NHL News and Rumors: Nick Lidstrom and the Norris Trophy Watch
As we approach the end of the season, everyone is talking about the potential Hart Trophy candidates, but there's an equally intriguing race for the Norris Trophy.
Detroit Red Wings' captain Nick Lidstrom, a fixture in the Norris picture for the last decade, is at it again this season at age 40.
Phoenix Coyote's Keith Yandle is a newcomer to the Norris discussion but has a great chance to collect his first NHL award.
Here are the top 10 candidates for the Norris Trophy right now.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
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St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo will be robbed of a Calder Trophy this season by an eligibility technicality.
Because Pietrangelo has played more than six games in two previous seasons (eight and nine), he's ineligible to win the Calder Trophy.
Still, after only 17 NHL games, Pietrangelo has been phenomenal for the Blues and made it possible for them to trade away former first overall pick Erik Johnson.
Pietrangelo has been one of the best two-way defensemen in the league this year. He has 10 goals, 39 points and a plus-15 rating that leads the Blues. He's also done it all while only taking 17 penalty minutes. Pietrangelo plays a very smart game that isn't overly physical, much like Nick Lidstrom.
Pietrangelo has very few weaknesses in his game. Pietrangelo still gets beaten one-on-one occasionally and as he continues to develop, he should see his ice time climb from 21:46 per game toward the league leaders. He could also increase his physicality a bit, but it isn't really necessary.
Pietrangelo probably won't be a Norris finalist this year but he will be a mainstay for years to come.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
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After being a finalist last season, Drew Doughty was a pre-season favorite for the Norris Trophy but an early season concussion caused him to miss six games and struggle early on.
The struggles seem to have subsided and Doughty is back to playing the exciting game that fans grew to love last season.
Doughty's speed is phenomenal and it allows him to make exciting end-to-end rushes and still get back defensively. His endurance is also impressive as he's among the top five defensemen in the league.
Doughty's desire to make an incredible play every time he gets the puck sometimes hurts him. He's tenth among defensemen in turnovers, and his turnovers are frequently in the defensive zone.
Doughty won't be a Norris finalist this season.
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
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Zdeno Chara is one of the hardest players in the NHL to play against. He's an absolute beast at 6'9", 255 lbs, and is one of the best defensive defensemen in the league.
Chara has been notorious lately for this hit on Max Pacioretty that he wasn't suspended for. It can be argued endlessly whether or not he should have been, but it can't be argued that Chara is a great defenseman.
Size, reach and punishing physicality are the obvious ones but Chara is also very good positionally, not to mention having the hardest shot in the league. Chara also has excellent endurance and is almost always among the top five in the league in ice time. He's also one of the best leaders around.
Skating is one of Chara's biggest weaknesses but he makes up for it with his strong positional play and reach. Also, Chara takes some bad penalties that hurt his team.
Chara's mediocre offensive production this year will prevent him from doubling his Norris count.
Marc Staal, New York Rangers
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Marc Staal has quickly become one of the best defensive defensemen in the league and he was recognized this year with a selection in the NHL All Star Game.
Staal is one of the big reasons that the New York Rangers currently find themselves in a playoff spot, and he's going to have to continue to be great if the Rangers are going to upset Philadelphia or Washington in the playoffs.
Staal's positioning is impeccable and, combined with his speed, makes it very hard to beat him. Staal has 130 hits, 102 blocks and 46 takeaways so his defensive game is well-rounded.
Despite flashes of offensive brilliance, Staal doesn't do enough offensively for his skill level. To become one of the truly elite defensemen in the league, Staal has to round out the offensive part of his game.
Staal won't get much respect in the Norris race because of his lack of offensive production.
Christian Ehrhoff, Vancouver Canucks
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The top defenseman on the top team in the league is having a very good season. Christian Ehrhoff has 11 goals and 47 points to sit sixth in scoring among defensemen.
Ehrhoff also has a very respectable plus-15 rating. He's a big part of Vancouver's league-leading powerplay and second-rated penalty kill.
Ehrhoff has phenomenal speed that allows him to jump into the rush and contribute offensively. He blocks a lot of shots and generally makes a good first pass that helps the Canucks' forwards use their speed on the attack.
Ehrhoff's defensive zone coverage isn't great. Because of that, he tends to draw second line matchups rather than having to play against the opposition's best which inflates his plus/minus. He could increase his physical play as well because he isn't a guy who's hard to play against physically.
Ehrhoff won't be a Norris finalist this year.
