Debating the Norris Trophy finalists

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Green3.jpgWith the announcement today of the Norris Trophy finalists, there has
rung out a debate across the internet over the validity of said
finalists and whether the hockey writers had any clue what they were
doing when voting. With Mike Green, Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith named
as finalists, there was some consternation that Chris Pronger and
Nicklas Lidstrom were left off the list.

I wasn’t surprised by the
finalists at all. I don’t have a vote, but from talking to other
writers and reading articles across the internet the past few weeks it
was obvious that Green, Doughty and Keith were the consensus top three.
They are all under 26 years old and with a number of other young
defensemen in the mix, namely Shea Weber, it felt that a torch was being
passed from the old guard of Pronger and Lidstrom to the new and the
younger guys in the NHL.

All of this has raised a debate as to
what the meaning of the actual award is. The Norris Memorial Trophy is
given each season to the “the defensive player who demonstrates
throughout the season the
greatest all-around ability in
the position.”

Green, Doughty and Keith are the three top scoring
defensemen in the NHL, and some believe that the PWHA have relied too
much on offensive stats in their voting and have forgotten that actually
playing defense is part of the award as well.

None can question
Doughty and Keith’s ability in their own zone, so naturally the debate
has centered around Mike Green, because we can’t go more than 36 hours
without some heated debate regarding the Washington Capitals.

Anthony
SanFilippo, a great beat writer for the Philadelphia Flyers, says today that
he’s “embarrassed” to be a hockey writer since Green was named a
finalist.

We all look pretty bad today. I mean REALLY
bad today. We all look like
we don’t know the first thing we’re talking about when it comes to the
sport of hockey.

How else can anyone explain Washington
Defenseman Mike Green being a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the
sport’s best defenseman over Chirs Pronger and Niklas Lidstrom, among
several others?

I’m not so sure about why he feels so
embarrassed. The reason it’s a five-player ballot, spread across the
various writers of the PWHA, is so that those with different opinions
will be balanced out into one consensus vote. While he may not agree
with the finalists, I don’t feel that’s a requirement to call out his
profession. Unless everyone is completely blinded by offensive stats.
More on that in a bit.

Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy says
that while Green certainly doesn’t have the defensive ability
of
the other two finalists, it’s his offensive ability that balances him as
a player:

He’s not better defensively than the other
two, and probably the top 5
on most ballots. If you consider that aspect to be the critical factor
in who wins the award, then he falls short. If the totality of his game
is more important, then he’s worthy.

The outpouring
of negative sentiment towards Mike Green has brought about some heated
defense by Capitals fans, who cite his outstanding +/- numbers as reason
why his defense is not as bad as some may believe. If he has hands down
the best plus/minus in the NHL, then surely he’s not as big a liability
on defense as some claim he is, right?

What hurts Green the most
in these arguments are the statistics. Not the great offensive numbers
he puts up, but the deeper statistics that are being used now to measure
a player’s true effectiveness.

Of the three, Mike Green has the
lowest Quality of Competition (0.005) and the highest Quality of
Teammates (0.323). Compare that to Drew Doughty (0.027 QCMP, 0.098 QTM)
and to Duncan Keith (0.081 QCMP, 0.034 QTM). Green also plays on a team
with the highest overall goal differential in the NHL, and had a
disproportionate number of offensive zone starts as compared to
defensive zone starts.

These are just stats and numbers, but they
show that the statistics used to put Green on this list aren’t
infallible. Green’s numbers are great because that’s the position he was
put in, on an aggressively offensive team that scores a ton of goals.

As
far as Lidstrom and Pronger go, some feel that they were snubbed by the
inclusion of Green. While I don’t necessarily agree that Pronger is one
of the best defensemen in the NHL, there’s no doubt that Lidstrom still
has the ability to be the best lockdown defenseman in the league. His
numbers were down this season, and that likely didn’t help him.

Were
the writers blinded by the offensive numbers by the three finalists,
ignoring the fact that being a defenseman means playing defense as well?
Tough to say, although the fact that we were having this same debate
last season about Mike Green is saying something.

Personally, I
think the argument is moot. Even if Pronger and Lidstrom had made the
cut it seems that Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty will get the award, and
they’ll both deserve it.

Gretzky returns to NHL fold as official ambassador of centennial celebration

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Former Edmonton Oilers forward Wayne Gretzky greets fans during the closing ceremonies at Rexall Place following the game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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The National Hockey League was founded on November 26, 1917. Almost ninety-nine years later, the commissioner of the league, Gary Bettman, was in Toronto to announce that Wayne Gretzky, arguably its greatest player ever, would be the official ambassador of its centennial celebration.

For Gretzky, whose relationship with the NHL was tested during the Phoenix Coyotes’ bankruptcy proceedings in 2009, it marks a return to representing the league in an official capacity. (In 2013, he was reportedly paid around $8 million in a settlement.)

