NHL's Norris Race Getting More Crowded

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IMarch 8, 2012

NHL's Norris Race Getting More Crowded

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    The race for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league's best defenseman, continues to evolve as we head into the last 15 or so games of the regular season.

    There is little question that Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators will be both a finalist and the favorite to win the award, but who the other two finalists will be remains difficult to determine.

    Players like Dustin Byfuglien and Brian Campbell are among the scoring leaders for defensemen, but will probably just miss being finalists this year.

    Here is an updated look at the players who have the best chance to compete for the Norris Trophy at the NHL Awards ceremony in Las Vegas this June.

Erik Karlsson

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    Ottawa Senators star Erik Karlsson remains an undisputed finalist for the Norris.

    He leads all defensemen in goals, assists and points and is a plus-14 despite the extensive power play time he receives. 

    Karlsson is 23 points ahead of the next highest scoring defenseman, giving him a third more than his nearest competition.

    Critics rightfully point out that the Swede still needs to improve his defensive game, but with such dominant offensive statistics, he remains the favorite to capture his first Norris Trophy this year.

Zdeno Chara

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    Zdeno Chara won the Norris in 2009 and finished third in the balloting last year. 

    He has been creeping up the scoring chart for defensemen and is now tied for fifth with 40 points. 

    In addition to his offensive ability and his contributions on the power play, Chara remains a force in his own zone. 

    At 6'9", 255 pounds, the Slovak remains the tallest player in the NHL.  He can play a strong physical game and as captain, is one of the leaders of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.

    If Chara continues his strong and consistent play, he should be named a Norris Trophy finalist again this year.

Alex Pietrangelo

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    This choice may raise some eyebrows, but St. Louis Blues fans already know that Pietrangelo is fast becoming one of the league's best blueliners.

    The King City, Ontario, native is tied with Chara with 40 points and 19 of them have come on the power play. Pietrangelo is also a plus-15 and has scored five game-winning goals for the Blues.

    His development sped up last year when injuries struck the St. Louis defense corps. 

    What may hold Pietrangelo back is his lack of an established national reputation and the fact that his home statistics are much better than his road numbers.

    He is probably a year away from true Norris contention, but Pietrangelo deserves some consideration.

Other Contenders

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    This is a crowded field and there are plenty of other players that deserve consideration.

    Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom will always get some support; his season has been very good, but not outstanding.

    Alex Edler of Vancouver and Shea Weber of Nashville are also possible finalists who were highlighted in the previous Norris article.

    Ryan Suter of the Predators and Keith Yandle of the Coyotes can also join the conversation with a strong finish in what remains a wide-open race for the last two finalist positions.