NHL Predictions: The Top 5 Norris Trophy Candidates for the 2011-2012 Season

Sam RuckyCorrespondent IIIAugust 13, 2011

NHL Predictions: The Top 5 Norris Trophy Candidates for the 2011-2012 Season

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    The Ageless wonder Niklas Lidstrom captured the Norris Trophy—awarded to the NHL's top defenseman—for an unbelievable seventh time in 2010-2011. And while Lidstrom will return next season, he will certainly not be alone in the race to capture one of the most prized individual awards in the NHL today.

    The inscription on the Norris Trophy reads: Awarded to the Top Defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position in the National Hockey League.

    While I am not a Norris Trophy voter, I take "all-round ability" to include leadership and on-ice presence in addition to offensive and defensive ability. 

    Which candidates stand the best chance to dethrone one of the greatest defenseman to ever lace up a pair of skates and hoist the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2011-2012? Read on to find out.

    As always, comments are welcome and appreciated. 

Candidate No. 5: Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Chris Pronger will return to the Philadelphia Flyers for the 2011-2012 season after one of the the most injury-riddled seasons of his career.

    The former Norris and Hart Trophy winner, even at age 37, remains one of the NHL's best at the position, capable of making game-changing plays at both ends of the ice, with or without the puck.

    Pronger's candidacy should be helped by the fact that his team will be backstopped by one of the better netminders in the league in Ilya Bryzgalov, a massive improvement over Michael Leighton, Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Ray Emery—all of whom have seen significant playing time in Philadelphia over the past two seasons.  

    There is little doubt that a healthy and motivated Pronger is more than capable of taking home another Norris Trophy. If you believe the reports coming out of Philadelphia concerning Pronger's health, a Norris Trophy just might be in the cards.

Candidate No. 4: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Over the past four seasons, Keith has established himself as one of the NHL's premiere defenseman, capable of taking over a game from either end of the ice.

    He possesses exceptional offensive ability to go along with his stellar, shut-down defensive prowess. 

    Beyond that, Keith is one of the leaders of the recent Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and, along with Brent Seabrook, forms what many (myself included) believe to be the best defensive pair today. 

    Keith already has one Norris trophy to his credit, and I would not be surprised if he were to add a second in 2011-2012. He has all of the physical tools, he plays with a fantastic partner and he has a solid young netminder behind him in Corey Crawford.

Candidate No. 3: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

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    In addition to being the tallest player in the NHL at 6'9", Zdeno Chara is also one of the best for any position.

    On the ice, he is a shut-down defender capable of removing a team's top offensive threats from the game. He is a ruthless, physical player at both ends of the ice. He has an absolute howitzer for a shot and he's the heart and soul of the Boston Bruins.

    Like Pronger and Keith, Chara has hoisted the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy. He knows exactly what it takes to win both again, and he certainly has all the physical tools to win another Norris. 

Candidate No. 2: Shea Weber

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    If I were starting a franchise and could pick one skater to build my team around, Shea Weber would probably be that guy (Crosby, Datsyuk, and Chara would all get consideration).

    Weber, quite simply, is the complete package: he's a big-minute, shut-down defender, a stellar offensive defenseman, an inspirational on and off-ice leader and more.

    While Weber has not yet won a Norris, I will guarantee that will have changed before he retires. Weber is one of the best defenseman in the NHL, bar none. And with the added bonus of playing for his next contract, he just might turn in a career-year in 2011-2012. 

Candidate No. 1: Nicklas Lidstrom

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    When it's all said and done, Lidstrom might go down as the best defenseman to ever play the game. He'll be mentioned alongside legends of the game like Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey and Ray Bourque.

    And while he might not be the best of all time, he'll certainly be in the conversation. He's been that good for that long. 

    Even at 41, Lidstrom is a force on the ice. He still has the offensive game to score 60-plus points, the defensive prowess to hold down some of the best offensive weapons in the world, and the leadership to keep the Red Wings Stanley Cup contenders in the deep, talented and cutthroat Western Conference. 

    He's the reigning Norris Trophy winner—he's won it seven times. And if I were betting, I'd say he'll make it eight in 2011-2012. 

Honorable Mentions

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    These guys deserve to be in the Norris discussion, but aren't in the top 5 right now:

    1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

    2. Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes

    3. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks

    4. Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres

    5. Kevin Bieska, Vancouver Canucks