BY JEFF ANGUS
The Norris Trophy is awarded each season to the best defenseman in the NHL. There is often a disagreement with regards to this award and how it is voted upon, as voting tends to favour defensemen who also contribute significantly in the way of goals and assists. There has even been some thought to create a second award to recognize the top defensive defensemen in the league, but nothing has come to fruition just yet.
Last season, Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson won Norris after a dominant offensive season. Karlsson isn’t a bad defensive defenseman by any stretch of the imagination, but he earned the award with his offensive play. He bested Nashville’s Shea Weber and Boston’s Zdeno Chara, who are inarguably the two best defensive defensemen in hockey (now that Nicklas Lidstrom has retired).
Erik Karlsson (+380 to Win the Norris Trophy)
Karlsson will be in tough to repeat his impressive performance from last season, as opposing teams have had some time to game plan for him. That being said, he is the cream of the crop with regards to offensive defensemen, and his fantasy hockey value is considerably high. The Senators overachieved last season relative to expectations, thanks in large part to Karlsson’s ability to generate offense from the back end. They could be better this year, as they are graduating some impressive young prospects to the big club, but they could just as easily take a few steps back – it is difficult to predict how young talent will perform from year to year.
Zdeno Chara (+575 to Win the Norris Trophy)
Although Chara will turn 36 in a few months, most hockey experts are expecting him to carry on his elite level of play well into his late 30’s. He is in tremendous shape (a notorious fitness fanatic, Chara has his own keys to the Bruins training facility so he can come in extra early), and he doesn’t put himself into harm’s way all too often, either. The Bruins have one of the strongest teams in the league (on paper), and that starts with their 6-9 tower of strength on the back end.
Alex Pietrangelo (+625 to Win the Norris Trophy)
Arguably the best player in the league that you haven’t heard of, Pietrangelo is the total package. He is big, strong, mobile, and very talented offensively. The Blues took their time developing him, and that patience paid off. He is also the major reason why St. Louis was comfortable trading away one-time franchise defenseman Erik Johnson to Colorado a few years ago. Pietrangelo will be on contention for more than a few Norris trophies during his career, starting in 2012-13.
Shea Weber (+700 to Win the Norris Trophy)
There is no questioning Weber’s ability as an NHL defenseman. He can dominate with his offense, physicality, or strong positional play in his own zone. Many people are wondering how he is going to fare without Ryan Suter across from him on the blue line, though. Suter left Nashville as a free agent last summer to sign with Minnesota, and now Weber has to find a way to remain a dominant presence with a new defensive partner (likely Swiss youngster Roman Josi). The Predators don’t have a defenseman as good as Suter is/was (or one even close to Suter’s level, for that matter). Weber’s overall game may suffer just a bit as he is forced to adjust his game without Suter.
Kris Letang (+1000 to Win the Norris Trophy)
Letang was on pace for a monster offensive season in 2011-12 before a concussion slowed him down. What he lacks in height (at 5-11, Letang is far from short, but he routinely goes up against much bigger forwards), he makes up for in strength. Letang’s training regime is incredibly difficult and he is arguably the strongest pound-for-pound player in the entire league. He also gets to play on the power play with Crosby and Malkin, which will help in the offensive production department. Don’t be surprised to see Letang lead all NHL defensemen in scoring. Unlike most offensive defensemen, Letang is also a positive contributor with his physical play and ability to shut down opposing stars.
Drew Doughty (+1500 to Win the Norris Trophy)
Since entering the NHL as a teenager, Doughty has transformed his game considerably. During his first few years, he was known more for his booming point shot and ability to rush the puck up the ice. He is now also known for his dominant defensive play. Doughty can log a ton of minutes in all situations, and his ability to skate the puck out of danger is unmatched around the league. He still hasn’t forgotten how to skate with the puck on his stick, as evidenced by his impressive goal in the Stanley Cup Final last spring against the New Jersey Devils:
Doughty is a fantastic value pick at these odds.
PK Subban (+2500 to Win the Norris Trophy)
Subban is a risky bet at this point in time as he is still without a contract, but Montreal will find a way to get him inked to a new deal very soon. Like Doughty, Subban was known more for his offense and flashy game in junior and as a rookie, but the Canadiens played Subban in primarily a shutdown role last year. Like Doughty, Subban is a fantastic skater, and that allows him to play terrific positional hockey as well as skate the puck out of danger with relative ease. Look for his offensive numbers to increase as Montreal’s forward group gets a bit better. Subban should see prime power play minutes, but Montreal may want to give those to more one-dimensional defensemen like Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber.