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Lidstrom still legendary, leading Norris candidate

Monday, 04.11.2011 / 6:12 PM / 2011 NHL Awards

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Lidstrom still legendary, leading Norris candidate
Nicklas Lidstrom of the Red Wings is the greatest defenseman of his generation -- and he's still the best. A seventh Norris Trophy would tie him for the second most all-time.
Winning the James Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman takes a mix of skills.

Not only should the winner be an elite player in his own zone, he has to be a substantial contributor when his team has the puck. He has to be able to move the puck quickly with forecheckers breathing down his neck, help run the power play and be able to play large chunks of minutes at a high level night in and night out.

There are a number of fine candidates who offer a mixture of skills and contribute to their teams in different ways:

Winner: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings

Lidstrom is going to have to build another shelf to house all of his Norris Trophies. He won three in a row from 2001-03, then three more from 2007-09. A seventh Norris puts him in ultra-elite company -- he would tie Hall of Famer Doug Harvey's total and move within one of Bobby Orr's record.

At 40, he sees a little bit less ice time than he used to (about 23 1/2 minutes per game), but if his play has deteriorated, you'd have to look pretty hard to notice. His 16 goals are tied for fourth among defenseman, and his 62 points are second. But numbers tell only part of the story. There's the stick in the right place, breaking up an opponent's rush; the seeing-eye slapper that sets up rebounds for teammates; the quick breakout pass that starts a rush -- and a host of little things that don't always show up in the stats column.

Lidstrom is the greatest defenseman of his generation -- and he's still the best.

Runner-up: Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes

On a team that's not exactly overflowing with offensive talent, production from the blue line is a must -- and Yandle's offensive abilities are a big reason that the Coyotes are in the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Yandle just missed leading the Coyotes in scoring, finishing with 59 points -- one behind Shane Doan and third among all NHL defensemen -- his 48 assists are second.

Runner-up: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

Chara, who won two years ago, has the NHL's most feared shot. But Big Z is a lot more than just a big guy with a big bomb from the point.

Chara's play in his own zone was a big reason the Bruins allowed fewer goals than any team other than the Vancouver Canucks. He has the size to clear the front of the net and the skill to break teammates out of the zone with good passes.

The 6-foot-9 defenseman also makes an impact when the puck is in the offensive zone. Chara has 14 goals, including eight on the power play, and 44 points. He also leads all players with a plus-33 rating, matching his career best.