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Victor Hedman should be in the Norris Trophy conversation

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For an award about defense, offense shouldn’t be everything

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When the PHWA announced its mid-season award nominees and winners back in January, there weren’t many interesting decisions. For the first time, the PHWA voted for the Rod Langway Award, the trophy for the NHL’s defenseman who ‘best excels in the defensive aspect of the game’. While Victor Hedman landed third in voting for that award, he was left out of the top three for the Norris Trophy (which he won last season).

Instead, the PWHA named Mark Giordano, Morgan Rielly, and Brent Burns as their top three nominees. Hedman’s slower-than-usual offensive start to the season likely hurt his chances to land on that list at that time. However, like his team, he’s turned on the jets since the All-Star break — and he should be in the Norris conversation now.

2019 Norris Candidates

Here were the top five NHL defensemen scoring leaders at the time the PHWA mid-season awards were announced, and Hedman:

Top 5 D-Scorers + Hedman before ASG

Player GP G A P
Player GP G A P
Brent Burns 52 9 46 55
Mark Giordano 49 11 41 52
Morgan Rielly 49 13 37 50
John Carlson 49 8 39 47
Erik Karlsson 47 3 40 43
Victor Hedman 42 7 26 33
Stats from Hockey-Reference.com

Obviously, Hedman was quite a few points behind this group (missing games because of injury didn’t help). However, he really stepped it up once the Bolts’ extended All-Star break/bye week ended:

Top D-Scorers After ASG

Player GP G A P
Player GP G A P
Brent Burns 24 4 18 22
Victor Hedman 27 5 16 21
Morgan Rielly 28 7 13 20
Mark Giordano 26 5 15 20
John Calsson 27 5 15 20
Erik Karlsson* 5 0 2 2
*injured Stats from Hockey-Reference.com

Burns, Giordano, Rielly, and Carlson are still the top four in defenseman scoring as of today, but Hedman has put up more points than the last three since the break (albeit just one point). Although the Norris nominees have usually been those high in scoring among defensemen, it’s not the only thing considered for a nomination (at least, it shouldn’t be). Despite his overall point totals, Hedman is third in the NHL among defensemen in WAR (wins above replacement) behind Rielly and Carlson:

Current Norris Candidates

Player Team WAR GAR ES-GAR PP-GAR SH-GAR
Player Team WAR GAR ES-GAR PP-GAR SH-GAR
Morgan Rielly TOR 3.6 20.4 14.3 2.9 0.7
John Carlson WSH 3.4 19.5 12.6 4.2 1.1
Victor Hedman TBL 3.3 18.9 12.4 3.9 2.2
Aaron Ekblad FLA 2.9 16.4 12.8 1.8 1.7
Erik Karlsson SJS 2.9 16.7 11.1 4.2 0.7
Mark Giordano CGY 2.9 16.5 14.2 3.2 0.5
Brent Burns* SJS 1.9 11 3.2 -1.9 7.9
Stats from Evolving-Hockey.com (28/03/19)

I put an asterisk next to Burns’ name because while the other six players are ranked as the top six, Burns’ WAR puts him down at 25th.

Last Five Norris Winners

Here are the point totals for the last five Norris Trophy winners:

Last 5 Norris Winners PTS

Season Player GP G A P Rank Among D-Men
Season Player GP G A P Rank Among D-Men
2017-18 Victor Hedman 77 17 46 63 4th
2016-17 Brent Burns 82 29 47 76 1st
2015-16 Drew Doughty 82 14 37 51 9th
2014-15 Erik Karlsson 82 21 45 66 1st
2013-14 Duncan Keith 79 6 55 61 2nd

Now, here are their WAR and GAR (games above replacement) for the same seasons:

Last 5 Norris Winners

Year Player Team Finish GAR WAR (Rank)
Year Player Team Finish GAR WAR (Rank)
2017-18 Victor Hedman TBL ECF 12.9 2.3 (8)
2017-16 Brent Burns SJS WQF 13.7 2.6 (12)
2016-15 Drew Doughty LAK WQF 9.6 1.9 (32)
2015-14 Erik Karlsson OTT EQF 12.8 2.5 (11)
2014-13 Duncan Keith CHI WCF 16.7 3.3 (5)
Stats from Evolving-Hockey.com (28/03/19)

Doughty’s Norris season is the obvious outlier — every other winner was top five among defensemen in scoring and in the top 15 for WAR. Obviously, the PWHA places more importance on scoring and point-totals when deciding their Norris ballot (though by that measure, it should’ve been Burns or Kris Letang walking away with the trophy) — but maybe that season they probably thought it was time he’d have won one.

Not In Contention, But Should Be

While putting up a ton of points as a defenseman is great, it shouldn’t be an automatic guarantee of winning the Norris. A player should have displayed great defense all season too (which is why I don’t think Rielly should win). However, with the introduction of the Rod Langway award for the best defensive defenseman, perhaps the Norris shifts to being the award for offensive defenseman.

Based on the seasons that past winners have had (as well as his current competition), Hedman probably hasn’t had a strong enough season offensively to really win the Norris this season (Giordano will probably win it this year). However, Hedman’s defensive game hasn’t faltered this season on a Lightning team who can sometimes struggle in their own end. Yes, the team’s and his teammates’ individual success have overshadowed Hedman’s individual play, but it doesn’t mean he’s any less deserving of being recognized for a great defensive season and nominated for the Norris Trophy.