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Will Chara, Green derail Lidstrom's bid for 7th Norris?

Thursday, 04.23.2009 / 12:00 PM / 2011 NHL Awards

By John McGourty - NHL.com Staff Writer

Will it be a lucky seven for Nicklas Lidstrom in Las Vegas?

Lidstrom, the Detroit Red Wings' star defenseman and winner of six of the last seven Norris Trophies as the NHL's top defenseman, is in the running for a seventh on June 18 when the NHL Awards are handed out in Vegas at the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel (VERSUS, CBC).

Tickets to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas and the exclusive NHL After-Party are available at ticketmaster.com/nhlawards.

The other finalists as selected by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association are Boston Bruins' captain Zdeno Chara and Washington Capitals dynamo Mike Green.

The Norris, named for the owner of the Detroit Red Wings from 1933 until his death in 1952, has gone to Lidstrom in six of the past seven years, creating a dynasty for defensive excellence. In those years, the other nominees had to be content with the honor of being a finalist.

This time around, Lidstrom is again a nominee, but the outcome is not so certain. Not because Lidstrom had an off year, but because of the strong candidacies of Chara and Green.

"It's always an honor being nominated and I know the other two players have had really solid seasons as well, but I've never taken it for granted and it's a real honor," Lidstrom said.

The strongest argument for Lidstrom might be contained in the award's terms, "all-around ability," because Lidstrom's skill set falls between the outstanding offensive capability of Green and the smothering defensive work of Chara. Green's excellent defense and Chara's impressive offensive contributions often get overlooked, but perhaps not this year.

Here's a look at the finalists.

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins -- Chara's supporters have a strong argument that the captain is the acknowledged leader and best player on his team. He logs the most ice time per game, 26:04, more than Green and Lidstrom, sixth in the league and tops on his team.

He has a strong plus-23 rating, a gaudy number that is second to Dennis Wideman among the Bruins' defensemen, but trails Green and Lidstrom.

Chara had 19 goals, tops among Bruins' defensemen and fourth-best among NHL defenders, and 31 assists, again second to Wideman among Boston defensemen, and 26th among NHL defensemen. Chara's 50 points was tied for 12th among NHL defenseman and tied for tops with Wideman on the Bruins defense and sixth on the team.

Chara's 11 power-play goals led all Bruins and he had three game-winning goals. His 216 shots was second on his team behind Phil Kessel's 232. Chara scored on 8.8 percent of his shots.

It's on the defensive side where Chara excels over Green and Lidstrom. His 169 hits ranked 17th among NHL defensemen and his 123 blocked shots ranked 51st. He also had 28 takeaways.

Chara often dominates the game with his size, strength and skills and he's been good for a long time. He was the runner-up for the Norris in 2004. At 6-foot-9, he is the tallest player and fifth-heaviest at 255 pounds. The son of an Olympic wrestler, Chara is also most likely the strongest player in the League.

Like Lidstrom, Chara is extremely well positioned due to his experience and anticipation. It's rare to see him have to hustle to get into position, unless he's returning from an offensive foray. Because of his size and stick skills, he's used on power play either at the point or as a forward in front of the net.

Chara played an important defensive role earlier in his career on a talent-laden Ottawa Senators defense. There, he supported team leadership. After signing with Boston and being named captain, Chara seized control of the dressing room and dominates it with his size, personality and work ethic. Their success is a reflection of his leadership. The Bruins led the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference throughout the season.

Mike Green, Washington Capitals -- The fastest and most agile skater of the three -- we hesitate to say the best skater because of Lidstrom's great skating -- Green had an outstanding year offensively while leading his team to the Southeast Division crown and a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference. He led NHL defensemen with 31 goals and 73 points, tied for 28th among NHL skaters. His 42 assists ranked seventh among NHL defensemen and 38th in the NHL.

"Being nominated for the Norris Trophy is definitely a great honor," Green said. "I give credit to my teammates because it's been a lot of fun this year playing with players like (Alex) Ovechkin, (Nicklas) Backstrom and (Alexander) Semin. My teammates have definitely helped and it's an honor to be in the same category as the other players nominated."

In his fourth NHL season, the 29th overall pick of the 2004 Entry Draft has made great progression getting in sync with his team. Green had negative plus-minus numbers in his first two seasons, progressed to plus-6 last season and was plus-24 this season, tied for fifth among NHL defensemen and 17th in the NHL.

Green was tremendous on the Washington power play, scoring 18 of his 31 goals in man-advantage situations. That ranked second to Alexander Ovechkin on the Capitals, tops among NHL defensemen and fourth among all players. He also had four game-winning goals, tied for third among NHL defensemen with Lidstrom and seven others.

On the defensive side, Green had 86 hits, 110 blocked shots and 49 takeaways. He was well ahead of Lidstrom and Chara in that last category.

Because of Green's great skating skills, offensive instincts and good judgment, coach Bruce Boudreau has given him the green light to join the rush. It's not unusual to find Green carrying the puck or being a passing option on odd-man rushes. He uses his speed to get back to his position in transition. There haven't been too many defenders in NHL history better at that than Green.

Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings -- Lidstrom is the book on how to play defense and like Chara, and unlike Green, the acknowledged leader of his team.

 
Although it's seldom mentioned, his durability, for a defenseman, has been phenomenal. He broke into the NHL in 1991 and played every game through his first three seasons. He has missed only 32 games in 17 seasons, has five seasons in which he played every game, four seasons when he missed one game and three seasons when he missed only two games. That's unheard of in a position where players are expected to block shots and muscle forwards in front of their net.

Seasoned pros marvel at how he always seems to have the play in front of him and how the routes around him are non-productive. Forget about passing to the man he's covering. He rarely shows his speed for flashy reasons but it's there whenever he needs it. He's fast straight-ahead and quick in his movements. He gets to pucks first and he's slick at avoiding getting hit.

His hand-eye coordination is unparalleled. Time and again, he thwarts the basic offensive maneuver of chipping the puck in along the wall by batting the shot back out of his defensive zone.

He plays close enough to the oncoming attacker to place his stick right where the shot should be launched from. Watch NHL forwards hesitate after taking their stick back for a shot. The shot is doomed before it's launched. At the blue line, he thwarts clearing attempts and keeps the puck in the offensive zone as well as anyone ever, with the sole exception, perhaps, of former teammate Larry Murphy.

"Every team has high-end players that they count on a lot and when your high-end players are professional and hard working and bring it every day, it makes it that much easier for you," Wings coach Mike Babcock said of Lidstrom. "And I think a big part of playoff hockey is trust; the trust you have within the room, the trust you have between the coach and players and Nick is one of the best in the world at this as we all know. He's been great."   

For those reasons, Lidstrom topped Green and Chara with his plus-31 rating, second on the Red Wings, third among NHL defensemen and seventh-best in the league. He had 43 hits, 67 blocked shots and 26 takeaways.

All three candidates are great at launching offensive attacks from their own zone, whether they carry the puck or make the initial pass. Lidstrom is the quarterback of the Red Wings' feared power play. His 10 power-play goals ranked fourth on his team, fourth among NHL defensemen and 17th among all players.