Ryan McDonagh already had a staunch reputation as one of the NHL's top shutdown defenders, and you would be hard pressed to name a defender that is a better skater than the former University of Wisconsin Badger.
Defense and gap control on the ice has been a trademark of McDonagh's game to date, but this year he has added another element to his arsenal of skills.
Everything has gone right for McDonagh this season, and he deserves to receive league-wide recognition in some way. McDonagh is a long shot to win the Norris Trophy, but he does deserve to be a candidate—and finalist—for the coveted award.
It has long been debated that the NHL should create a second award for defensemen. The league recognizes the top defensive forwards with the Frank J. Selke trophy, but historically the Norris Trophy has been awarded to the league's top offensive defensemen.
Here is a list of the last four Norris Trophy winners, and how many points they tallied during their trophy-winning season.
|Season||Player||Total Points||Games Played|
|2012-13||P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens||38||42|
|2011-12||Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators||78||81|
|2010-11||Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings||62||82|
|2009-10||Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks||69||82|
As you can see, all the winners were dynamite offensive contributors. Subban is the exception, but things went differently during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.
If another trophy was introduced, McDonagh would be a shoe-in to win, but that isn't the case in today's NHL. Therefore, let's take a look at McDonagh's case for the Norris.
On the surface, McDonagh's 14 goals and 29 assists for 43 points looks great when coupled with everything else he does as a defenseman. However, he doesn't stand a chance to receive consideration if he doesn't hit the 50-point mark.
It isn't that McDonagh doesn't have the offense—it is that he simply doesn't have enough of it. Here is where McDonagh currently ranks among the league's top defenders in offensive categories.
|Even Strength Points||26||9th|
|Power Play T.O.I.||2:52||36th|
As you can see, McDonagh has solid numbers, but his lack of power-play time compared to other defenders has resulted in less offensive production.
This year, head coach Alain Vigneault has given him the freedom to create offense, and that paid huge dividends during the Blueshirts contest Monday against the Phoenix Coyotes. In future seasons, Vigneault likely will let McDonagh play more of an offensive game given the success he's had this season.
McDonagh scored the game-winning goal from the net mouth, something that would have never happened during the John Tortorella era. The Rangers' top defender has also scored from other areas on the ice, and here is a look at the game-winning goal he scored against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night.
It has simply been amazing to see McDonagh improve his offensive output, and it is even more remarkable that his defensive game hasn't suffered the slightest. McDonagh was the No. 2 defenseman for the United States at the Sochi Olympic games, and it speaks volumes that a defender as young as he is was counted on for such an important role.
Who should win the Norris Trophy?
During the tournament he was a solid defender, and that opportunity showcased his abilities to the entire world. Since returning from the Olympics, McDonagh has been the Rangers' best player, and he has tallied 12 points in 15 games.
McDonagh is kicking it into high gear down the stretch, and unfortunately he won't get enough recognition for the award. Duncan Keith and Erik Karlsson are having amazing offensive seasons, and McDonagh's defensive excellence won't be enough to bridge the gap.
At the end of the day, McDonagh is only 24. This is the first year that he has been allowed to showcase his offensive game, and he can only get better from here. Given his package of skills, his defensive play and skating ability, it is fair to say that he should be a favorite for the award over the next three to four seasons.
McDonagh's play has certainly helped put the Rangers in a position to secure a playoff spot, and the next step for No. 27 will be carrying this success into the playoffs. The regular season is where a player can make a name for himself, but the playoffs are where a player makes his legacy.
After the season McDonagh has had to date, former Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey is probably second guessing his decision that sent McDonagh to the New York Rangers in a deal that sent Scott Gomez to the Montreal Canadiens.
Gomez has since been bought out, and McDonagh has illustrated why he's one of the best defenders in the entire NHL.
Stats via NHL.com.