With the NHL Awards set for June 22 in Las Vegas, the three finalists for the Norris Trophy — awarded “to the defenceman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” as voted on by the members of the league’s Professional Hockey Writers’ Assocation — were announced Friday.
Who is most deserving of the award? We break down each finalist and make the case for one defenceman who missed the cut.
Brent Burns is more than just a beautiful beard.
The San Jose Sharks defenceman produced offensively like a top forward, scoring 27 goals with 48 assists — both of which were franchise records for a defenceman.
He also set a franchise mark for shots on goal (353) after logging a career-high 25:51 minutes of ice time per game.
The 31-year-old appeared in all 82 games for the second consecutive season and ranked among the league-leaders in several categories, including goals by a defenceman (first), points by a defenceman (second), and assists by a defenceman (third).
Drew Doughty might be the strongest all-around defenceman in the bunch.
The Los Angeles Kings rearguard not only excelled in his own end, but he also had his best offensive season since 2009-10, scoring 14 goals with 37 assists while averaging over 28 minutes of ice time per game. The two-time Stanley Cup winner also posted a career-high plus-24 rating.
Doughty appeared in all 82 games for the Kings, who were one of the best defensive clubs throughout the regular season, and was effective on both the power play and penalty kill as well.
The 26-year-old has been regarded as one of the league’s best defenceman for quite some time, but has never won the Norris Trophy.
He is a finalist for a second straight season (third time overall).
Erik Karlsson is vying for this third career Norris Trophy after a historic season.
The Ottawa Senators captain set single-season franchise records for both assists (66) and points (82) by a defenceman and has led the NHL in scoring by a defenceman in four of the last five years.
Similar to the other candidates above, Karlsson is durable, playing in all 82 games for the third straight year and he led all players in time on ice, even-strength time, and average time on ice (28:52 minutes per game).
Impressively, Karlsson scored 21 more points than any of his teammates and was one of the best drivers of puck possession in the entire league.
ODD MAN OUT: KRIS LETANG
But it was worth giving due to Kris Letang, who is better in his own end than he gets credit for, and built his case with a strong offensive season as well.
Letang eats up big minutes, playing close to 27 minutes per game this year. He also led the Pittsburgh Penguins in assists — 51 in 71 games — and tied Evgeni Malkin for the team lead in power-play points. Overall, he finished with just under a point per game, registering 67 points in 71 games.
The 29-year-old really picked up his game in the second half of the season — as evidenced by his improvement in possession metrics — and brought himself into the Norris conversation with Karlsson-like production.
There’s no shame in Letang finishing outside of the top three, given how impressive the above candidates were in 2015-16, but the Penguins defenceman undoubtedly had a great season.