As the calendar continues to roll forward, the discussions regarding the NHL’s annual awards starts to come with a more complete resume. Each year, the Norris Trophy is given to the defenseman “who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”
Since the award began after 1953-54 season, only three Blackhawks players have been selected: Pierre Pilote won the award three times (1961-’62, ’62-’63, ’63-’64), Doug Wilson once (1981-’82) and Chris Chelios twice (1992-’93, ’95-’96). In the 12 seasons since Chelios last won the Norris in Chicago, the prestigious award has spend six years in Detroit in the possession of Niklas Lindstrom. Much like the Central Division crown, the Norris has spent too much time in the state of Michigan.
This might be the season that both the Norris Trophy and the Central Division championship come back to Chicago.
There are actually two players on the Blackhawks that could be among the finalists this year, but Brian Campbell’s solid season is rightfully being overshadowed by the emergence of Duncan Keith as one of the elite blue line players in the league. Consider the following players that could be among this season’s finalists:
- Duncan Keith, CHI: 10 G, 34 A, 44 Pts, +17, 26:30 average time on ice (ATOI)
- Mike Green, WAS: 12 G, 37 A, 49 Pts, +20, 25:08 ATOI
- Dan Boyle, SJ: 9 G, 29 A, 38 Pts, +4, 26:27 ATOI
- Brian Campbell, CHI: 6 G, 26 A, 32 Pts, +18, 23:33 ATOI
- Chris Pronger, PHI: 6 G, 27 A, 33 Pts, +17, 26:08 ATOI
- Drew Doughty, LA: 9 G, 26 A, 35 Pts, + 11, 24:28 ATOI
All of these defensemen are worthy of consideration, but there are a number of factors pushing Keith to the top of the list.
Keith has been hit for the second-fewest penalty minutes of this group, with only 24 penalty minutes assessed to date. Only his teammate, Campbell, has served less time in the box (14 minutes), and the others on this list are well above Keith’s total; Pronger(51), Boyle (40), Green (34), and Doughty (32) have all put their teams at a disadvantage more often than Keith has with the Blackhawks.
So far this year, Keith is averaging 3:14 of shorthanded ice time per game, which leads the Blackhawks defensemen and ranks 30th overall in the NHL. Only Pronger averages more shorthanded ice time per game of the six players listed (3:47), and they are the only two on the list to average more than three minutes per game on the PK (Green is third at 2:49). When considering the amount of time a player spends on the PK, it’s one thing to regard the gross minutes spent killing a penalty, but the greater value is the quality of the penalty killing being done.
Green’s Washington Capitals rank 24th in the NHL on the PK, killing only 78.6 percent of opponent’s opportunities. Pronger’s Flyers rank 19th, killing 80.7 percent. The only player on this list whose team ranks higher than Chicago (T-5th, 86.1 percent) are Boyle’s Sharks. However, Boyle is averaging 2:47 of shorthanded ice time per game, third on the Sharksin PK minutes per game. Keith, however, leads the Blackhawks in PK minutes per game.
One final part of the PK numbers to consider is the scoring from the blue line. Keith is the only defenseman on this list, indeed he’s one of only 12 in the NHL, that has a shorthanded goal, and he leads this list with two shorthanded points.
Keith’s defensive production on the power play has been outstanding.
One of the best stats used in sports is hockey’s plus-minus, which is a calculation of the net goals for/against while a player is on the ice. On this list, Keith’s +17 is tied for third with Pronger, trailing only Green’s +20 and Campbell’s +18. All four of these players rank among the top ten defensemenin the league, a statistic that indicates all of them brings strengthto even-strength skating.
Even Strength Scoring
Green is the leading scorer among defenseman thus far, but a great deal of his scoring has come witha man advantage. 24 of Green’s 49 points (6 G, 18 A) have come on the power play this year, while Keithhas only 11 of his 44 (2 G, 9 A) while skating up a man. Of the six players listed here, only Keithand Campbell have scored fewer than 17 points on the power play (bothhave 11). However, Keithis by far the leading even-strength scoring defenseman in the league.
This is where Keith and Campbell both gain more credibility. It’s already been stated that only Boyle’s Sharks rank higher than the Blackhawks on the penalty kill, but the Blackhawks team defense is among the best in the NHL in every other defensive statistic. Chicago now has the number one goals against average in the NHL at 2.16, just ahead of New Jersey (2.17). Boyle’s Sharks rank sixth, allowing 2.36 goals per game, and after that it jumps to Doughty’s Kings, allowing 2.71 goals per game. So the Blackhawksare allowing the fewest goals per game in the league, and Keith plays the most minutes on the Hawks roster.
Additionally, the Blackhawks have the largest scoring differential as a team in the league, averaging 1.10 goals per game more than their opponents. Green’s Capitals are outscoring their opponents by 0.92 goals per game, but are allowing 2.87 goals per game. San Jose is outscoring their opponents by 0.71 goals per game, while the Kings (0.15) and Flyers (0.11) are barely breaking even.
The Blackhawks are allowing the fewest shots on goal, 24.1, in the NHL as well. One of the greatest attributes of Chicago’s defense that contributes to this number being so low is the number of shots being blocked by the Hawks’ top defensive pair this year. Even though the Blackhawks rank only 11th in the NHL withjust 657 credited blocks this year, Keith and Seabrook have accounted for 189, or 29 percent of the team’s total. Keith’s 91 blocks top this list; Boyle is only one behind with 90 blocks.
The final part of the equation should be the overall team play for each player. Obviously the Blackhawks and Sharks are battling for the President’s Trophy this year, with the Kings in the middle of the playoff mix in the West, while Green’s Caps are trying to win the top seed in the East and Pronger’s Flyers have struggled for much of this year.
The verdict is clear: Duncan Keith is, today, the best overall defenseman in the NHL. He’s the best even-strength scorer from the blue line in the league, and leads the best defensive group in the game. His scoring has jumped to join his already-exceptional abilities on defense to make him a complete package worthy of the 13-year contract he received earlier this season.