by PuckStopsHere on 06/26/11 at 05:50 PM ET
I think the most interesting trophy race this year was the Norris Trophy race. I wrote about it a few times during the season (most recently here). There were four legitimate candidates. Very little separated them and none were big favorites. When we look at the first choices of the voters, 127 ballots were cast and 35 (or 27%) named Nicklas Lidstrom as first choice, Zdeno Chara was picked 33 times (26%), Shea Weber was picked 32 times (25%) and Lubomir Visnovsky 20 times (16%). There were also a handful of ballots naming Keith Yandle and Kris Letang as first choice. There were ten ballots that did not name Lidstrom in any position (1st through 5th), 18 omitting Shea Weber, 16 omitting Zdeno Chara and 14 omitting Lubomir Visnovsky.
From these numbers we can conclude that nobody was a consensus choice and all candidates were not seen as legitimate choices by some voters.
Were I to have had an award ballot, my vote would have been 1. Lubomir Visnovsky 2. Zdeno Chara 3. Nicklas Lidstrom 4. Kris Letang and 5. Shea Weber. This is a position consistent with the voting, but not with players finishing in the same order as they actually finished.
It is interesting to look at the players and why they may have finished in that order.
Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy. It was his seventh of his career. He won because he was the most common choice for first place in the race (by a very slim margin) and he was left off the ballot the fewest number of times. Lidstrom finished second in scoring among defencemen. He did this with very strong play on the power play. His play at even strength was not as strong as it had been in the past. 39 of Lidstrom’s points came on the power play and 22 at even strength (1 shorthanded). His even strength drop is shown with his puck possession stats (he was a -2 this year). It has been interesting to watch some Red Wings supporters stuck in pretzel logic to explain why +/- doesn’t matter, when in previous years his +/- showed how good a player he was. Given the fact that most of the play in hockey is at even strength, Lidstrom should be downgraded somewhat for this. To his credit Lidstrom played against as tough competition as any defenceman in the NHL. He is a legitimate Norris candidate but I do not believe he should have won. Defensive awards are won partially on reputation and given Lidstrom’s past he was the hardest player to leave off of a ballot. I think some voters gave him credit based on his past. Lidstrom has a reputation as a strong defensive player, but his defensive play is starting to slip and this was not noticed by those voters who voted based on reputation.
Shea Weber finished second in the voting. He was only nine points (less than one first place vote) behind Lidstrom. He finished third (behind Chara) in terms of first place votes. He was the most popular second place choice by a significant margin (with 41 second place votes - Chara was second here with 24). Of the top Norris candidates, Weber is the one I least supported. Weber was tenth in scoring among defencemen with 48 points. He had solid (but unspectacular) puck possession numbers with a +7 +/- rating. He has a very good slap shot and is a good defensive player who hits very well. My biggest problem with his Norris candidacy is that many nights it looked like Ryan Suter was the bets defenceman on the Nashville Predators and he was overlooked in the voting. He only got two fifth place votes. Suter missed 12 games (Weber played all 82 games). Suter better drove puck possession on Nashville than Weber did. The difference between the two was not nearly as big as the voting showed. I think Weber was not as good and Suter was not as bad as the results showed. Weber’s success came from being a popular second choice. He is a prototypical defenceman who plays a physical two-way game that is highly regarded by scouts. He plays on a Nashville team with no scoring stars that succeeds in being a tough playoff team. As a result, he gets more credit than he truly deserves. Of the four top Norris candidates he was most frequently omitted from ballots. This shows the widest degree of uncertainty in the opinions of Shea Weber’s value in the Norris race.
Zdeno Chara finished third in the Norris voting. He was second in terms of first place votes. With 44 points he finished 19th among defencemen in scoring. He had a +33 +/- rating that led the league (although after any team adjustment he does not remain the top). Chara is a very good defensive player who won the Norris Trophy in the past. I think he was downgraded in some Norris voters because he scored a few less points than the other top candidates. Chara is a big reason that Boston goalies have had the best saves percentage in the league for the past three years straight. Tim Thomas has a great season in goal this year, but without Chara’s presence on the blueline I do not think he would have set a saves percentage record this year.
Lubomir Visnovsky was fourth in the Norris voting and thus not a nominee. He led the NHL’s defencemen in scoring with 68 points and put up good puck possession numbers including a +18 +/- rating that gets even better after team adjustment. Other than Lidstrom, no player was on more Norris ballots than Visnovsky. Of the top four Norris candidates, nobody has as little of a reputation as Visnovsky going into this season. Thus voters were less likely to push him to the top of their ballots and he had fewer first place votes than the other three, but they also could not leave him off their ballots. This is a significant showing for Visnovsky in a reputation driven voting system. I think many voters slighted him due to his lack of a big reputation, but they couldn’t slight him entirely and put him on their ballots.
Of the other players who were not among the top four Norris candidates, I think Kris Letang was the strongest candidate and I think deserved a better showing than Shea Weber. He put up 50 points for 8th in scoring among defencemen and a +15 +/- rating. He was the top candidate for the award for the first half of the season and then slowed down the stretch. His entire season was very good, but in the what have you done for me lately voter mindset that picked Corey Perry for the Hart Trophy somebody who played their best hockey in the first half of the season gets downgraded.
The Norris Trophy race was the tightest of the major NHL awards this season. It had four legitimate candidates. I think the voters view things through a filter of the player’s reputation. Lidstrom had the best reputation and Visnovsky the worst going into the season. It isn’t any surprise that is how they finished in the voting. I think the fact that Visnovsky appeared on more ballots than Weber or Chara is quite telling. It shows that his season was so good that voters couldn’t overlook it even with his lack of a Norris Trophy reputation. It is rare that any award is this close with as many strong candidates.
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