Most members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) including myself will vote on the best defenseman in the NHL for the 2010-11 campaign very soon.
This year’s race has been one of the more interesting ones.
At the start of the season the primary Norris Trophy candidates were last year’s winner Duncan Keith, recurrent recipient, Detroit Redwing Nicklas Lidstrom, and the Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty.
Keith and Doughty both seemingly dropped out of contention early with injuries and neither was able to get back on track to their previous year’s All-Star form. Prior to the start of the season many scribes were handicapping Doughty as the Norris winner before the season got started.
Admittedly I was one of them.
Two unlikely defenders from troubled teams quickly emerged to take their places.
Keith Yandle and Dustin Byfuglien both played above expectations at the beginning of the season and were mentioned often as Norris candidates throughout the 2010/11 campaign.
In my opinion Dustin Byfuglien dropped out of contention in the latter part of the second half when the Thrashers took a power dive in the standings and Byfuglien’s plus-minus rating also dropped precipitously. The Thrashers were unable to recover from the plunge and missed the playoffs again.
So, despite his excellent offensive output of 20 goals (tops among all NHL defensemen) and 33 assists and a minus-1 rating-Big Buf will not take home the Norris this season.
The race for all extensive purposes seems to be between Nick Lidstrom and Keith Yandle.
Both defensemen performed well enough for either to win the award without much debate; however, there can be only one winner.
Keith Yandle emerged as a key player this season leading the Phoenix Coyotes defense and helping the team make the playoffs. His offensive contribution included 11 goals and 53 assists and a plus-minus rating of +16. Yandle also has tremendous upside having improved in each season he has been in the league. Even with considerable offensive skills he was often used on the power play and to kill penalties and logged some huge minutes in key games.
Despite the Coyotes' financial problems and low attendance the team used the obvious adversity to their advantage to make the postseason playoffs.
Atlanta and Byfuglien were unable to duplicate that kind of performance and landed out of the playoffs for another season.
Nicklas Lidstrom by comparison had an offensive season better than his last Norris win in 2009 producing 16 goals and 46 assists. The only difference is he ended the year at a minus -3; the first time ever Lidstrom has been a minus (-) player in his entire hall of fame career.
Despite the career low plus minus performance Lidstrom still is a favorite amongst writers and fans who have watched the perennial All-Star perform for 19 years.
A feather in his cap would be to win another Norris which will give him seven, one less than the greatest defenseman ever—Bobby Orr and equaling Montreal great Doug Harvey.
I will have to vote for Yandle, although I feel Lidstrom will end up winning the award.
My reasons are simple enough.
Keith Yandle’s offensive contribution was slightly better than Lidstrom’s while playing on a less talented squad.
He also was a plus player on a team that surprised almost everyone with its grit and determination while making the postseason.
There is no doubt that familiarity and popularity play major roles in winning anything, but I think Yandle is the most deserving and should receive the credit he deserves for his performance and the Norris trophy.
I am still a diehard Detroit Redwing fan and Nick Lidstrom is one of the best defensemen in NHL history, just not the best this year.