Predicting the Top Candidates for the 2014-15 Norris Trophy

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistAugust 13, 2014

Predicting the Top Candidates for the 2014-15 Norris Trophy

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    At the dawn of the new millennium, the winner of the NHL's Norris Trophy for best defenseman was a virtually foregone conclusion. From 2001 to 2011, Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings picked up the award on seven of 10 occasions, according to

    Since Lidstrom's retirement, the battle for the Norris has featured an intriguing mix of veterans and young guns. In 2013-14, 30-year-old Duncan Keith captured his second award, beating out 37-year-old Zdeno Chara and 28-year-old Shea Weber. The 2012-13 award went to 23-year-old P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens, who edged out Ryan Suter and Kris Letang.

    With a field that shifts from year to year, here's a look at the top 10 candidates for the 2014-15 Norris Trophy.

10. Alex Pietrangelo: St. Louis Blues

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Norris Ranking: Finished fifth with 304 votes.

    What He's Done: Now 24, steady Pietrangelo has two 51-point NHL seasons to his name as well as two selections to the All-Star Team and two top-five Norris finishes. He also won an Olympic gold medal as part of Team Canada's impressive blue line in Sochi in 2014.

    Where He's Headed: Watch for a slight regression. Pietrangelo is good, but he has yet to find a way to elevate his game in the postseason. 2014-15 will be a year of soul-searching for the big defenseman and his St. Louis Blues.

9. Erik Karlsson: Ottawa Senators

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Norris Ranking: Finished seventh with 70 votes.

    What He's Done: Karlsson bounced back from a serious Achilles injury in 2012-13 by leading all defenseman in scoring with 74 points last season. Karlsson is now 24; he picked up his first Norris Trophy in 2012.

    Where He's Headed: Steady. The Senators are in a period of transition. Karlsson will put up points, but the defensive side of his game won't shine brightly enough to make him a Norris nominee in 2014-15.

8. Shea Weber: Nashville Predators

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Norris Ranking: Finished third with 638 votes.

    What He's Done: Weber is a three-time Norris Trophy finalist, with the second-highest cap hit of all defensemen for 2014-15.

    Where He's Headed: Down the ranks. With Peter Laviolette taking charge behind the Nashville Predators bench, Weber will have to adapt to a new coach for the first time in his career. A more wide-open system will make Weber's job more difficult than it was under Barry Trotz.

7. Zdeno Chara: Boston Bruins

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Norris Ranking: Finished second with 667 votes.

    What He's Done: A six-time Norris Trophy finalist who won the award in 2008-09, Zdeno Chara has been one of the NHL's top defensemen for the better part of the last decade. Chara's 17 goals in 2013-14 ranked fourth among defensemen.

    Where He's Headed: In decline. Chara has defied the odds by staying at the top of his game at age 37. He's still playing big minutes in all situations, but he won't be able to do it forever.

    In 2006, The Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont reported on Chara's strict commitment to diet and exercise.

    [Chara] prefers his meats lean (ideally rabbit), his potato baked (no butter, no salt, no nothin'), and his veggies steamed (for dressing, see potato).

    Every workout day is different, self-designed to keep him interested and motivated, but Chara routinely puts in 6-7 hours of training, including cardio work, weights, and agility exercises. After games, he said, he typically works out for another hour or two.

    His top-level fitness has helped him to keep playing at an elite level, but look for Chara to begin the inevitable slide down the defensive rankings starting in 2014-15.

6. Ryan McDonagh: New York Rangers

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    2013-14 Norris Ranking: Finished eighth with 53 votes.

    What He's Done: A blueliner on the rise, 25-year-old Ryan McDonagh ranked second among defensemen in 2014 playoff scoring, just one point behind Drew Doughty.

    Where He's Headed: Up. McDonagh is establishing himself as a steady defenseman and an important leader for the New York Rangers after the departure of captain Ryan Callahan. Expect to see him take another step forward in 2014-15 as he enters the prime of his career.

5. Victor Hedman: Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    2013-14 Norris Ranking: Finished ninth with 42 votes.

    What He's Done: Just 23 years old, hulking Swede Victor Hedman has already played five full seasons in the NHL. He broke out offensively in 2013-14, finishing fourth among defensemen with a career-high 55 points—13 of them goals.

    Where He's Headed: Upward. The Tampa Bay Lightning should take another step forward in 2014-15, with Hedman leading that improvement on the blue line. He won't be a Norris finalist next season, but he'll get there soon if he continues to progress.

4. Duncan Keith: Chicago Blackhawks

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Norris Ranking: Finished first with 1033 votes.

    What He's Done: Keith's 2014 Norris Trophy was his second—he also won in 2010. Last season, he placed second in scoring by defensemen with 61 points and posted a plus-22, but his Chicago Blackhawks tailed off defensively. After allowing a league-best 2.02 goals per game in 2012-13, the 'Hawks dropped to 12th in the league in 2013-14, allowing 2.58 goals per game.

    Where He's Headed: Down the ranks. As Emerald Gao of points out, "Head Coach Joel Quenneville trusted [Niklas] Hjalmarsson to handle the toughest defensive assignments" in 2013-14. Keith is still an excellent power-play presence and offensive defenseman, but the other side of his game is tapering off at age 31.

3. P.K. Subban: Montreal Canadiens

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    2013-14 Norris Ranking: Finished 14th with six votes.

    What He's Done: P.K. Subban won the 2013 Norris Trophy and then logged a career-high 53 points in 2013-14. He'll carry the highest salary cap hit of any defenseman in 2014-15 after signing a long-term deal with an average annual value of $9 million with the Montreal Canadiens.

    Where He's Headed: Upward. With his contract situation finally resolved, Subban will be free to concentrate on playing hockey and taking his game to the next level. He'll be right back up there with the league's top defenders in 2014-15.

2. Ryan Suter: Minnesota Wild

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

    2013-14 Norris Ranking: Finished fourth with 351 votes.

    What He's Done: Ryan Suter has become the NHL's ice-time king. He led the league for the second straight year in 2013-14, averaging a new high of 29:24 per game. Suter was runner-up to P.K. Subban for the 2013 Norris Trophy. 

    Where He's Headed: Among the elite. Suter has proved to be a key leader for a Minnesota Wild team that's on the rise. Look for him to outrank his old defensive partner Shea Weber in 2014-15 Norris voting.

1. Drew Doughty: Los Angeles Kings

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    2013-14 Norris Ranking: Finished sixth with 284 votes.

    What He's Done: At 24 years old, Drew Doughty has won two Stanley Cups. He led the playoffs in scoring by a defenseman in both those years—2012 and 2014. He has also won two Olympic gold medals with Team Canada, in 2010 and 2014. Doughty has only been a Norris finalist once, finishing third in voting in 2009-10. 

    Where He's Headed: To the top. Doughty is one of the best blueliners in the league on both sides of the puck and has excelled in the toughest competitive situations. Expect to see Doughty's name among Norris finalists in 2014-15. If he keeps up his strong play, he could win it all.