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Gretzky said in a statement. “I’ve said this a million times that everything I have in my life is because of hockey and because of the National Hockey League. I happen to think it’s the greatest game in the world. It was kind to me my whole life. The game just gets better every year, so for me to be involved in just trying to help promote and sell our sport even more it’s a great thrill for me and an honor to be part of it.”

Watch the following video to see what the NHL has in store for 2017, starting on Jan. 1 with the Centennial Classic at BMO Field between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings:

 

Report: Panarin wants six-year deal from ‘Hawks, at least $6M per season

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks poses after winning the Calder Trophy named for the top rookie at the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Artemi Panarin is looking to cash in on his Calder-winning campaign.

Chicago’s prized Russian sniper and the reigning rookie of the year, Panarin is reportedly seeking a six-year contract extension “worth more than $6 million per season,” per the Chicago Tribune.

As the Tribune points out, that figure could be problematic. Nobody’s arguing that Panarin isn’t worth the money — he’s 24, and coming off a 30-goal, 77-point campaign — but people are wondering how the ‘Hawks can afford him. Eight players on the active roster are pulling in at least $4 million per season, which includes Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, they of the $10.5M cap hits.

That said, it sure sounds like Panarin will get done.

Reports last week said his agent and ‘Hawks GM Stan Bowman were well into extension talks, and Bowman seemed confident a deal would be inked.

“I respect Tom [Lynn, Panarin’s agent], he’s a very knowledgeable guy and I know Artemi put a lot of faith in him,” Bowman said. “Tom and I will work to get something done.”

Panarin’s heading into the last of a two-year, $6.775 million deal with a $3.387 AAV — a deal that gained plenty of notoriety as the season progressed. Since it was so performance-laden, Panarin cashed in a couple of times, including a $1.725 million bonus for finishing among the top-10 scorers in the NHL.

That led to Bowman making some tough financial decisions this offseason, including the deal that sent Bryan Bickell — more specifically, Bryan Bickell’s contract — and Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina in exchange for draft picks.

So, this latest situation isn’t anything new for the ‘Hawks GM. He’s been down the financial squeeze road before, and usually found a way to keep his core players in the mix.

If Panarin is considered a core guy — and at this point, it sure sounds like he is — then finding common ground on an extension shouldn’t be too difficult.

Gudbranson-Hutton pairing will be key for Canucks

Vancouver Canucks' defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who was acquired from the Florida Panthers in the off-season, answers questions during a news conference ahead of the NHL hockey team's training camp in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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There’s a long list of things that have to go right for the Vancouver Canucks if their playoff hopes are to be realized.

One of the biggest is for new addition Erik Gudbranson to form a cohesive second pairing with sophomore Ben Hutton. If that happens, and if Alex Edler and Chris Tanev can stay healthy, the Canucks should have a reliable top-four defense, and that’s something they rarely, if ever, had last season.

Gudbranson, a big stay-at-home type, and Hutton, a puck-mover, have been skating together at training camp. The Canucks believe the pairing has great potential, with each defenseman’s strengths complementing the other’s.

“I want to get his feet moving and hit him in stride and get him up the ice with the puck as soon as possible,” Gudbranson said, per The Province. “I think we’re going to be a good partnership. We’re both on the same page. We’re both excited to play with each other and grow as a unit.”

Vancouver’s third pairing remains to be seen. Luca Sbisa with Philip Larsen is the most likely at this point, though Nikita Tryamkin and Andrey Pedan on the left side, and Alex Biega and Troy Stecher on the right, could make things interesting. Jordan Subban is another wild card. Olli Juolevi too, though he’s a long shot and will likely end up back in junior.

The Canucks were decimated by injuries to their best defensemen last season. Edler only played 52 games, Dan Hamhuis 58, and Tanev 69. Other teams with more depth could survive that, but Vancouver floundered.

That’s why health is another big thing that has to go right for the Canucks. Another injury-filled season and it’s hard to picture them staying in the playoff race.

Vancouver opens its preseason schedule tonight in San Jose.

Boedker to make Team Europe debut in World Cup final

DENVER, CO - MARCH 09:  Mikkel Boedker #89 of the Colorado Avalanche controls the puck against the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center on March 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Ducks 3-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Mikkel Boedker‘s first game for Team Europe will be a big one.

Boedker, a healthy scratch throughout the World Cup, will make his European debut on Tuesday, replacing the injured Marian Gaborik (foot) in the first of the best-of-three final.

Head coach Ralph Kreuger opted for Boedker rather than dressing Luca Sbisa as a seventh defenseman, and lamented losing Gaborik’s presence in the lineup.

“We’re losing some leadership and smarts on the puck that were exemplary,” Krueger said, per the L.A. Times.

What the Europeans will gain, however, is speed. Boedker’s one of the fastest skaters in the league and is coming off a good offensive campaign, tying a career-high with 51 points.

The 26-year-old appeared in two of Europe’s exhibition games, both against Team North America. He received a ton of ice time in the first — 19:46 — but had that cut in half for the rematch, when he had 13 shifts for just 9:22 TOI.

Related: Gaborik (foot) to miss eight weeks