From the time the Norris Trophy finalists were selected last season, it was evident youth would be served. A trio of players with five years or less of NHL experience -- Duncan Keith, Mike Green and Drew Doughty -- vied for the honor of best defenseman, and in the end it was Keith following up lifting the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks by adding an individual trophy of his own.
This season's Norris field might turn out to be a bit longer in the tooth, as a familiar face from Detroit, something of a reclamation project in Colorado and a guy who wears the "C" in Boston are staking early claims to be at the season-ending awards ceremony.
The next three-quarters of the season will ultimately determine who the finalists for 2011 are, but in the meantime NHL.com's Adam Kimelman takes a look at the three blueliners who appear to be most deserving to this juncture.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings -- Logic dictates players don't get better at age 40, but that's just what Lidstrom seems to be doing. His 20 points are tied for first among NHL defensemen and his 17 assists are also tied for first. Earlier this season he had an 11-game points streak, the longest of his storied career. He's a plus-3 while playing a team-high 24:19 per game. That includes almost five minutes per game on the power play, as well as more than three minutes per game shorthanded.
John-Michael Liles, Avalanche -- Last season, Liles looked to have taken on a 20-year mortgage in coach Joe Sacco's dog house. This season, however, he's been the team's best defensemen, and one of the best in the League at the quarter point of the season. No defenseman in the League has more than his 20 points, and he has a club-best plus-11 rating while playing 22:29 per game. He's been an anchor for an injury-riddled blue line that's seen 11 different players already play the position.
Zdeno Chara, Bruins -- Tim Thomas stole the early headlines in Boston, but a big reason he was able to do so was thanks to Chara, who is playing at near the same level as when he won the 2009 Norris Trophy. Chara isn't producing at the same level offensively -- 4 goals and 9 points in 19 games -- but he's a minutes-eating machine, averaging 26:41 per game, including 3:16 per game shorthanded, and he's always one-on-one with the opposition's best forwards.