Nicklas Lidstrom Nominated for Norris Trophy, but Winning It Is a Long Shot

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IApril 25, 2011

DETROIT, MI- APRIL 13:  Nicklas Lidstrom #5 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Phoenix Coyotes in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena on April 13, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.(Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

For the 11th time in his 19-year NHL career, Nicklas Lidstrom has been officially recognized with a Norris Trophy nomination as one of the three best defensemen in the league.

Now, that alone is worthy of jaw-dropping awe, but when you consider that he's receiving this kind of attention for playing arguably one of the toughest positions in the game at 40-years-old, there is not a word in English (or Swedish for that matter, yeah, I've checked) that can describe how amazingly amazing that is.

Along with Boston's Zdeno Chara, who won the trophy in 2009, and Nashville's Shea Weber, Lidstrom rounds out a trio of truly superb reargaurds in 2010-11.

To my mind, and I say this with all objectivity, Nicklas Lidstrom was the best of this particular bunch.

Not only were his 62 points second most among all defenseman, but he also continued to exhibit his otherworldly hockey sense, positioning and stick-checking ability that has come to define the play of a man many consider second only to Bobby Orr in defensive hockey greatness.

When he does decide to retire, which, given his play this season, could well be five years from now, there is no doubt that he will leave the game as one of the greatest to have ever graced NHL ice.

Nicklas Lidstrom is the league's best defenseman.

That said, there's likely no chance he'll win a trophy honoring the league's best defenseman.

The three finalists were voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and represent the three top "vote-getters" when balloting concluded at the end of the regular season.

As of now, there is a Norris Trophy winner.

We'll just have to wait until June to find out who it is.

However, it seems almost certain that whoever finished No. 1 in balloting does not wear a No. 5 sweater.

The reason such an assertion is likely true?  Well, you've probably guessed it by now: the old plus/minus.

Utilized since the 1950's by the Montreal Canadiens, the statistic that measures how many goals are scored against how many goals are allowed while an individual player is on the ice was officially adopted by the NHL in 1968.

Since that time, it has come to highlight some of the greatest careers in NHL history.

From defensive geniuses like Orr and Ray Bourque, to offensive savants like Wayne Gretzky, an astronomically high plus-rating is a common feature of their careers.

It's a controversial, if not frustrating, stat to be sure.

A high plus-rating doesn't, in and of itself, mean the player attached to it is defensively sound and vice versa.

Still, when applied to goals, assists and five-on-five playing time (the stat does not track goals scored for or against during special teams play), a player's plus/minus number can tell you something about what a player is contributing defensively throughout the season.

For the first time in his career, Nick Lidstrom finished the year as a minus-player, minus-two to be exact.

While this doesn't mean he's a bad defenseman, it does reflect his team's overall lack of defensive focus throughout the entire year.

After all, traditionally plus-players like Henrik Zetterberg, Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula also finished on the other side of that stat this year.

But when looking at how this statistic likely came into play when the PHWA cast their ballots for the leagues best blueliner, one realizes that never in the 56-year history of the James Norris Memorial Trophy has a minus-player walked away with it.

While the Norris Trophy pre-dates the plus/minus statistic, the fact that a plus-player has been the winner of the award all but once (Rob Blake in 1998 was a -3) in 42 years isn't a coincidence.

Like it or lump it, the plus/minus stat is important when it comes to casting ballots for defenseman of the year.

I've met many voting writers in the PHWA and let me tell you, they're a nice bunch of folks (well, most of them anyway).

While some take their voting duties more seriously than others, I can't imagine enough of them ignoring Lidstrom's minus-two rating to put his name ahead of Weber's or Chara's in this year's Norris Trophy voting.

Because, in the end, something like the plus/minus stat does matter when you're considering awarding an individual a trophy that could help define their career and, certainly in Weber's case, a restricted free agent to be, the brightness of their financial future.

In the final analysis, one could argue that Nicklas Lidstrom is the league's best defenseman, but given his minus-2 rating, that really has nothing to do with winning a trophy as the league's best defenseman.


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