The National Hockey League reached the first-quarter mark this week of what has already been a memorable 2011-12 season. To celebrate, the NHL.com staff is taking a look at the early favorites for each of the major NHL end-of-season trophies with the first installment of our Trophy Tracker feature. Stay tuned for updates as the season progresses. All statistics for this edition of the Trophy Trackers are as of games completed by Nov. 22.
Nicklas Lidstrom has won the James Norris Memorial Trophy seven times in his illustrious career. That ties him with Doug Harvey for the second-most all-time, one behind the greatest defenseman of any era, Bobby Orr.
Lidstrom won No. 7 last season, and the 41-year-old defenseman is off to another fine start with 6 goals and 14 points in 19 games. His quest for a record-tying eighth Norris Trophy could dominate the discussion about the award if he continues to play this well.
For now though, he just misses our top three candidates for the award as the season passes the quarter turn of the 2011-12 season. Consider him No. 3A on this list, with Nashville's Ryan Suter and Pittsburgh Kris Letang also in the mix for a spot among the finalists.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators -- Weber has been close to claiming this trophy, including a second-place finish last season, and this could be his time. The 26-year-old has been fantastic for Nashville at both ends of the ice. He is tied for ninth in the League among defensemen with 14 points, only four shy of the pacesetter. He is also fifth in time on ice at 26:33 per contest.
He's also been on the ice for 21 goals scored (which is second among all d-men and no small feat considering Nashville's offensive issues at times) and only five against at even strength. According to Behind the Net, the team's plus-minus when Weber is on the ice at even strength (+/-ON per 60 minutes) is 2.77, which is the best in the League, and when he is not on the ice (+/-OFF per 60 minutes) it is -1.23. The gap between those two numbers is easily the widest of any defenseman.
The Predators are also level when short a man if Weber is one of the four on the ice -- he's been on for only two 4-on-5 goals against as well as for two shorthanded goals scored by his team.
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins -- Chara has one Norris Trophy triumph on his resume, and he's off to a nice start in his quest for No. 2. Like Weber, Chara has 14 points, enough that lack of offense can't be an argument against him, and advanced statistics can be again be used to show his value as well.
He has faced the second-stiffest competition in the League this season among defensemen, according to Behind the Net's Quality of Competition (QUALCOMP) ratings, and he's not far behind Weber in +/-ON per 60 minutes (fifth overall among defensemen).
Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers -- Campbell has been a big part of Florida's offensive surge this season, which has in turn helped the Panthers become the biggest surprise in the League. He's eating up huge minutes -- at 26:48 per game he's fourth in the League -- and is tied with Ottawa's Erik Karlsson for the most points by a defenseman at 18.
Florida is seventh in the NHL on the power play, and Campbell is fourth among defensemen in time on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-4. He's also been on the ice for 13 goals when the Panthers have a 5-on-4 advantage, which is one shy of most in the League.