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PHT makes the case for the Norris Trophy finalists

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While high-scoring forwards and dynamic goalies are precious entities, big-time defensemen also rank among the most important players in hockey. It’s a bit tougher to gauge which ones are the true greats – you can’t just “feel” your way to the best ones with 30 teams in play – but sometimes the elites are painfully obvious. The PHT staff weighs the strengths of all three candidates below.

Matt Reitz’s case for Zdeno Chara:

It’s an interesting year for the Norris voting. All three are captains, all are great leaders for their respective teams, and as much as the award as changed over the years, all three are true two-way defensemen. They put up points but they’re also defensive anchors for their respective teams. But of the three, Zdeno Chara puts it all together the best.

There are a lot of people who will disprove the importance of the plus/minus stat. Both Shea Weber and Chara were on the plus side of the ledger—but its debatable whether Weber is even the best player on his team. He’s a spectacular defenseman, but he also had the advantage of playing with Ryan Suter all season. If this were an award for best defensive pairing, they should win it in a landslide. Unfortunately for Weber, this is an award for best defenseman. He very well may be able to do it on his own—we just never saw him do it this season. When Suter was out with an injury, the entire term suffered.

When looking at the statistics between Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara, it was hard to look past that Chara a league best +33 and Lidstrom is a minus player for the season. Both guys play against their opponents’ top lines, both score, and both are depended to play shutdown roles. The only difference is that Chara’s team scored significantly more than the opposition when he was on the ice. While Lidstrom was out there against the best, statistics prove that he didn’t thrive like he has before.

This season very well may prove to be Lidstrom’s swan song and he’s going out on a high note. You have to give him credit—he may have been the second best defenseman in the NHL year. Right behind Chara.

Joe Yerdon’s case for Nicklas Lidstrom:

He’s won the award six times already and after everyone was ready to start calling Nicklas Lidstrom an old man after his sub-par (for him) year last season, he came back with a vengeance. He was second on the Red Wings in points with 62, the most points he’s scored since 2007-2008 when he won the Norris Trophy. Points aren’t always where it’s at for defensemen of course and Lidstrom always plays the biggest minutes against the opponents top players. His 23:28 average time on ice was tops among everyone on Detroit that wasn’t a goalie. Oh right, and he’s 41 years-old.

We’re not going to pull the lifetime achievement card here for Lidstrom since he’s coming back next season, but given how he played this year, how important he was to Detroit’s success and how much the team relied on him at both ends of the ice he embodies what the Norris Trophy is all about. In a finalists class that has such other tremendous talent, Lidstrom is the guy both Weber and Chara hope to be when their careers are through.

James O’Brien’s case for Shea Weber:

With all due respect to Lidstrom and his outstanding 62-point season, Weber and Chara have been more important to their teams than the first ballot Hall of Famer from Sweden.

It isn’t easy to narrow it down between Chara and Weber, though. They both receive plenty of even strength, power play and shorthanded time on ice. Each player was above average in the overrated points categories (Weber had 48, Chara had 44) especially since their teams don’t generate buckets of scoring chances like Detroit does.

Chara gets a lot of attention for his intimidating size, but Weber was sixth among defensemen with 211 hits while Chara had 153. Despite this disparity in violence, Weber seemed to pick his spots a little better, being that he registered 56 PIM to Chara’s 88. Chara’s +33 rating definitely jumps out at you, but that is usually a team-based stat. Weber isn’t a slouch on the penalty kill, either.

He might not be the most obvious pick for the Norris, but Weber was the most valuable and well-rounded defenseman in hockey this season. (Although Chara was very, very close behind.)

Poll: Will Jaromir Jagr lead the Panthers in scoring again?

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14:  Jaromir Jagr #68 of the Florida Panthers signals a teammate during the third period against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on March 14, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

At age 43 Jaromir Jagr was the oldest player in the NHL last season by more than four years.

You would have never known it when watching him play.

He was still a dominant top-line player and on many night was the best player on the team. His 66 points were more than any player in NHL history age 43 or older, and he finished as the team’s leading scorer.

While he has obviously slowed down from where he was during his peak years in the league when he was one of best players ever, he is still playing at a level that almost no other player in NHL history has been able to match at this age. And there doesn’t seem to be any sign of him dramatically slowing down in the near future.

Because of that, the Panthers are bringing him back in 2016-17 for at least one more year.

So with Jagr back in the mix for another year, will he end up leading the Panthers in scoring once again even though he will be 44 years old? Jagr is one of just three players in NHL history that has ever finished as his team’s leading scorer over the age of 40, a list that includes only him, Gordie Howe and Teemu Selanne. He is the only player that has done it over the age of 43 and the only one that has done it for two different teams (New Jesrey in 2013-14 and Florida in 2015-16).

The one player that seems to be a significant challenger is Aleksander Barkov. He finished just seven points behind Jagr in 2015-16 (in 12 fewer games) and spent most of the season playing on a line with Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau, a trio that was one of the most dominant lines in the league when they were together. But given how Jagr still seems to be in great shape and was still a 60-point player a year ago he is not going to be easy to overtake.

Report: Rangers close to inking Pirri

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 01:  Brandon Pirri #11 of the Anaheim Ducks jumps over Ben Hutton #27 of the Vancouver Canucks during the first period at Honda Center on April 1, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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One of the most intriguing UFAs left on the open market has reportedly found a new home.

