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.

The Buzzer: Monahan the man, torrid Tavares

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Choice PHT Cuts:

Canadiens, Maple Leafs did NOT play nice.

If you didn’t think Alex Ovechkin was tough …

*Rubs eyes* A winning streak … for the Coyotes?

Connor McDavid and Oilers are sad pandas.

Players of the Night

  • Anthony Duclair‘s hat trick is well-covered here, so check that out. Duclair gets one edge on Sean Monahan in that Duclair scored all of his team’s goals on Saturday, but Monahan combined his first career hat trick with an assist, helping his Flames win in OT much like Duclair did for Arizona.

Monahan slightly upstaged Johnny Gaudreau (one goal, two assists) who was pumped to play in front of a crowd in Philly.

  • Paul Stastny collected three assists to help the Blues beat the Canucks in overtime. Check PHT on Sunday morning for an in-depth look at Brayden Schenn, who kept his hot streak going with the OT-clincher.
  • John Tavares just continues to ride high with a goal and two assists. The real stars might be the Islanders as a whole, however, as they beat the Lightning and kept Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov pointless in a 5-3 Isles win.
  • Frederik Andersen has achieved back-to-back shutouts, helping the Leafs make the Habs extra-miserable. He made 33 saves, so you could argue Montreal deserved better than a 6-0 fate.

Heel of the Night?

While Connor McDavid absorbed an odd portion of the Oilers’ blame in defeat despite a three-point night, Antoine Roussel really played up his villain cred. He collected three points of his own and did this:

Highlight of the Night

Going off script a bit here, let’s go with Alex Ovechkin bouncing back from this:

And Corey Crawford being OK despite this bump from Evgeni Malkin.

Both players helped their teams seal up wins as a bonus. (Feel free to share your favorite highlights from tonight, even if they don’t involve near-injuries.)

Factoid of the Night

Congrats, Antti Niemi. Kind of.

Here’s a free joke regarding that situation.

Scores

Flames 5, Flyers 4 (OT)
Stars 6, Oilers 3
Coyotes 3, Senators 2 (OT)
Jets 5, Devils 2
Kings 4, Panthers 0
Hurricanes 3, Sabres 1
Maple Leafs 6, Canadiens 0
Islanders 5, Lightning 3
Blackhawks 2, Penguins 1
Capitals 3, Wild 1
Predators 5, Avalanche 2
Blues 4, Canucks 3 (OT)
Bruins 3, Sharks 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Nasty hits, fights, and a blowout in Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens

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First, the Edmonton Oilers fell 6-3 to the Dallas Stars. Next: the Toronto Maple Leafs absolutely throttled the fledgling Montreal Canadiens in a game that was ugly even beyond the 6-0 score.

It’s been a bad day for embattled GMs of teams who’ve made polarizing moves in hopes of solidifying Stanley Cup contenders. The Oilers (7-11-2) and Canadiens (8-11-2) even finish the night with nearly identical records, just to really hammer home their parallel pains.

You almost wonder if something is in the air this week (spoilers: not love), as nastiness has really ratcheted up since the Calgary Flames – Detroit Red Wings line brawl. The Canadiens and Maple Leafs boast one of the NHL’s richest and bitterest rivalries, and it showed on Saturday.

As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, Nazem Kadri played a major role in one of the most explosive moments, taking his frustrations out on Shea Weber. Weber and Jordie Benn wasted no time in going after Kadri.

(Criticisms of the hit are totally fair, but it seems strange to go too heavy on “turtling.” Who would be able to stand up to both Weber and Benn? In the heat of the moment, I’d wager most people would go with flight over fight.)

That was the most bombastic moment, but there was also this seemingly unlikely bout between Nikita Zaitsev and Paul Byron:

This absolute dismantling comes after Claude Julien was steaming mad from a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. It’s tough not to read all of this as an indictment of the moves Marc Bergevin has made, especially considering the fact that their rivals dominated them for their sixth win in a row. If you’re the type to draw big conclusions from about a month of a season, you’d look at it as how to build a contender vs. how to waste Carey Price‘s prime.

