By JD Lagrange – Times have changed. Hockey has changed. The voting for NHL Awards seems to have changed as well. Perhaps in an era where hockey is being played in hot climates, in so-called non-traditional markets, when the league has grown to a whooping 32 teams, is it also time to add one more award?
It seems like something got lost amongst voters since the introduction of certain awards and that’s the true meaning in the definition, the reasons for some of those awards. In most cases, it seems to be because the voters are focussing on one aspect of the game: offense.
For example, take the Frank J. Selke Trophy. They created the award because there were plenty of trophies for offensive forwards. By NHL definition, this award is given “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” There are no mentions of offense in there. The first recipient of the Selke Trophy was Bob Gainey of the Canadiens, who won it in each of the first four years it was awarded. Gainey was never an offensive juggernaut. Now, voters from the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association look at offense as well, a huge mistake in my humble opinion, as it goes against the original intent of the award to start with.
Then, you have the James Norris Memorial Trophy. Again, by definition, this award given “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.“Not so coincidently, this award is also voted by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. Doug Harvey won seven of the first nine times the trophy was awarded and Bobby Orr, arguably the best player to ever play the game, won it eight times.
I had this article on the side burner for a while, saved as a Draft, waiting for the appropriate moment to finalize and publish it. Then, François Parenteau, journalist as Radio-Canada (French CBC), tweeted:
“The fact that Erik Karlsson is being considered a favourite for the Norris is laughable. This trophy should reward the best defenseman in the NHL and not the one with most points.” ~ @fparenteau
And I wholeheartedly agree with François. A big example of that was in the 2014-15 season – a shortened season – when P.K. Subban won the Award. I’m as big of a Habs’ fan as anyone and I can admit that defensively and for their all-around game, there were defensemen in the NHL far superior to Subban.
In fact that year, the three nominees were Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, Erik Karlsson then of the Ottawa Senators and Subban. Out of the three, only Doughty (14) wasn’t in the top ten in scoring amongst defensemen and that should tell us something about his all-around play, or at the very least, raise some interesting questions. The fact is that out of the three, the Kings’ defenseman was the only one who fits best the true definition of the James Norris Trophy.
Some great defensemen have won the Norris over the years but it seems like the selection criteria has changed a while ago, most notably since the arrival of Karlsson who won the award in 2012, for what seems to be for his offensive contribution solely. Karlsson, in my opinion, has never been a good all-round defensemen. He is outstanding, one of the best in the game in fact, when it comes to offense. But defensively, physically, as a shut-down, it’s a whole different story.
And if we as Habs’ fans were to take our rose-coloured glasses off, if only we had the opportunity to closely watch every Kings, Predators or Blackhawks’ games, we would easily acknowledge that our beloved P.K. was not in the category of players like Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and Duncan Keith were at the time, to name a few. While they may not have been quite as dominant on offense as Karlsson and Subban, they are far ahead of those two when it comes to their play in their own zone as shut-down defensemen.
Remember that the award is voted on by a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and that crew is just like all of us. So some treat awards as a popularity contest and others can be influenced by the spectacular offensive plays that we see on television. With the exception of goaltenders, it’s offense more so than defense that makes the highlight of the night more often than not.
And that is the definition of the Norris Trophy, the greatest all-round ability in the position.
I know that some who don’t know me will turn this into racism somehow but it’s not knowing me. It’s so far from being the case. Seth Jones (an excellent all-round defenseman) is my favourite player in the NHL.
No one has won the Norris Trophy more often than the great Bobby Orr, who has won it eight times in his injury-shortened career and while few of today’s fans remember seeing him play, he is more remembered for his outstanding offensive contribution. If you ask anyone who has played with or against him, or fans that have had the luxury of watching his career, they’ll tell you that he was an outstanding defensive defenseman as well… and tough as nails.
Doug Harvey and Nicklas Lindstrom were not known for being the best offensive defensemen (although not too shabby), but they were known as the best all-around defensemen in their era, having won the Norris Trophy seven times each.
Are we starting to notice a trend here? If we look at the rest of the list of winners, only Paul Coffey (twice) is questionable as a winner. The Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson, Raymond Bourque, Chris Chelios, Rod Langway, Zdeno Chara, Scott Niedermayer, Duncan Keith and company were all outstanding in their own zone. They are dominant hockey players who were also shutdown players not only on their team, but across the NHL and even at the international level.
Bobby Orr Trophy
Seeing that times change and fans want offense, hate the tie games, and even invent new statistics to justify their opinions, perhaps this is the perfect time to create a new award as the league did with the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, given to the league’s top goals scorer.
What if they awarded the Bobby Orr Trophy to the top defenseman leading the league in scoring and leave the Norris Trophy to the best all-around defenseman, as it was intended to be? Oh there were certainly be years where the two trophies would be awarded to the same person but most times, the best defenseman is often not the leading point’s getter amongst his peers.
This season, the Bobby Orr trophy could be awarded to Erik Kalsson if he keeps up his offensive production. But he’s certainly not a better all-round defenseman as Cale Makar, Roman Jossi or Victor Hedman, just to name a few.
Either give the Bobby Orr Trophy to the best scorer or, since Orr was so good in all aspects of the game, give it to the best all-round defenseman, and change the definition of the Norris and give it to the top scorer amongst defensemen. It would be a great way to honour the greatest defenseman to have played the game, and solve a problem with voters.
It’s no easy task to determine the best all-around player at such a difficult position, where a goaltender, a defense partner or a coach’s system can help or not such players’ efficiency. But the pendulum has gone too far towards the offensive part of their game, as it has for the Selke Trophy. People need to do a reset and return to the original intent for those NHL Awards.