With three-quarters of the 2013-14 season complete, NHL.com looks at some of the biggest storylines and award contenders. Today we predict the winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy, an annual award presented by the Professional Hockey Writers Association to the NHL's best defenseman.
Duncan Keith's skating, awareness and puck movement have been as good this season as they were throughout the 2009-10 season. The Chicago Blackhawks defenseman was good enough to win the Norris Trophy then, just as he is now.
Keith should be a shoo-in for his second Norris Trophy if his overall play in the last quarter of the season matches what he did leading up to the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Keith went into the break with 48 points and a plus-19 rating in 59 games. He led NHL defensemen with 45 assists, including 16 on the power play, had eight penalty minutes and was averaging 24:32 of ice time.
Keith gives the Blackhawks everything a team needs from a No. 1 defenseman.
He's reliable. He rarely finds trouble, and when he does, he's smart enough and fast enough to skate away from it. He makes his defense partner, Brent Seabrook, a better player. He helps the forwards. He's a weapon on the power play. He's a dominant possession player.
Chicago's gaudy offensive statistics speak to Keith's value.
The Blackhawks scored 3.37 goals-per game, averaged 33.3 shots on goal per game, and were at 22.1 percent on the power play at the break. Chicago was the second-best possession team in the NHL, according to advanced statistics compiled by extraskater.com.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: Karlsson led defensemen with 55 points, on pace for 20 goals and 75 points. The knock on him has always been his play in the defensive zone, but that's a short-sighted argument. Karlsson is arguably the best player in the League at skating the puck out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone. He's a forecheck buster and an occasional human highlight reel. There are times when he may get burned by a risk he takes in the defensive zone, but that comes with his style of play. Save for his plus-minus (minus-14) he's having as good a season as he had in 2011-12, when he won the Norris Trophy. His plus-minus is suffering this season because the Senators as a whole haven't been as good defensively as they have been previously under coach Paul MacLean.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings: Doughty is having his most well-rounded season to date, including his gold-medal win at the Olympics, where he led Canada with four goals and was named to the tournament all-star team. Doughty entered play Thursday with 31 points, tied for 19th among defensemen while playing on a team that was 26th in the NHL in scoring. He is one of the top penalty-killers on one of the League's best penalty-killing teams. Doughty has helped partner Jake Muzzin become a solid top-four defenseman. Doughty is one of the top possession players in the League.