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Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom’s grip on the Norris Trophy may be slipping

Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom has delivered nothing less than a sterling performance over the course of the regular season, registering 16 goals, 46 assists and 62 points while remaining the Wings’ biggest stabilizing force, both on and off the ice, as the Wings endured yet another injury-plagued season, and his accomplishments are no less surprising given that Lidstrom will turn 41 on April 28th.

As the NHL’s writers (the Rangers’ Professional Hockey Writers’ Association members excluded) submit their awards ballots this week, however, I’m starting to get a little worried about whether Lidstrom will win his seventh Norris Trophy. A slate of NHL execs who spoke to the CBC’s Tim Wharnsby picked Zdeno Chara over Lidstrom as their Norris pick, Fox Sports’ Lyle “Spector” Richardson’s picked Kris Letang as his Norris winner, and the Globe and Mail’s Roy MacGregor, Matthew Sekeres, Eric Duhatschek and David Shoalts all feel that Lidstrom should not win the Norris, with Sekeres suggesting that Lidstrom’s -1 might be a deal-breaker...

After six wins in the last decade, the Norris has indeed become the Nik Lidstrom Trophy. He may merit consideration again this season, but how does one explain Lidstrom being minus-1 on a good team? It’s an imperfect stat, but if teammate Brian Rafalski can be plus-10, what does that say about Lidstrom’s even-strength play this season? Last year’s winner, Chicago’s Duncan Keith, also has warts. He leads the NHL in ice-time (26:56 per game), but is 25 points off last year’s pace and is also a minus player (-2).

And Duhatschek (and Shoalts) suggesting that Shea Weber should win the award:

On the grounds that the Norris Trophy - as worded - goes to the defenceman “who demonstrates throughout the season, the greatest all-around ability in the position,” the 2011 winner should go the Nashville Predators’ Shea Weber, in a close vote over six-time champ Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings.

What Lidstrom has done at the age of 40 - he’ll turn 41 later this month - is phenomenal. He is the model for the positionally sound, post-lockout defender. He plays with what coaches like to call a “good stick” in almost every situation; he is rattling off the points (60 in 76 games); and is the leader of a team that has made the playoffs in 20 consecutive seasons, a significant achievement. Coach Mike Babcock has gradually reduced Lidstrom’s minutes over the years, as a nod to his advancing years. Coming out of the lockout, he was playing 28 per night. It’s dropped by about a minute per game per year, to the point that he’s in the mid-23s this year, the lowest since the NHL started tracking the stat in 1998-99.

It’s a prudent measure and doesn’t take away from what he’s accomplished. Weber has done a lot of the same things in Nashville - he’s scoring goals, picking up points, defending well. The only thing that he adds is a physical component that Lidstrom lacks. On a Nashville team that may not boast a single player with 50 or more points, the Preds rely on Pekka Rinne’s goaltending and the defensive work of the No. 1 pair - Weber and Ryan Suter - to stay competitive with far more talented teams. Nashville rarely registers a blip on the national hockey conscience and apart from Weber’s turn in the spotlight during last year’s Olympics, he generally stays far out of the limelight. But this has been a coming out year for the 25-year-old, in the same way that Duncan Keith emerged from the shadows for Chicago last year.

I’m biased, so I still don’t understand the concept that Lidstrom’s uber-steady performance as the captain of a remarkably steady team somehow detracts from his Norris-worthiness, but between the “Lidstrom is boring” factor, the writers’ tendencies to gush about Zdeno Chara, Weber and Keith Yandle, and the fact that Dustin Byfuglien might enter the competition as a spoiler….

I get the feeling that Nick won’t end up going home from Las Vegas with a Norris Trophy this year, and that’s a shame, because he’s earned it not based upon his reputation or past accomplishments, but for an absolutely fantastic season as the Red Wings’ most consistent performer, point producer and leader this season.

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Comments

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

It’s ridiculous that a stat as flawed as plus/minus would cost Lidstrom the Norris, but it’s very likely the truth.

Lubomir Visnovsky is a fantastic offensive threat, but he doesn’t play much defense (as evidenced by his PK time) - I can’t say that a guy whose coach doesn’t trust him to kill penalties deserves to be called “the defenceman who demonstrates throughout the season, the greatest all-around ability in the position.