That’s a little harsh … but either way, these are tough times for Bergevin.

ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski passed along an interesting take from Julien, who wishes he could bag skate his bumbling players. OK, then.

Auston Matthews was definitely part of the fun for Toronto in his return from injury, including scoring this goal:

(You almost wonder if Mike Babcock was rolling the dice even having his star players out there amid all that carnage, but that goal was a sweet reward.)

[MORE: Why Toronto needs Matthews back for a tough stretch]

Yes, this is an 82-game season, and we’re only at about the first-quarter-mark. Still, teams like the Oilers and Canadiens came into 2017-18 with big expectations and big questions, and so far fans and management can’t like the answers.

By the way, asking for a well-dressed GM: what’s the opposite of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”

Yikes.

Ovechkin returns after being badly bloodied by puck to face

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It’s still relatively early on Saturday night, and both the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals could eventually provide further updates that derail this optimism.

With that out of the way, at the moment, the theme of the night might just be teams dodging big injury bullets, even if the star players in question can’t dodge actual damage.

In the case of Corey Crawford, he bounced back for the Blackhawks after Evgeni Malkin‘s thigh area clipped him in the head. Maybe it looked worse than it was?

Now, any time you see people scrape blood off the ice, you get a reminder of how dangerous – and yeah, occasionally strange – hockey can be. That only becomes more disturbing when that blood is coming from a player as important as Alex Ovechkin:

Remarkably, Ovechkin is returning for the third period of the Capitals’ game against the Minnesota Wild.

So:

  • This is a reminder that Ovechkin is tough, in case you foolishly think he isn’t because … his teams have lost in big games or something? Considering how recklessly he often throws his body around, and how infrequently he misses games due to to injury, you’d think that debate would have died a long time ago. Moments like this make it seem that much sillier.
  • Ovechkin must really want to help the struggling Capitals turn things around.
  • Maybe he wants to hang an L on his old boss Bruce Boudreau?

Anyway, PHT will keep an eye on these situations. Sometimes there are more answers the night of events, and sometimes it takes a little longer.

Right now, it’s reasonable for Capitals fans and Blackhawks fans to feel some relative, even if it’s only in the interim.

Update: The Capitals ended up winning 3-1, thanks in large part to Braden Holtby‘s strong night.

Ovechkin logged 8:18 TOI in the third period, so it seems like he’s OK. This post will be updated if he shares a nasty battle scar.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Crawford avoids injury, helps Blackhawks beat Penguins

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The Chicago Blackhawks have been up-and-down so far in 2017-18, but Corey Crawford has been brilliant almost every night he’s been in net. It’s to the point that he might be a little underrated, as people assume that Chicago will keep finding ways to win, possibly missing how big a part he’s playing in its successes.

Crawford’s been able to clean up a lot of messes, so Saturday brought a scare, as he seemed to take head contact from Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

You can see the contact in the video above. It seemed like quite a collision, as part of Malkin (thigh? middle-boy) seemed to connect with Crawford at a fairly high speed.

The penalty call drew at least some complaints from Penguins fans, but the important thing either way is that the Blackhawks took a look at Crawford before allowing him to return to the game.

Now, we’ve seen players return to action only to miss games in the future, so it’s still worth monitoring Crawford. Considering how important he is to the Blackhawks, they have to hope that it was one of those plays that looked more painful than it actually was.

Also, with some justifiable complaints about players not going through concussion protocol lately, a lot of people are pleased with Chicago for at least assessing Crawford. We’ll see if anything changes, but right now, this seems like a dodged bullet (but not a dodged Malkin).

Update: Not only did Crawford stick with it, he made a big difference in the Blackhawks beating the Penguins 2-1, including making this save:

Chicago sure seems to have an edge on Pittsburgh lately, by the way:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.