When it came to the 2015-16 NHL award watch, the race for the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL’s best all-around defenseman, seemed to dominate the discussion more than any other. It all came down to whether or not Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, who had one of the greatest offensive seasons in the modern era for a defenseman, would win it for a third time, or if Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, perhaps the best defensive-defenseman in the NHL, would get his first.
In the end, the award went to Doughty, ending a season-long campaign that seemed to focus more on how he had yet to win it (even though he was still only playing in his age 26 season) than what he was actually doing on the ice. In a lot of ways the often times exhausting season-long discussion was a disservice to both Karlsson and Doughty as players because both sides were so dedicated to their winner that the arguments tended to result in hyperbolic criticism of the other player. The reality is that both were worthy candidates for the award, and both are among the top three or four players at their position every year. They just play different styles.
In Doughty’s case, he is every bit the shutdown defender he is given credit for being, and is probably the absolute best in the NHL when it comes to neutralizing the opponent’s top players.
Among defensemen that played at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey last season Doughty was the top possession player in the league, the second best when it came to number of total shot attempts allowed, and fifth best in goals against (numbers via Hockey Analysis). He did all of that while playing more than 28 minutes per game. And even though he may not be the most prolific scorer from the blue line, he still topped the 50-point mark for just the second time in his career. It really was an outstanding year.
He is at a point now where he should probably be at his peak as an NHL player, and while it is setting an extremely high bar to expect that level of play every single season, he might be one of the few defenders that can come close to it. Because of that he would seem to have a strong chance to win the award again at some point in his career.
Will it be this season?
Keep in mind Nicklas Lidstrom is the only defenseman since 1991 to win it in consecutive seasons (he did it twice, winning it three straight times from 2000-2003, and then again from 2005-2008).