At the end of each NHL season the James Norris Trophy is awarded to the top all-around defenseman in the league. The award was first presented at the end of the 1953-54 NHL season and is named for James E. Norris, the owner of the Detroit Red Wings from 1932-1952.
The Norris Trophy does not come without controversy. The wording of how the award is to be presented and voted on indicates that it should go to the best all-around defenseman. Ask anyone who has followed the NHL for any amount of time if that is how the Norris is truly awarded, and they will tell you that is not always how the winner is selected. Voters tend to put greater emphasis on the offensive skills of the players they vote for than the defensive skills of those players, but that’s an argument for another day.
Writers for the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association vote on the award, ranking their top five players using a 10-7-5-3-1 points system. Last season Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators won the award. It was Karlsson’s second Norris.
Boston Bruins great Bobby Orr holds the record for most Norris Trophy wins, racking up eight consecutive awards between 1968-1975. Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Karlsson are the only two active players who have won the award more than once. Keith, like Karlsson, has won the award on two occasions.
Will Keith or Karlsson be in the running for a third Norris at the end of this season? Will the other active players who have won the award, Zdeno Chara and P.K. Subban, be in the mix? Read on to find out.
5. Shea Weber
Even though his name always seems to be in the conversation, Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators has never won the Norris Trophy. He has been in the running each year since the 2008-09 season, finishing in the top 10 in voting in each of those seasons. In 2010-11 and 2011-12 he was runner-up. Last season he finished fourth in Norris voting. Expect Weber to be in the conversation again this year.
Weber is a top-level defenseman, solid on both ends of the ice with the added pluses of having a mean streak, leadership skills and one of the hardest shots in the NHL. Weber is the kind of player whom general managers dream about being able to build a team around.
4. Victor Hedman
Victor Hedman’s name has appeared in the Norris voting once since he joined the NHL in 2009-10. At the end of the 2013-14 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman finished ninth in voting. Had injury not sidelined him for 23 games last season, there’s no doubt that he would have shown up in the 2014-15 voting.
Hedman may have taken longer to reach elite status than some other players on this list, but he has reached that status. In the 59 games he did play last year he scored 10 goals and 28 assists, while averaging 22:41 of ice time per game.
Hedman can play solidly at both ends of the ice, and if he remains healthy, he’ll be in the mix for the Norris for this season and many more to come.
3. Drew Doughty
Drew Doughty is a workhorse for the Los Angeles Kings. Since joining the NHL in 2008-09, he has played in no fewer than 76 games per season (lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign excluded) and has an average ice time of 25:46 per game. When the Kings make the playoffs, his average time on the ice climbs to 27:39 per game.
Even though Doughty had more first place votes, he finished second to Erik Karlsson in Norris voting last season, getting 889 voting points to Karlsson’s 964. His play early in the 2015-16 season shows that he will once again be in the running for the Norris Trophy come the end of the 2015-16 season.
2. Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators was awarded his second Norris Trophy at the close of the 2014-15 season, beating out Drew Doughty and P.K. Subban for the honor. Karlsson’s first Norris came in 2011-12 when he finished ahead of Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara.
Karlsson is a great scoring defenseman with solid hockey sense, something his stats bear out. He played in all 82 games last season, putting up 66 points (21G, 45A) while averaging a career high 27:15 per game on the ice.
What has to be noted about Karlsson as the 2015-16 season heats up is that he made a conscious effort to rest and bulk up after last season, and that could spell bad things for the Senators’ opposition, as well as other Norris hopefuls.
1. P.K. Subban
P.K. Subban made an immediate impact on the Montreal Canadiens blueline, scoring 38 points as a rookie and finishing sixth in voting for the NHL rookie of the year. If you look at the five players who finished ahead of him in that voting now, you’d be hard-pressed to pick one whom you would rather have than Subban.
Subban is a speedy defenseman who can change the complexion of the game in many ways, including getting under the skin of the opposition.
He finished last season with career highs in goals (15), assists (45), points (60), plus/minus (+21), and time on ice (26:12). He put up those numbers while earning a career low in (full season) penalty minutes (74). Subban finished third in Norris voting at the end of 2014-15.
Subban has picked up right where he left off last year. He currently leads NHL defensemen in points, and plus/minus.