Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators are the three finalists for the 2011-12 James Norris Memorial Trophy.
It's the trophy awarded "to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position," as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
It's also likely to spark another round of "shouldn't there be another award given to defensive defensemen?" given that Karlsson's inclusion in the top three will be seen as warranted by some and a sham by others.
Who wins the Norris?
Why Zdeno Chara Deserves the Norris
Via the NHL:
Chara's strong two-way play helped the Bruins capture their third Northeast Division title in the past four seasons. The Boston captain led all defensemen and tied for third in the NHL in plus-minus (+33) -- matching his League-leading rating from 2010-11 -- and recorded a career-high 52 points (12 goals, 40 assists) to rank fourth among all defenders in scoring. In addition, he led the Bruins in power-play goals (eight) and average ice time per game (25:00). Chara is a Norris Trophy finalist for the fourth time in the past five seasons and for the fifth time overall; he captured the award in 2009, finished second in 2004 and was third in 2008 and 2011.
Chara faced tougher quality of competition (0.089) on average than his fellow finalists, according to Behind the Net. Along with Dennis Seidenberg, they formed perhaps the best shutdown pairing in the NHL. His points were up from last season, and he again posted a plus-33. Just a significant, game-changing force everywhere on the ice.
Why Erik Karlsson Deserves the Norris
Via the NHL:
Karlsson enjoyed a breakout season, leading all NHL defensemen in scoring with 78 points (19 goals, 59 assists) in 81 games. He recorded 25 points more than any other League defenseman -- the widest winning margin since Pittsburgh's Paul Coffey lapped the field by 38 points in 1988-89 -- and set Ottawa franchise records for blueline assists and points. The 21-year-old also is the youngest defenseman to tally as many as 78 points in a season since Coffey's 96 with Edmonton in 1982-83. Karlsson topped NHL defensemen in shots (261), was ninth in the League in average ice time per game (25:19) and posted a +16 rating.
Our own Nick Cotsonika put over Karlsson in a column last month, writing:
Sometimes the easy answer is the right answer. Sometimes you don't have to overthink it and act all sophisticated and stuff, worrying that you'll look lazy if you simply state the obvious.
Karlsson has had an incredible season. He deserves the Norris Trophy.
Offense is part of all-around ability, and Karlsson has been so much better than any other defenseman this season, it should not be discounted. It should be highlighted. It should help make his case.
Look, I know the Pavel Datsyuk has collected Selke after Selke without logging many shorthanded minutes. But when you're up for defenseman of the year and you've played 0:33 per game shorthanded this season … it's something that's hard to overlook.
Why Shea Weber Deserves the Norris
Via the NHL:
Weber ranked near the top of several categories, helping the Predators earn their seventh Stanley Cup Playoff berth in the past eight seasons. The Nashville captain placed sixth in scoring among all defensemen with 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists), with his 19 goals tied with fellow Norris finalist Erik Karlsson for first place. He ranked fifth in the NHL in average ice time per game (26:09), tied a career high and led all defensemen with 10 power-play goals and posted a team-leading and career-best +21 rating. Weber is a Norris Trophy finalist for the second consecutive season; he finished second to Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom in 2010-11.
First off, he's the next in line: With Lidstrom out of the running and with Chara having already gotten his Norris, it feels like Weber's turn. He ranked 16th in quality of competition faced (0.067) on average. Like Chara, a difference maker physically in the D-zone and absolute force on the power play. Total package player.
Who wins the Norris?
It's going to end up being Karlsson. There were so many valentines penned for his offense and defenses of his lack of defense during the voting process — Mike Green wonders where they were a few years ago — that it seems like voters will forgive his lapses and conservative use in pressure situations defensively to give him the Norris.
1. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
2. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
4. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
5. Dan Girardi, New York Rangers
What, no respect for Chara?
There's no question that the scoring was there and the numbers were maintained from last season. I just felt that (a) Weber played well against tougher competition (if you dig deeper inside the numbers) and (b) Pietrangelo was a preposterously, criminally underrated cog in one of the NHL's best defensive teams in recent history and (c) that, yes, Karlsson's offensive exploits warranted his inclusion in the top three.
So it's not so much that Chara slipped as the other three were simply more impressive in my eyes.