Habs’ record-breaking goalie is the only reason Montreal won the Atlantic Division or trumped Ottawa in the playoffs?
Surely, there is truth to the idea that a stand-on-his-head goaltender can make his defence look good — would Subban be a plus-21 this season without Price’s heroics? — but the reverse also holds weight.
Subban played more minutes than anyone else on the stingiest Canadiens defensive team since 1988-89. The 25-year-old with the scary shot not only threw down personal bests in goals (15), assists (45), points (60), plus/minus, game winners (five) and shooting percentage (8.8%), he also led all blueliners in the key possession metric SAT Rel% (shot attempts for player relative to shot attempts for team when player is not on the ice) at 6.0%.
Subban regularly defends the opponents’ top line, is a greater defensive force than Karlsson and a greater offensive threat than Doughty. There’s a reason he is both the most loved and hated guy on this list.