Keith Yandle is another who is protected against PK time. He may play nearly double what Visnovsky does on PK (45-seconds per game versus 23), but he also has nearly twice as many minor penalties called against him (18 to 10 - Lidstrom also has 10 all season).  Kris Letang kills penalties and puts up decent points, but he’s taken 28 minors this season.

I really think that penalties taken is a very overlooked statistic when it comes to defensive ability among blueliners.  It does oversimplify in some areas (but no more than plus/minus), but put simply, defensemen take more penalties when they get themselves caught out of position.  I actually don’t have a statistical backing for this claim, but I’d go as far as to say that I believe it would easily show that a minor penalty taken by a defenseman is more than twice as likely to be a result of his own defensive mistake than a minor penalty called on a forward.  Seems pretty straightforward, right?  Yes, so when you have a guy who takes 18 more penalties than another guy, it’s pretty clear the difference in their defensive mistakes.  Chara has taken 23 minor penalties.  I’m sure that some of them are simply a case of him being bigger, but can you honestly say that’s the cause for having more than twice as many as Lidstrom?

We’ve beaten Lidstrom’s quality of competition to a pulp, but to answer what Rafalski’s plus-10 rating has to say about Lidstrom’s play this season, I’d answer with a hearty declaration that it says that Rafalski has played consistently easier minutes against consistently weaker opponents with consistently stronger forwards playing in front of him.  The statistics bear that out a lot better than a vague and broken logical leap.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 04/04/11 at 05:49 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Heh, forgot to even mention Weber in my rant.

I like Shea Weber, I really do.  I think he’s likely a better candidate than both Visnovsky and Yandle.  He plays defense tough and leads an offensively challenged team in scoring.  He plays more minutes and, if he played with a deeper team in front of him, he might be a no-brainer (of course, he might also crack under the pressure… but I doubt that).  He still takes too many penalties and the biggest knock against him is the growing thought that Ryan Suter may be the real defensive driving force in that pairing, which allows Weber to take advantage of some favorable opportunities.

Ultimately, I think Lidstrom is still a better defenseman than Weber, but if he’s going to lose the Norris to anybody, I prefer it would be Nashville’s captain.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 04/04/11 at 05:55 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

I would Take Lidstrom in a Heartbeat on the Pens, He is just so Damn Good it’s scary.

Posted by Evilpens on 04/04/11 at 06:26 PM ET

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It is too bad. Lidstrom has had a great year. He has about 15 more points than Weber, and his sound positional play means he doesn’t *need* to have the physical component to be extremely effective. Or to put it another way, Weber doesn’t have Nick Lidstrom’s superb positional component or offensive upside when you’re considering all around play. The penalties that Weber takes also means that he is often unavailable on the pk, which is seldom a problem for Lidstrom.

It seems that writers looking for a “fresh” angle try to find ways to say, well the obvious choice is Nicklas Lidstrom, but for reason X, Y, or Z I’m going to vote for someone else….

What’s even crazier is that plenty of these same writers have written that they regret not voting for him last year and acknowledge that he was probably overlooked for awards earlier in his career. So, what are you going to do. I mean, they’ve all already written the “he hasn’t lost a step at 40” piece earlier this season so now they’re trying to figure out if they can convince themselves that there’s a new narrative for defense. I guess Nick’s consistent excellence is just too boring for them. But I’d like to pitch a story to them that they can write if they vote for Lidstrom, something titled “After 7 Norris Trophies, is it time we acknowledge that the second-best defenseman of all time is not Canadian?”

Posted by anony2 on 04/04/11 at 06:36 PM ET

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My pick all year has been Chara (with Lidstrom second and Letang third), mostly because he posted a gaudy plus/minus while playing the toughest minutes.

Have to figure the Pacioretty thing gets him excluded from too many ballots to win, though.

Posted by steviesteve on 04/04/11 at 06:43 PM ET

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Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 04/04/11 at 04:49 PM ET

I’ve been under the impression that, this season, the Wings have used Lidstrom to negate the suck of certain defenseman, basically pairing him with whoever needs to iron out their sh*t that week. Rafalski seems to have been the primary beneficiary of this policy, receiving players on the upswing, post-Lidstrom-internship. 

I’ll admit that Lidstrom hasn’t seemed as super-human this year, and has been less cyborg-y in his ability to anticipate every bounce the puck can take…but I’d like to think its not just homerism that makes me believe that he really has been victimized by the nature of +/- along with the pairings he’s been given.

