Power Ranking the Top-10 Candidates for the Norris Trophy
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There's a definite change in the air as far as the Norris Trophy is concerned.
That was pretty much guaranteed when Nicklas Lidstrom retired from the Detroit Red Wings at the end of last season. It was fairly well certified when defending Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson's Achilles was cut in February and his season came to a surgical halt.
This year's candidates feature several big names like Zdeno Chara, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. The latter two got off to slow starts after signing exorbitant contracts. Neither may be worth their current salary, but both are playing well.
Other candidates include Kris Letang, Niklas Kronwall and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Here's our power ranking of the top-10 Norris Trophy candidates for the 2013 season.
10. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
Alex Pietrangelo had a sensational 2011-12 season for the St. Louis Blues when they marched to the second seed in the Western Conference.
Pietrangelo hasn't been quite as efficient this season, but he has been one of head coach Ken Hitchcock's most dependable players. Pietrangelo has five goals and 13 assists for the Blues, somewhat off the pace that saw him score 12 goals and 39 assists last year.
Pietrangelo has a minus-three rating, but much of that is due to the Blues' shaky goaltending this season. Pietrangelo is playing 25:42 per game, so it's clear he is on the ice in all key situations for the Blues.
9. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks would not have gotten off to their record-setting start if all areas of their team had not been functioning efficiently.
The scoring of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa along with the goaltending of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have gotten most of the attention, but the defense has been stellar.
Nobody on that unit has been better than Duncan Keith. Keith is a superb skater, plays stellar defense and will join the attack with his blazing and quick-release shot.
Keith has two goals, 14 assists and has a plus-16 rating. He is averaging 23:49 of ice time every game.
Keith has shown he will come to his teammates' defense (video above) when it is necessary, and few players have ever demonstrated more courage when it comes to blocking shots.
8. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
There is little doubt that P.K. Subban is one of the most annoying and controversial players in the game. He has some nasty run-and-hide tendencies and will get under the skin of both his opponents and his teammates. His tendency to embellish hockey plays has gotten him into hot water on a consistent basis.
However, he is a very talented players who has one of the hardest and most dangerous shots in the game. He is clearly one of the best offensive defensemen in the game this season. He has scored seven goals and 13 assists in his first 23 games of the season. He also has a plus-five rating for the surprisingly strong Montreal Canadiens.
Subban also plays a solid defensive game. He is known much more for his offensive talent, but he does not let head coach Michel Therrien down with his positioning. Subban is averaging 22:17 of ice time per game.
Hate him if you want, but Subban is a talented player who has helped the Canadiens' rise this season.
7. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
A year ago, Shea Weber was one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy.
Weber's shot may be the most dangerous of any defenseman in the NHL. While he regularly finishes second to Boston's Zdeno Chara when he lets loose with his big shot during All-Star festivities, Weber gets rid of his shot much more quickly in game competition than Chara.
Weber sees the ice well and is one of the most vicious hitters in the game. Weber has five goals and 13 assists this season and has a plus-six rating. Weber is averaging more than 25 minutes per game.
After a slow start, he is playing solid hockey for Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz.
6. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is on his way to becoming one of the great stars in the NHL.
The 21-year-old is the best defenseman on the Coyotes, and he is one of the most underrated players in the game. Ekman-Larsson is a swift skater and a solid defender.
Ekman-Larsson has three goals and 14 assists this season along with a plus-eight rating. Ekman-Larsson is seemingly always on the ice in all critical situations. He is averaging 25:06 of ice time per game.
5. Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks are right on the heels of the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference.
The Ducks have not gotten the kind of attention they deserve considering they have suffered only three regulation losses this season. They have gone from playoff outsiders to potential Stanley Cup champions in less than a season.
The Ducks have size, strength and clutch scoring. They also have a consistent, mobile defense that is led by Francois Beauchemin.
Beauchemin has four goals, 14 assists and is plus-21 this season. The latter figure has him tied with teammate Sheldon Souray for the best plus-minus rating among defensemen.
Beauchemin averages more than 23 minutes of ice time per game.
4. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Zdeno Chara is the anchor of the Boston Bruins' defense.
The Bruins captain hoisted the Stanley Cup and has won the Norris Trophy. He is capable of grasping hold of any game and taking it over with his defensive talent, his hitting ability or his pulverizing shot from the point.
Chara may not have the quickness of the game's stars, but he makes up for that deficiency with his conditioning, positioning and overall intelligence. Chara has scored six goals and seven assists and has a plus-14 rating. He is averaging nearly 25 minutes of ice time per night.
He is a most responsible player, and head coach Claude Julien will put him on the ice in all crucial situations.
3. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
Ryan Suter was facing significant heat when he signed a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Minnesota Wild last summer.
Could he possibly be worth that kind of investment? When it comes to actually providing his money's worth, the answer is probably no. Suter is overpaid, as are many NHL superstars.
However, after a slow start with the Wild, Suter has played excellent hockey and has been productive and dependable for Minnesota head coach Mike Yeo.
Suter has played himself into Norris Trophy consideration. He has scored two goals and 22 assists for the Wild. While he has a minus-two rating, Suter is averaging a league-best 27:12 of ice time per game.
2. Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings
No player can replace Nicklas Lidstrom in the Detroit Red Wings lineup, but Niklas Kronwall is selling out to give the Red Wings every bit of his talent.
Kronwall is not the skater nor the general on the ice that Lidstrom was, but he has scored five goals and 17 assists for the Red Wings this year.
He is also the most physical defenseman in the league. While Zdeno Chara is bigger and more intimidating, Kronwall's body checks are devastating. He flattens opponents in a punishing manner and is one of the game's great equalizers.
Kronwall is averaging 24 minutes of ice time per game. If he had not raised his level of play this season, the Red Wings would not even have a sniff of making the postseason.
1. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Kris Letang has been a superb player for the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins.
Letang is the leading scorer among the league's defensemen with three goals and 25 assists. He is also an impressive plus-11 while averaging 25:32 of ice time per game.
Letang is not a physical banger like Niklas Kronwall or Zdeno Chara, but he is not afraid to use his body when he needs to separate his opponent from the puck.
However, his main weapons are his athleticism, speed and knowledge of the game. He gets himself into the right position and simply makes plays for Dan Bylsma on an every-game basis.
No defenseman is as good as Letang at turning defense into offense as a result of his acceleration and vision.
Letang is considered day-to-day after suffering a lower-body injury against Boston March 17, and the Penguins breathed a sigh of relief to learn that the Norris Trophy favorite will not miss serious time.