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.

Looking to make the leap: Nikita Zaitsev

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 26: Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev #2 of Russia dumps the puck in as forward Cody Eakin #21 of Canada tries to block the puck during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship Group B game between Canada and Russia on December 26, 2010 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

“I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. The physical part of the game will be different for him in the NHL, but the way he moves the puck and skates and how defensive you now have to be to play, it just really makes you think he can be really successful for the Leafs.”

That quote was from former NHL defenseman Ryan Whitney, speaking in May about newly minted Toronto defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, who went up against Whitney in the KHL.

So needless to say, expectations for Zaitsev this season are fairly high.

And they’re high for reason. At 24, the undrafted blueliner has a wealth of professional experience — seven full campaigns, split between Novosibirsk and CSKA Moscow — and really came into his own over the last few years. He routinely led CSKA in d-man scoring, and was named a KHL first-team all-star in ’14-15.

That pedigree should translate into plenty of opportunities in Toronto.

And hey, Toronto has plenty of opportunities to offer.

It’s likely one of the big reasons Zaitsev chose the Leafs over other interested suitors like Calgary, Vancouver, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (per Sportsnet). The Leafs are still in the early stages of their rebuild, and it shows on defense — based on current projections, Zaitsev could open as a top-four guy alongside Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Matt Hunwick, leapfrogging the likes of Martin Maricin, Roman Polak and Connor Carrick in the process.

The great unknown, of course, is how his success in the KHL will translate into North America. Every NHL club is hoping to land the next Artemi Panarin, but it’s important to remember that 1) Panarin is a forward, and 2) jumped onto a line next to Patrick Kane.

The transition for defenders has generally been tougher, something folks in Philly saw last year with the failed Evgeny Medvedev experience.

Of course, Zaitsev has a few more things going for him than his fellow Russian. He’s younger than Medvedev by nearly a decade, and is a coveted right-handed shot (Medvedev’s a lefty).

And like most players coming over from the KHL, Zaitsev’s on a one-year, performance bonus-laden contract that amounts to a “prove it” deal in the NHL.

That should be enough motivation to help him make the leap.

And if it’s not, there’s always the leap back to Russia.

‘Canes extend GM Francis, who’s ‘rebuilt our organization the right way’

Ron Francis
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The Carolina Hurricanes locked in a key part — arguably the most key part — of their rebuild on Tuesday, signing GM Rom Francis to a contract extension through the 2018-19 campaign.

“Ron has rebuilt our organization the right way, stocking our team and system with young players who will help this franchise compete for the Stanley Cup year in and year out,” club owner Peter Karmanos said in a release. “I’m thrilled that he will continue to see the job through.

“The future is very bright for the Hurricanes in Carolina.”

Francis, 53, has been on the job in Carolina for the past two years, and has done a terrific job of stockpiling young talent through the draft and via trade: Noah Hanifin, Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Haydn Fleury, Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier, to name a few.

Francis was also instrumental in hiring head coach Bill Peters. At the time of the hire, Peters was something of an unknown — an under-the-radar assistant with no NHL head coaching experience — but has since developed into one of the game’s more respected bench bosses.

Peters was named the bench boss for Team Canada at the most recent world championship, and led the country to gold.

This fall, he’ll reprise his role as Mike Babcock’s assistant for Canada at the World Cup of Hockey.

“When you go back a couple years ago, there were a lot of questions about who we had hired,” Francis explained in July, when he extended Peters’ contract through 2019. “[Peters] wasn’t really well known, but in the two years he’s been here, he’s done a tremendous job.”

For all the praise Francis has received during his short time on the job in Carolina, there is one area of concern — goaltending. This summer, Francis made the curious move of bringing Cam Ward back on a two-year deal, resurrecting the Ward-Eddie Lack tandem that struggled at times last season.

It’ll be interesting to see how that move plays out.

It’s Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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In a lot of ways, the 2015-16 season represented more of the same for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The results were nearly identical to 2014-15, right down to finishing in the basement of the East (69 points last season, 68 the one the year before).

Indeed, Brendan Shanahan is probably correct in saying that the Maple Leafs earned the No. 1 pick “the hard way,” or at least “earned” the higher draft lottery odds that helped them land Auston Matthews.

The big question, really, is how long will fans be patient with the Maple Leafs taking baby steps in the right direction?

Off-season

Naturally, the team tried to make more a leap forward in seeking Steven Stamkos and, to a less dramatic extent, Jimmy Vesey.

They fell short in those regards, but that doesn’t mean that management merely idled while hoping for improvements from in-house development.

The Maple Leafs made bold changes in net, ending the Jonathan Bernier era while betting big on Frederik Andersen and also bringing in a promising backup in Jhonas Enroth.

Beyond those big moves in net, the Maple Leafs made some minor adjustments. They handed surprising money and term to Matt Martin while taking short-term fliers on veterans Milan Michalek and Roman Polak.

On paper, this team still looks quite a few steps away from being a playoff contender, but perhaps we’ll start to see things come together?

A lot of that rides on the work of Matthews, Morgan Rielly and other young players (William Nylander, Mitch Marner) who may or may not make a lasting impact on the regular season roster.

Will the rebuilding plan start to pay dividends? PHT explores the iconic franchise on Tuesday.

Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

Perhaps not.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.