2021 Norris Trophy finalists: Fox, Hedman, Makar

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The 2021 Norris Trophy finalists are Adam Fox (Rangers), Victor Hedman (Lightning), and Cale Makar (Avalanche). The Professional Hockey Writers Association votes for the Norris Trophy, which is awarded “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”

Predators defenseman Roman Josi won the 2020 Norris Trophy. Victor Hedman was a finalist that season, and also won a Norris Trophy back in 2017-18.

(That’s not the only individual hardware Hedman collected, as he won the 2020 Conn Smythe Trophy.)

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Adam Fox’s Norris Trophy argument

First, via the NHL:

Playing in his second NHL season, Fox ranked among the top defensemen in assists (1st; 42), points (2nd; 47), power-play assists (2nd; 21), takeaways (3rd; 38) and power-play points (3rd; 23) across 55 contests.

Fellow Norris finalist Cale Makar draws (justified) rave reviews for not just being an analytics darling, but doing so basically the instant he entered the NHL. You can say the same for Adam Fox. After 2019-20, there was some concern that maybe Fox’s debut was something of an outlier. Instead, Fox’s sophomore season was even more impressive.

Take a look at how outstanding both Fox and Makar’s RAPM charts look from this season, via Evolving Hockey:

Fox Makar Norris RAPM charts
via Evolving Hockey

You’re really not supposed to be this good as an all-around defenseman right out of the gate, but both Fox and Makar have somehow pulled that off two years in a row.

(Combine their 2020-21 work with the 2019-20 season and Makar – Fox look even better.)

While Hedman and Makar are still active in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Fox’s Rangers didn’t make the cut. For some, that’s another point in Fox’s favor: he played this well on a hit-or-miss team, rather than a contender.

Victor Hedman’s place in the Norris Trophy debate

First, some Hedman-related Norris numbers, via the NHL:

Hedman placed among the leading defensemen in points (3rd; 45), assists (t-5th; 36) and goals (t-7th; 9) through 54 appearances (0.83 P/GP), matching the second-best points-per-game rate of his 12-season NHL career (behind only 2016-17: 0.91 P/GP). Hedman, who also ranked second among all skaters (forwards and defensemen) in power-play assists (23) and sixth in power-play points (24), finished seventh in the entire NHL in average time on ice (25:03) – the second-highest rate of his career after 2017-18 (25:51).

While Fox and Makar should please (most) old-school Norris Trophy voters and virtually all “fancy stats”-minded people, the same can’t be said for Victor Hedman. At least, not the 2020-21 version of Victor Hedman.

Consider how Hedman’s 2020-21 RAPM chart stacks up to Fox and Makar, and you get one summation of why some argue that Hedman finished as a Norris finalist by reputation.

Hedman Norris debate RAPM
via Evolving Hockey

(For a more detailed argument against Hedman’s candidacy, read this from “J Fresh.”)

All of that aside, Hedman has accomplished a ton during the last few years, making this his fifth Norris Trophy nomination.

Cale Makar makes strong Norris Trophy case

Let’s begin with part of the NHL’s blurb:

Makar, the reigning Calder Memorial Trophy winner, ranked sixth among defensemen with 8-36—44 (44 GP) despite missing 12 of Colorado’s 56 contests (21.4%). His average of 1.00 points per game topped all blueliners in 2020-21 and marked the second time in Avalanche/Nordiques history a defenseman has produced at such a rate, after Steve Duchesne in 1992-93 (20-62—82 in 82 GP w/ QUE).

(Gotta love a Duchesne reference.)

In many cases, the make-or-break argument is about Makar missing 12 games. That already would factor into Norris debates during a normal 82-game season, but in this 56-game schedule? It’s difficult to overlook that.

Yet, at the same time, it’s remarkable how brilliant, and Norris-worthy, Makar was despite limited games.

If you look at Evolving Hockey’s GAR leaders for defensemen, you’ll see that Makar still finished first. For those looking for a Hedman talking point, it’s interesting that he finished one spot ahead of Fox, by the way:

Makar Hedman Fox Norris GAR leaders
via Evolving Hockey

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 Second Round schedule, TV info]

Overall, there are fascinating Norris Trophy arguments for Fox, Hedman, and Makar. That should make it fun to parse the final results. (Some might be frustrated to see who finished fourth and beyond, at least if they disagree with Hedman’s Norris finalist nod.)

The winners of the 2021 NHL Awards will be announced during the Stanley Cup Semifinals and Stanley Cup Final.

NHL Award finalists announcement schedule:

Vezina Trophy: Marc-Andre Fleury, Philipp Grubauer, Andrei Vasilevskiy
Ted Lindsay Award: Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid
Calder Memorial Trophy: Kirill Kaprizov, Alex Nedeljkovic, Jason Robertson

King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kurtis Gabriel, Pekka Rinne, P.K. Subban
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy: Auston Matthews, Jaccob Slavin, Jared Spurgeon
Selke Trophy: Aleksander Barkov, Patrice Bergeron, Mark Stone
Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award: Renee Hess, Kevin Hodgson, Howard Smith
Bill Masterton Trophy: Matt Dumba, Oskar Lindblom, Patrick Marleau
Thursday, June 10: Hart Memorial Trophy
Friday, June 11: Jack Adams Award

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.