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.

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2.

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?