Brandon Pirri, the 25-year-old forward that’s scored 36 goals over the last two seasons, is set to join the Rangers on a one-year, $1.1 million deal, per Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Taken 59th overall by Chicago in 2009, Pirri’s always been high on offensive ability and shown a consistent knack for finding the back of the net, even with limited opportunities.

In ’13-14, he scored 13 times despite only appearing in 49 games.

In ’14-15, he scored 22 times despite only appearing in 49 games.

(This is not a typo. For some reason he hit that 49 game mark with regularity.)

Last year, Pirri had 11 goals in 52 contests before the Panthers flipped him to Anaheim. He proceeded to score three goals and five points in nine games as a Duck — missing a good chunk of time with a serious ankle injury — but failed to crack the lineup during an opening-round playoff loss to Nashville.

In New York, Pirri will be part of a remodeled forward group that includes GM Jeff Gorton’s other pickups this summer: Jimmy Vesey, Michael Grabner, Josh Jooris and Nathan Gerbe.

The group also got a new look via trade, as Gorton flipped Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad.

Avalanche hire Jared Bednar as new head coach

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All 30 NHL teams now have a head coach for the 2016-17 season.

Just a couple of weeks after Patrick Roy abruptly left the Colorado Avalanche organization, the team announced on Thursday afternoon that Jared Bednar will replace him behind the bench.

“After profiling the type of coach I wanted for our team and going through an interview process with several good candidates, I believe that Jared Bednar is the best person to lead this team behind the bench,” Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic said in a team statement. “Jared’s track record of success as a head coach in the American Hockey League speaks for itself and he is considered to be one of the top up-and-coming coaches in our business.”

“Even though we had to accelerate the process with training camp approaching, we feel we met some real strong candidates with a lot of potential to become head coaches in the NHL in the near future, continued Sakic. “I would like to thank the general managers who gave us permission to talk to key staff members at such a precarious time.”

This will be Bednar’s first head coaching job in the NHL, but he boasts a pretty impressive resume in the minors that includes a couple of championships at two different levels.

Prior to joining the Avalanche, Bednar coached the Lake Erie Monsters, the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and led the team to a Calder Cup championship this past season thanks to a 15-2 run during the playoffs.

He also won the ECHL’s Kelly Cup in 2008-09 when he was behind the bench for the South Carolina Stingrays.

Bednar is taking over an Avalanche team that had regressed in each of the past two seasons under Roy and has some pretty significant holes on its blue line. He is also taking over the team less than a month before training camps are set to begin. That is a pretty tall order for a first-time NHL coach.

On the plus side, he does have a lot of talent to work with. The Avalanche have a strong core of young forwards that includes Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and potentially Mikko Rantanen, the No. 10 overall pick in 2015 that dominated the AHL in his first pro season. Tyson Barrie is also one of the more underrated defensemen in the league, while he also has a No. 1 goalie in Semyon Varlamov. So the cupboard isn’t entirely bare, and perhaps a fresh approach that plays to the strengths of the core players can get even more out of them.

Under Pressure: Keith Yandle

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 30:  Keith Yandle #93 of the New York Rangers skates against the Washington Capitals in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 30, 2015 in New York City.  Capitals defeated the Rangers 2-1.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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This is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

After a 2015-16 season that saw the Panthers take a huge step in their development and surprisingly win the regular season Atlantic Division crown, they spent the summer loading up their roster in an effort to become a Stanley Cup contender. The centerpiece of that roster movement was the seven-year, $44.45 million contract they gave defenseman Keith Yandle after acquiring his free agent negotiating rights from the New York Rangers.

Yandle can be a bit of a polarizing player because of his style of play.

Statistically, he is one of the most productive defenders in the NHL and is pretty much a lock for at least 45 points every season.

But he also isn’t a player that is viewed as a true shutdown defender, and instead is looked at as one that needs to be in more of a sheltered role to really excel. That can lead to scrutiny and criticism when he isn’t putting points on the board. That always seemed to be the case during his 103 regular season games with the Rangers, a team that never fully seemed to embrace the positives he brings to the ice.

If he is going to face any pressure in Florida it is probably going to be the result of that reputation, as well as the $44 million price tag he carries.

That type of salary brings a lot of high expectations.  It is going to be especially true in Florida because the Panthers lost perhaps their most reliable defenseman over the summer when Brian Campbell left in free agency to return to the Chicago Blackhawks. Campbell played a ton of big minutes and was a rock alongside Aaron Ekblad on the team’s top pairing over the past two seasons. That is a big hole to replace in the lineup, and with Yandle’s salary there is going to be an expectation for him to be one of the top guys on the blue line.

The problem with that is Yandle is the type of player that tends to stand out no matter what he does, and that isn’t always a positive for defensemen.

When he is at his best, he is making an impact with the puck and creating offense. A lot of offense.

But when he makes a mistake, whether it is a turnover or simply getting beat in the defensive zone, as defenders that play his style of hockey do from time to time, it will stand out like a sore thumb. And even though the positive play usually outweigh the mistakes, the mistakes are usually the ones that get most of the attention.

Yandle is a very good player and the Panthers are a better team with him on the roster. He is the type of mobile, puck-moving defensemen that is starting to reshape the way teams think about and build their defense. But as he experienced in New York after the Rangers gave up a huge return to acquire him in a trade from the Arizona Coyotes,  the cost to acquire him might create level of expectation that will be difficult, if not impossible, to reach.