Lubomir Visnovsky, Anaheim Ducks
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Lubomir Visnovsky leads all defensemen in points, with 58. He's also fourth in goals and boasts an impressive plus-10 rating on a team with a negative goal differential.
Visnovsky is a key contributor on Anaheim's fourth-ranked powerplay and plays a clean but effective game that has garnered him only 20 penalty minutes this season.
While many people think of Visnovsky as a one-dimensional offensive defenseman, his defensive game is vastly underrated. He has great speed, a fantastic shot and makes the first pass very effectively.
Visnovsky frequently gets caught on the offensive rush and leaves his defense partner facing many two-on-ones and three-on-ones. He's also tended to be pretty injury prone during his career, but has stayed healthy this season.
If Visnovsky played on the East Coast, where most of the voters live, he would almost definitely be a Norris finalist. As it is, he still stands a good chance of being a Norris nominee.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
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23 year old defenseman Kris Letang has done a great job filling the offensive void left by Sergei Gonchar on the Pittsburgh Penguins blueline.
Letang has already smashed his previous career high for points and boasts a double-digit plus rating for the first time (+12).
Letang's passing is great and he might be the fastest defenseman in the league. His speed lets him jump into the play offensively and still get back. Almost every game, Letang speeds back and breaks up a two-on-one or a breakaway.
Letang wouldn't have to speed back and break up plays if he wasn't caught up ice to begin with. He makes some ill-timed decisions on joining the rush or pinching in and often pays for it. Additionally, his defensive coverage isn't as good as it needs to be for him to draw top line matchups. Also, Letang has a propensity for taking bad penalties too often.
Letang had a great shot at being a Norris finalist but a recent slump of one point in 13 games and only one goal in 28 has hurt his chances. Apparently it's harder to get points when you aren't passing to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
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If Zdeno Chara is the hardest defenseman in the league to play against, Shea Weber is the second hardest.
Shea Weber is "Mini Chara" only by size, but is still a monster at 6'4" and 234 lbs. Weber is fourth in hits among defensemen, seventh in ice time and second in goals. Weber also leads the Nashville Predators in points.
Weber has a cannon of a shot and hits like a truck. His defensive partner, Ryan Suter, is also very good and they are a formidable tandem that's largely responsible for the Predators being in a playoff spot.
Weber does almost everything well. His positional play is superb and he plays a very hard-hitting but clean style of play. His endurance is excellent, especially considering the hard minutes that he plays.
Weber's skating could be a bit better, and if it was, it would allow him to join the rush more often than he does. Right now, he plays a more defensive style, which is fine, but the Predators could use more offense.
Weber has a very good chance to be a Norris finalist and an outside shot at winning it. He does fall more than 10 points behind three other top candidates and that could hurt him in the voters' eyes.
Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes
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Keith Yandle is second in scoring among defensemen, with 57 points, but gets very little recognition because he plays for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Yandle leads the over-achiever Coyotes in points and has been the biggest reason for their success this year.
Yandle makes a great first pass that really sparks the Coyotes' transition game. His speed is very good and he routinely joins the rush but still gets back defensively. While he doesn't have the flash and flair of someone like Drew Doughty, Yandle plays very efficiently.
Yandle's defensive coverage isn't on the same level with Nick Lidstrom, Shea Weber or Zdeno Chara. He doesn't play a lot on the penalty kill and isn't counted on to play against top lines. Yandle also commits too many giveaways right now.
Yandle will be a Norris finalist and has a good chance of winning it.
Nick Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
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Nick Lidstrom sits fourth in goals and third in points by defensemen. He's been the anchor on a Detroit Red Wings blueline that's seen more than its fair share of injuries.
After posting under 50 points last year, many people were thinking that Lidstrom had lost a step and was on his way out of the game.
He's back dominating this year and shutting down elite forwards around the league while only taking 20 penalty minutes.
Lidstrom is the smartest defenseman in the league and his positioning is perfect. He plays defense more efficiently than anyone else in the league right now, maybe ever. He also does it all while rarely taking penalties.
Incredibly, he has only 431 penalty minutes in 1,484 career games while almost always drawing top line matchups. I could continue about his strengths like passing, shooting and powerplay quarterbacking ability for an entire article, but you get the point.
Lidstrom's speed isn't what it used to be. Even in his prime he wasn't ever the fastest but he makes up for it with his positioning. He's also never been a punishing physical player but he doesn't really need to be.
Lidstrom will absolutely be a Norris finalist and I think he will win for the seventh time of his career.