The NHL has reached the midseason point of the 2015-16 season and with that, we take a look at the players who are in the running for the major NHL awards. Today we consider the five players currently competing for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, or to put it more simply, the best defenseman award.
The same names appear on the the Norris trophy again and again. Since it was first awarded at the end of the 1953-54 season, only 25 players have won it. Bobby Orr is the all-time leader in Norris wins with eight. When the 2015-16 NHL season began, NHL.com named Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman the favorite to win the Norris. Other players on the shortlist were Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens, Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, and Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames.
Some of those names have made it onto the midseason list; others, like Hedman, with his 23 points (3G, 20A) at the halfway point, have fallen short of expectations. In addition to the few preseason favorites who made the midseason list, there are a couple of surprise competitors who played themselves into Norris consideration. Now that your interest is piqued, here are the five best defensive players in the NHL at the halfway point of the 2015-16 season.
5. Ryan Suter
Ryan Suter’s ninth-place finish in Norris voting last season was his lowest placement since he finished 15th at the end of the 2010-11 NHL season. This year, the 30-year-old Minnesota Wild defenseman rebounded. Suter is currently on pace to finish this season with the best numbers of his career. In 43 games, Suter has scored 30 points (6G, 24A) and is plus 13 while averaging 28:24 of ice time per game. Last season, he scored 38 points throughout the entire season. Suter has always been an elite defenseman, so fans may have taken him for granted and overlooked him. With his play this season, Suter reminded us all just how good he is.
4. Roman Josi
Ryan who? That’s kind of the feeling in Nashville right now, as 25-year-old Roman Josi has helped the fans and the team forget the fact that Suter once patrolled the blueline for the Nashville Predators. When Suter left the Predators as a free agent in 2012 to sign a 13-year deal worth $98 million with the Minnesota Wild, the thinking was that the team’s defense, which had been anchored by Suter and Weber, would take a big hit. During the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, this premonition came true, but only for a season.
Little did the Preds know that they had mined a diamond in the second round of the 2008 NHL draft. That diamond went by the name of Roman Josi, and his breakthrough season came in 2013-14 when he scored 40 points (13G, 27A). Last year, Josi improved those numbers, scoring 55 points (15G, 40A). He also received enough votes to place him fifth in Norris voting, one spot below Weber and four spots above Suter. Josi’s performance this year shows no signs of regression; he is on pace to set a career high in points and should once again finish in the top five in Norris votes.
3. John Klingberg
Most of the talk about the Dallas Stars this season has focused on Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, and there is good reason for that. They are second and third in scoring in the NHL, and let’s face it, scoring is what gets attention. However, there is a third player on the Dallas hockey club that should receive just as much attention — maybe more. That player is defenseman John Klingberg.
The 23-year-old is only in his second year in the NHL, and he is already in the running for the Norris Trophy. Last year, in his rookie season, Klingberg scored 40 points (11G, 29A) and received some attention for the Calder Trophy, finishing fifth. This season he has almost matched that point total, and he may have some of those Calder voters thinking they made a mistake last year.
2. Drew Doughty
Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings has finished in the top 10 in Norris Trophy voting in almost every season he has played in the NHL. The only two seasons he failed to hit the top 10 were his rookie season and the 2011-12 season, when he finished with the second-lowest point total of his career (36). Last season was Doughty’s highest finish in Norris voting; he finished second to Karlsson in a pretty tightly contested race.
This season Doughty is once again in the race for the Norris, scoring on a pace that should see him have the second-most productive season of his career. Doughty may not have an individual award to his name, but he does have two Stanley Cups and two Olympic gold medals on his resume. Look for him to make the 2016 Norris race another tight competition.
1. Erik Karlsson
Karlsson is having the type of season that will put him in the race for both the Norris Trophy and the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP. The Ottawa Senators defenseman is fourth overall in NHL scoring with 45 points (9G, 36A) and first overall among defensemen. He leads all NHL players in average time on ice with 28:35 per game and his 36 assists rank him first among defensemen and second overall.
Karlsson was drafted 15th overall by the Senators in 2008 and joined the team for the 2009-10 season. He didn’t receive any votes for the Norris in his first two seasons, but he has won the award twice since then, including last season. If Karlsson manages to win the award this season, he will join an elite group of three-time winners, which consists of Chris Chelios, Paul Coffey, Pierre Pilote and Denis Potvin (all members of the Hockey Hall of Fame).
One thing to keep in mind is that Karlsson is only 25 years old. The list of players who have won three Norris trophies by the age of 26 — which Karlsson will be when the 2015-16 season ends — consists of only two other players, Potvin and another Hall of Famer, Orr.
Statistics courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com.