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Doughty worthy of Norris crown thus far

by Corey Masisak / Los Angeles Kings

With the first half of the 2014-15 season complete, NHL.com looks at some of its biggest storylines and award contenders.

Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter has been the NHL's leading minute man in each of the past two seasons.

He's still leading the League in average time on ice per game, but he missed two games because of the mumps, and Drew Doughty has taken the mantle as the most-used skater in the NHL to this point in the 2014-15 season.

To be clear, just leading the NHL in time on ice is not reason to be the leading contender for the Norris Trophy. There are many examples of defensemen whose performances have suffered because they arguably played too much (Suter before this season could be placed in that group).

Drew Doughty
Defense - LAK
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 22 | PTS: 26
SOG: 115 | +/-: 0
That said, Doughty has been the best defenseman in the NHL through the midway point of the season. His ability to perform at an elite level despite playing more than 29 minutes per game enhances his resume and gives him a slight edge in comparison to a few others with a legitimate claim for the award at this point.

There is a group of 38 defensemen who had logged at least 700 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time through the games Saturday, and in that group are all of the leading contenders for the Norris Trophy.

Doughty is second in Corsi for percentage, but the raw numbers are also a big part of it. He and Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks are far beyond the others in a simple shot attempt plus-minus, with Keith on the ice for 231 more shot attempts than his opponents, and Doughty for 221 more. Next on the list is Dougie Hamilton of the Boston Bruins at plus-151.

Doughty and Keith each has 26 points, leaving each one shy of the being in the top 10 in points among defensemen.

The separator between the two is Doughty's sheer volume of dictating the play. He's logged 146 more minutes at even strength than Keith. A big reason for Doughty's increase in ice time has been an injury to Jake Muzzin, as well as the suspension of Slava Voynov. Doughty is giving his team an extra three minutes a night of elite puck possession at even strength that would otherwise go to a depth player.

Keith's profile is pretty compelling, and he might be playing better this season than last when he rode a bunch of points to his second Norris victory.

Doughty has been the best defenseman in the League, and the numbers (beyond points) back it up.

FINALISTS

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

The margin between Doughty and Keith is very slim. Keith leads all defensemen with at least 700 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time in each puck-possession metric (Corsi for percentage and Fenwick for percentage), in part because he leads everyone in the offensive component (Corsi/Fenwick for) by a wide margin on a per-60-minute basis.

Keith is also second to P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens in CF% relative to his team's average. He's also been on the ice for only eight power-play goals against in 105 minutes of shorthanded ice time, though the Blackhawks do allow more shot attempts per 60 minutes with him on the ice than the other finalists.

Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Giordano was an early favorite for this award after a scorching start to the season in goals and points. He's still currently second among defensemen in points and tied for third in goals. He also leads in even-strength points.

He and partner TJ Brodie have been tasked with more defensive-zone starts than guys like Doughty and Keith, though some of that is a product of how the Flames often lose hockey's version of the field-position battle. They also face slightly tougher competition. Giordano and Brodie are having fantastic seasons, and although their unadjusted puck-possession numbers are not great, they are among the best in that group of 38 defensemen mentioned above in CF% and FF% relative to team average.

Again, the raw numbers are important though. The Kings have allowed one more power-play goal with Doughty on the ice than the Flames have with Giordano on the ice, despite Doughty playing 22 more penalty-kill minutes than Giordano (and the shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes are pretty similar). He's played 83 more minutes at even strength than Brodie and 113 more than Giordano.

The website War-on-Ice.com has recently adding scoring chances as a way to measure players. Doughty has been on the ice for 422 scoring chances for the Kings at even strength (two more than Keith for the most in the League); Brodie is at 311 and Giordano at 308. It's not purely skill or Giordano's level of play that is the reason for him having eight more even-strength points than Keith and 10 more than Doughty.

If Doughty and Keith form the top tier, then Giordano, Brodie and Subban and the next group and round out a strong top five for the award. The third tier of candidates would include Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues, Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nick Leddy of the New York Islanders and Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche.

Also in the mix: TJ Brodie, Flames, P.K. Subban, Canadiens, Shea Weber, Predators

NOTE: All statistics from NHL.com and War-on-Ice.com are through games Saturday.

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