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Why Zdeno Chara Was A Poor Norris Trophy Choice

The NHL awards were announced on Thursday.  One award winner, which I think was chosen poorly, was Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins who won the Norris Trophy.  He was nominated alongside Mike Green of the Washington Capitals and Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit red Wings.  Either of them would have made a better selection.  In the First All Star Team voting, Green did defeat Chara, which shows that the race was close in the voter’s minds.  Slightly changing the parameters in which they vote, changed the result (for the Norris they get one first place vote and for the all star team they get two).

Zdeno Chara was considered a Norris favorite before the 2008/09 season began.  He had been a nominee in 2008, where he finished third behind Lidstrom and Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames.

Comparing his Norris Trophy season to his third place finish the year before, the third place finish is the better year.  Offensively, he scored 50 points this season, nearly matching his 51 point output of the year before in three fewer games.  Of course it is his defensive play that is cited as the reason he won the award.  However, his team had a better +/- with Chara off the ice than with him on it.  This is partially explained by

< the fact that Chara played against top competition, but it is not a statistic that one would expect from a Norris Trophy winner. Chara fell significantly in his

on/off ice adjusted +/-.  In 2007/08, he was a 0.83, which led his team (among people with more than 10 games played).  This season he fell to -0.44.  That is a huge drop.  It can partially be explained by an improvement in the overall Boston team (to which he is compared in the method), but also to a drop in the results from his defensive play. 

The idea that Chara was the toughest defender to play against in 2008/09 is a myth.  It does not fit with the statistics.  Certainly Chara is a good defenceman and his big size makes him intimidating, but there were better defencemen this season.  It was Chara’s reputation from past success, coupled with the improvement of the Boston Bruins (something he was given significant credit for despite his regression on the ice) that made him a Norris Trophy winner.

Although the other nominees for the Norris appeared to have flaws, they had better seasons than Chara did.  Mike Green was the defenceman who likely led the league in win shares (essentially won the most games for his team - this is a judgment call because there is not enough sabermetric theory in hockey to calculate such things reliably).  Green had a huge season offensively.  He scored 31 goals and 73 points.  He had the most goals in a season for a defenceman in 16 years.  He did this is a period of much lower scoring league wide than existed at that time.  There is no way to deny Green’s offensive prowess.  The knock on him has been defensive play, but it wasn’t a significant knock.  This is shown (for example) by his 12th in the league showing in adjusted +/-.  That shows that Green was good defensively (he also posted a +1.34 on/off ice adjusted +/-).  His offensive success was a far bigger benefit to his team than any goals scored against him.  Some may criticize the fact that Green was not actively played against the toughest opposition Washington faced (though there was no attempt to play him against weak opposition either).  Mike Green had a better 2008/09 season than Zdeno Chara, but he lacked the reputation and thus lost the Norris Trophy.

Nicklas Lidstrom also had a better season than Chara.  He posted more points (59 to Chara’s 50) and a better +/- by several measures (his on/off ice +/- was +1.15).  The flaw in Lidstrom’s Norris case was that he had won the Norris Trophy six times and voters seemed to want a change.  Lidstrom was clearly not as good in 08/09 as he had been in previous seasons, so now was the time for that change.  The problem was that the player they chose to pass the Norris Trophy to actually had a worse season than Lidstrom.

SImilarly I would argue that Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Mark Streit of the New York Islanders also outplayed Chara.  They were not Norris nominees and the margin that they beat Chara by is not as significant as Green or Lidstrom.

All told, Zdeno Chara played a worse season in 08/09 than he had the year before.  He was third in the Norris voting the year before.  I had him as fifth best this year.  Fifth best defenceman in the 2008/09 season is very good, but it is not worthy of a Norris Trophy.  Zdeno Chara won the Norris on reputation.  His drop-off in defensive play was masked by the improvement in his team (Boston had the best team +/-).  One could look at Chara’s +/- of +23 and not notice that is mostly a team result and his defensive play had dropped.  The other Norris Trophy candidates appeared flawed.  Mike Green did not have the reputation as a top defenceman especially in his own zone and Nicklas Lidstrom is in decline and it is time for a change atop the Norris standings.  Therefore, neither of them won the Norris despite playing better seasons than Zdeno Chara did.  Chara’s Norris Trophy was undeserved and won largely by reputation.

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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