Finalists for the Norris Trophy Announced
Earlier today, the final three candidates to win the 2013 James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL defenceman who shows the ‘greatest all-round ability’ in the position during the regular season, were selected. They are Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild, P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens and Kristopher Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Each of these players have had amazing seasons and their distinct styles have contributed immensely to the success of their teams during the season. Although the Professional Hockey Writer’s association will ultimately vote to decide the winner of the trophy, this post will breakdown the key statistics and individual highlights that have earned each of these players their place as a finalist.
After his big-money trade from the Nashville Predators during the summer, many wondered how both Ryan Suter and Shea Weber would cope outside of the formidable partnership they had formed. Whilst Weber and the Predators struggled, Suter has been outstanding for the Wild, who pushed the Vancouver Canucks for the Northwest Division crown for a large part of the season.
Suter led all defenseman in average time on ice per game with 27:16 minutes and finished with a plus-2 points differential, impressive considering the youngsters he has been partnered with throughout the season and his lengthy time on the ice per game. Suter even totalled 41:08 minutes during the first match of the playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks, which although not relevant for the Norris discussion, is still testament to his superb fitness.
Suter also produced in the offensive zone for the Wild, posting a total of 32 points, which was ranked third amongst all defenceman. This included 4 goals, 3 of them power-play tallies and a second best ranking of 28 assists, which is excellent for a player more noted for his stoic defensive skills.
In my eyes, P.K. Subban is one of the most dynamic players in the NHL and this regular season, the stats were there to back up the constant hype. Having held out for the first few weeks of the shortened season, seeking a more lucrative contract than was offered, Subban returned as though he had never been away, with a bang which kickstarted the Montreal Canadiens on a streak which culminated in them clinching the Northeast Division title.
One of the biggest question marks about Subban’s play was whether he could supplement his offensive talents with solid work on the defence. These suspicions of a weakness stemmed from his full rookie season points differential of minus-8. Those doubts have been quickly swept aside by a number of powerful displays, utilising his ability to cover the ice against the best teams and he finished the season on plus-12.
On offence, he was as effective as ever and ended up joint first in total points with 38, including 11 goals and 27 assists. He was also a vital part of the Canadiens power-play, with 26 of his points and seven of his goals coming on the man advantage. Having always had both a devastating slapshot and great athleticism, Subban has added a maturity to his game this season which has enhanced his play to definitively elite level.
Kris Letang is a wonderfully unique player whose graceful skating style and proficiency at both ends of the ice have been lauded since his rookie season. This regular season, with his Pittsburgh Penguins side being one of the teams of the year and despite the constant plague of injuries to key players around him, he has produced glittering numbers once more.
On defence, his points differential of plus-16 is higher than both the other candidates, a remnant of his blistering speed through the neutral zone and ability to track all types of forward. He was also a key member of the Penguins penalty-kill which was superb throughout most of the season and an effective part of their points streak.
In the attacking zone, his joint highest points total for a defenceman of 38 is made even more impressive because he played seven games fewer than P.K. Subban, missing 13 games through injury. He had 5 goals and 33 assists, the latter being a remarkable total and evidence of his clever passing on the penguins power-play. Letang really has become integral to the way Pittsburgh play in all areas of the ice and they would be at a severe disadvantage if he missed any of the playoff run. Although always displaying natural ability, this year he has added a leadership element to his play, thrust upon him in the absence of Crosby, Malkin and Orpik, which makes him a truly worthy contender for the Norris crown.
This year sees three brand new finalists and the notable absence of the likes of Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson, whose achilles injury sadly forced him to miss most of the regular season. However, the three players in the mix exhibit an exciting breed of defenceman, one which finds the transition between attack and defence supremely comfortable. With their perfomances this year being supported by the statistics, whichever one emerges as the PHWA’s choice, they will certainly be a deserved winner.