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Time has come for Kings' Doughty to claim Norris

by Corey Masisak / Los Angeles Kings

In two of the past three Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty has been a near consensus choice as the best defenseman in the tournament.

In each of the past two Winter Olympics, Doughty has been a near consensus choice as one of the best defensemen in the tournament.

Doughty has evolved into one of the best players in the world at his position. What is missing from his dossier is a Norris Trophy, given annually to the top defenseman in the NHL as judged by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

He is NHL.com's preseason choice for the award in the 2014-15 season.

Doughty has been a finalist once in his career, and that was in 2009-10 when he had his best offensive season by traditional statistical standards. Doughty had 16 goals and 59 points that season for a decent Kings team that lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Doughty has since evolved into one of the best players in the League at any position. The numbers on the back of his hockey cards have slipped a little, and that's the biggest reason he hasn't been nominated again for the Norris.

The two reasons the time is now for Doughty are the shifting landscape of evaluating defensemen and perception. Analytics in hockey have provided a different way to quantify which players are elite, and the change has been more radical with defensemen than forwards.

Players like Doughty, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Mark Giordano are earning more praise on a national level because of their gaudy advanced statistics. In the past, a beat writer in San Jose or Los Angeles could spend the season praising the work of someone like Vlasic or Doughty, but when it was time to vote for the awards, those "hockey card" stats were all that really mattered.

Goals and assists certainly still matter, but those numbers can fluctuate wildly for defensemen because of reasons beyond their control. Now when someone makes the argument a player like Doughty is the best defenseman in the League despite a lower point total, there is hard evidence to support such a claim.

The other reason Doughty should be the favorite to win the Norris is the perception it is time for him to do so. The amount of momentum for one player or another around awards time can be a weird deal, but the idea of "Drew Doughty, best NHL defenseman" has arrived after his incredible performance in the 2014 postseason.

Doughty, along with Anze Kopitar, fuels the Los Angeles possession machine. The Kings, with a full season of Marian Gaborik, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, are going to score more goals this season. That also means the potential for more assists for Doughty.

He doesn't need to significantly add to his 37 points from 2013-14 to be in the running for the Norris, but expect Doughty's total to rise and for this to be the season he adds the biggest accolade missing from his already incredible resume.

FINALISTS

Shea Weber, Nashville Predators -- Weber has been a finalist for the Norris three times and finished second in the voting twice. Though most of the other elite defensemen around his age are smaller, Weber is the best "throwback" player at the position under the age of 35.

He's big and mean and possesses a booming slap shot. Like Doughty, he was fantastic for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, further solidifying his place among the League's elite.

Weber has had plenty of goals and points in the past, but what has held him back a little since Ryan Suter left for Minnesota is non-elite possession numbers. There are a combination of factors that could lead to Weber's improvement in that area in 2014-15.

The continued development of Roman Josi, Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis is one reason for optimism. The addition of better offensive depth up front is another. Then there is new coach Peter Laviolette, who could help the Predators become a more offensive-minded team.

Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Speaking of massive defensemen, Hedman had a breakout season in 2013-14 for the Lightning. He had career highs in goals, assists and shots, and did so in both a total and per-game basis.

When Steven Stamkos was lost to a broken leg last season, the Lightning actually improved as a possession team to help offset his absence. Hedman was a big part of that, and a couple of offseason additions on defense could help there be more offensive opportunities available.

Anton Stralman is a darling of the analytics community, and his play for the New York Rangers during the 2014 playoffs could be an indicator of how he can help the Lightning spend more time on offense. Jason Garrison's hard shot from the point could also mean more chances for assists, especially if he and Hedman spend some time together on the power play.

ALSO IN THE MIX: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators; P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens; Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer

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