As the season comes to a close in the coming weeks, the Professional Hockey Writers Association is going to vote on the Norris trophy, amongst other awards, as the NHL’s best defenseman. This award is named for James E Norris, the long time owner of the Detroit Red Wings dating back to 1932. The criteria for the award is the best NHL defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.
In recent memory this award is given to the best all around defenseman, but more emphasis has been placed on the offensive side than the actual defense. This is the case mainly due to the fact that points are more measurable and less subjective than one’s opinion of a players defensive skill. There is plus minus, but that stat can be more of a reflection of a team than the individual defenseman. For instance Drew Doughty is second to last in plus minus at -30. Does this mean he is one of the worst defenseman in the league? No, it’s a reflection of the minutes he plays and the results his team has gotten this season.
To be clear, we’re not saying the voters have been wrong by any standard, but we are saying that there should be more specific criteria for this trophy. The forwards have offensive and defensive awards, so why not the same for the defense?
A New Defenseman Award
One of the ways we can create clarity for this award is to have separate awards for offensive and defensive defenseman. This has been the case for decades with forwards with the addition of the Selke Trophy for defensive forwards. Lets leave the Norris Trophy for the best offensive forward and add a best defensive defenseman award, call it the Scott Stevens award (Happy to entertain other candidates for the trophy to be named after). This award would be given to the best shut down defenseman in the NHL annually. This would give the likes of Ryan Suter, Alex Pietrangelo and Roman Josi a chance to be recognized. Time on ice can be a measurement of the criteria of the award, but also each voter pays attention to when Connor McDavid doesn’t get 4 points when he played the Wild, and that Ryan Suter was on the ice for all of his shifts as an example.
Defenseman who shut down the opposing team’s top line night in and night out should be better represented at the NHL Awards in the coming years. These players should have their time to be recognized for their contribution to the game.