Race for Norris Trophy could have several contenders

Wednesday, 02.13.2013 / 10:10 PM
Corey Masisak  - NHL.com Staff Writer

Editor's note: This story was written before Erik Karlsson suffered an Achilles injury on Wednesday that will sideline him indefinitely. The Ottawa Senators said the defenseman would need surgery.

Erik Karlsson had an incredible offensive season in 2011-12, one so dominant voters were willing to look past some typical requirements (his lack of ice time killing penalties, for instance) to name him the Norris Trophy winner.

Karlsson had 19 goals and 78 points for the Ottawa Senators, 25 more than the nearest competition at his position. Though not one of the premiere defensive players, Karlsson's numbers were better than might be expected for someone not afraid to venture deep into the opponent's end.

So can the offensive wizard do it again? Seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom has begun the countdown to his enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame by retiring, and the former Detroit Red Wings captain was still playing at a Norris-candidate level last season, so that is one fewer elite player in the conversation.

Karlsson barely edged Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators for his award, and past winner Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins will be a strong bet to stay in the mix all season -- so will the St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (fourth last season) and the New York Rangers' Dan Girardi (sixth).

Does a short season make it more possible for a defense-first guy like Girardi to win? After all, there is less time for Karlsson to rack up the points.

As NHL.com checks in on the Norris Trophy race one-quarter of the way through the 2012-13 season, please note that though small sample sizes are an issue for any discussion at this point, it is especially so for this subject. Statistics can fluctuate quickly, and advanced metrics like quality of competition and corsi ratings can have some wild swings in just a couple of games.

With that in mind, this edition of the Norris Trophy tracker is going to rely a little more on the traditional stats and let the advanced ones have more time to sort themselves out.

Karlsson has a strong case to be the Norris frontrunner. He leads all defensemen in goals with five (as of games played Monday night), is tied for seventh in points (nine) and is second in time on ice at 27:53 per contest. He also has 53 shots on net, 17 more than any other defenseman in the League, and is seeing 2:16 of shorthanded ice time per contest, which is up from 33 seconds/night a season ago.

FINALISTS

Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning: It is quite likely stalwarts Weber and Chara will be back on this list soon, but for now Hedman deserves some recognition for his strong start. The Lightning were rolling before four straight losses, but Hedman's play has not slipped. He's been on the ice for 13 goals for at even strength and one against, and it hasn't been against fluff competition.

Hedman has two goals and six points and checks in at 22:07 of ice time per contest. The additions of Matt Carle and Sami Salo have allowed coach Guy Boucher more flexibility, meaning Hedman is seeing more power-play time and less shorthanded time than a season ago.

Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: He is third in the League among defensemen in points (11) and 14th in time on ice (25:30). He also is facing strong competition at even strength, but the Blues' struggles in the past week have hurt his candidacy a bit.

Teammate Kevin Shattenkirk also is off to a nice offensive start (13 points) and having two guys on the same team worthy of consideration for an award could lead to them splitting votes.

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