Since the 2004-5 lockout the James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league’s best defenseman, has been won 6 different players. These players are Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban, Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara. Of these winners, every single player made the playoffs the year that they won. For all but three years the winner was in the top 2 in points for defenseman. The exceptions are Doughty was 10th in 2015-16, Chara was 13th in 2008-09 and Lidstrom was 5th in 2006-07. Looking ahead to 2016-17, as much as it’d be nice to put the best shut down D on this list, history has shown that point producers on playoff teams win the Norris. So who will be the Norris trophy winner this year?
Brent Burns: Burns came into his own last year with career highs in goals, assists and shots as the San Jose Sharks went to the Stanley Cup Finals. Expect more of the same for the first time Norris finalist last year. A second season under coach Pete DeBoer, who has wisely stopped moving Burns from defense to winger and back again, will have Burns back as a Norris finalist.
John Klingberg: It wouldn’t be a Norris finalist list without a high scoring Swedish defenseman. And that defenseman is
Nicklas Lidstrom Erik Karlsson John Klingberg. Klingberg has now produced well in both his NHL seasons, putting up 98 points in 141 games, improving both his points and his possession numbers (53.6CF% to 55.3CF%) last year. With the Dallas Stars’ high flying offense, Klingberg will easily reproduce those numbers, if not improve them, this season and end up being nominated for the Norris.
P.K. Subban: This summer was the summer that everyone loved on P.K. Subban. Montreal Canadiens fans mourned the loss of him, while Nashville Predators fans celebrated his arrival. He was celebrated for a reason. With P.K. joining a group of great puck moving defensemen in Nashville he should be able to fit into a system already designed for the type of style that he plays. Without having to cover for the loss of Carey Price like last year, expect Subban to return to Norris contention.
The Wild Card
Oliver Ekman-Larsson: The Arizona Coyotes have had a great player in Oliver Ekman-Larsson for some time and now they are starting to have the pieces to surround him. With the additions of Domi and Duclair and the possibility of Strome making the team the Coyotes will continue to get better and Ekman-Larsson will again add to his already high level of production. If the Coyotes continue to improve, expect Oliver Ekman-Larsson to be in the Norris conversation.
The Honorable mention
Erik Karlsson – As great as Erik Karlsson is, the Ottawa Senators are the opposite. Since I recently predicted that they’d finish last in the Atlantic division, that’s too much of a distance for Karlsson to fit the playoff team “criteria”. If something happens and the Senators make the playoffs, it’ll be on the back of Karlsson, and expect him to be the Norris winner.