Posted by dumbasrocks on 04/04/11 at 06:50 PM ET

Chet's avatar

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 04/04/11 at 04:49 PM ET

I’ve been under the impression that, this season, the Wings have used Lidstrom to negate the suck of certain defenseman, basically pairing him with whoever needs to iron out their sh*t that week. Rafalski seems to have been the primary beneficiary of this policy, receiving players on the upswing, post-Lidstrom-internship.

I’ll admit that Lidstrom hasn’t seemed as super-human this year, and has been less cyborg-y in his ability to anticipate every bounce the puck can take…but I’d like to think its not just homerism that makes me believe that he really has been victimized by the nature of +/- along with the pairings he’s been given.

agree with every word of this. lidstrom plays most of the tough minutes, often with a slumping or bad partner and/or forwards, or a guy returning from injury. he’s there to keep other players from being exposed, and he’s still looked great most nights.

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 04/04/11 at 07:52 PM ET

Baroque's avatar

Last year the voters just picked the top three scorers. This year they want the top plus-minus.

It makes no sense - but I haven’t seen Lidstrom winning since his +/- first went negative. He’s the boring choice and voters want someone new and different. I haven’t expected him to win anything this season.

Posted by Baroque from Michigan on 04/04/11 at 08:23 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Posted by dumbasrocks on 04/04/11 at 05:50 PM ET

Posted by Chet on 04/04/11 at 06:52 PM ET

You’re both right.  I’ve held for a while the thought that if Lidstrom were paired with Rafalski all season (or at least the part where Raffi’s been healthy) and they’ve been playing with the same forward lines as the Rafalski/Ericsson pair has, then this wouldn’t even be a discussion.  Lidstrom’s +/- might not be tops in the league under that circumstance, but it would be high enough that this wouldn’t be a question.  I also feel that he’d be leading the league in points as well.

I guess we’ll never know that though.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 04/04/11 at 08:57 PM ET

Avatar

Not sure you can call Brad Stuart a bad partner, the guy he’s played more minutes with than any other.  Also not sure you can boast about Nick being +40 one year then call it a meaningless stat when he’s -1. 

If he ends up a plus player, he wins it.  If he doesn’t, it will be a split vote (east writers going for Chara, Letang or Lidstrom and west writers going for Lidstrom, Weber, Yandle) he likely still wins it by being No. 2 on most ballots in a close vote.

Posted by jkm2011 on 04/05/11 at 09:33 AM ET

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Also not sure you can boast about Nick being +40 one year then call it a meaningless stat when he’s -1.

What, so only women can change their minds?  Thass Raycess.

Posted by dumbasrocks on 04/05/11 at 09:45 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Also not sure you can boast about Nick being +40 one year then call it a meaningless stat when he’s -1.

Who is this “you” that you keep mentioning?

Also, who called plus/minus meaningless?  I called it flawed.  Are you saying that it’s not flawed?

Does that mean that Kevin Bieksa is more than 31 times better than Nicklas Lidstrom because he has a +31 rating on a team that has a +73 goal differential?  (interestingly, the last time Lidstrom had a +40 season, the Red Wings also had a +73 goal differential).

What exactly are you saying?  Half stats and empty platitudes, it seems.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 04/05/11 at 10:16 AM ET

Avatar

Half stats and empty platitudes, it seems.

JJ, when you use the VS Announcer Moto, you need to use the little TM icon.

Posted by dumbasrocks on 04/05/11 at 10:31 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

JJ, when you use the VS Announcer Moto, you need to use the little TM icon.

Posted by dumbasrocks on 04/05/11 at 09:31 AM ET

Well-played.

Here’s my thought on the very heavily team-influence plus/minus stat.

When comparing Lidstrom to the rest of the defenseman up for Norris consideration by plus/minus, take a moment to think about where you feel their stats would be if the two players had been traded at the beginning of the season.

Would Detroit have “won” a trade with Phoenix that sent Lidstrom there in favor of Yandle, where they played in the exact same situations?  Would Yandle’s plus/minus rating be better than Lidstrom’s is from his time with Detroit?

Ultimately, I think Chara and Weber are the only two defenseman where the answer isn’t obvious and, even then, I think that Lidstrom has outplayed both of them.  Every single team in the league would have benefited from having Lidstrom as their top defenseman instead of the guy they actually have (with the caveat that we’re ONLY talking about this season, since future potential and ability to still be playing in a decade have absolutely NOTHING to do with the Norris Trophy this year)

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 04/05/11 at 10:39 AM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.