Skip to main content

In the know on the Norris

by John McGourty
Winners of the James Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the National Hockey League form an elite group.

Only 20 players have won the Norris Trophy in its 48-year history and half were one-time winners. Ten others won it a total of 38 times, led by Bobby Orr who won eight times.

Doug Harvey won seven times and Raymond Bourque won five times. Pierre Pilote, Denis Potvin, Chris Chelios and Paul Coffey each won three times. Brian Leetch, Rod Langway and Larry Robinson won twice.

The one-time winners were Red Kelly, Tom Johnson, Jacques Laperriere, Randy Carlyle, Doug Wilson, Rob Blake, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom. The latter four are still active and one of them will win a second Norris as Chelios, Blake and Lidstrom, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, are the finalists this year.

There's not much that can be said about Orr, Bourque, Potvin and Coffey that hasn't been said. Harvey, Pilote and Robinson have been featured on in recent months. Most of the other winners have played within recent memory so let's take a look at six of the earlier one-time winners:

Red Kelly, 1954 -- The NHL has never hosted a more versatile player with more varied interests. Kelly was the inaugural winner of the Norris in 1954, a season in which he helped the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup. In over 12 seasons on the Red Wings' blue line, Kelly averaged nearly 40 points a season. He won four Stanley Cups with Detroit before he was traded to Toronto in 1960. Switched to center, Kelly helped the Maple Leafs win four Stanley Cups by checking the NHL's top offensive players while averaging 49 points a season. He was also credited with helping linemate Frank Mahovlich reach his full potential with the Maple Leafs. Kelly won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1951, 1953, 1954 and 1961. No defenseman has won it since. He was named to eight NHL All-Star teams. While playing in the NHL, he also served as a Liberal Member of Parliament in the Canadian government. In 1969, Kelly was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Today, he owns a four-season resort in Colorado with his wife, Andra, a top American figure skater.

Tom Johnson, 1959 -- Few people have accomplished as much in hockey as Tom Johnson, the Hall of Fame defenseman with the Montreal Canadiens when they won five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1956-60. Johnson, who played 13 seasons with the Canadiens and two with the Boston Bruins, won six Stanley Cups as a player with Montreal and the 1972 Stanley Cup as coach of the Boston Bruins. His winning percentage of .738 is the all-time best among Bruin coaches. Johnson retired as a vice president of the Bruins three years ago. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1970.

From the Manitoba prairie town of Baldur, Johnson was an excellent skater and an intelligent defender. He was highly regarded as a playmaker and he was tenacious in corners and along the boards. He became a penalty-killing specialist primarily because fellow Habs defenseman Doug Harvey anchored the power play. Johnson was often used as a forward late in games with his team down a goal. He broke Harvey's skein of four straight Norris Trophies when he won the award in 1959. Harvey won again the next three years. Johnson had career highs of 10 goals, 29 assists and 39 points in 1959 and was named to the First All-Star Team.

Jacques Laperriere, 1966 -- A great skater with tremendous reach, Laperriere played an intelligent game, forgoing big hits in favor of poke-checks that led to turnovers to spark the transition game of the great skating Montreal Canadiens from 1962-74.

Laperriere took NHL Rookie of the Year honors as the Calder Trophy winner in the 1963-64 season. He captured the Norris Trophy as the NHL's Best Defenseman in 1966 and was named to five NHL All Star Games. The native of Rouyn, Quebec, was a member of six Stanley Cup winners while playing in seven Stanley Cup Finals. He also was a member of two other Canadiens' Stanley Cup teams as an assistant coach.

The 1970-71 season was Laperriere's best. He helped lead the Canadiens to an upset over the heavily favored Boston Bruins in the semifinals and the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals. Laperriere was the first to hug goalie Ken Dryden at the end of the Chicago series. Two years later, he led the NHL in plus-minus. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987.

Harry Howell, 1967 -- Three-time Norris Trophy winner Pierre Pilote, the best offensive defenseman of the early 1960s, was runner-up in 1966 to Jacques Laperriere and in 1967 to New York Rangers defenseman Harry Howell. Howell, then 35, received the award at a late stage in his career but he was a worthy choice.

A member of the Guelph Biltmore's 1952 Memorial Cup-winning team, Howell made the Rangers the following season and missed only 17 games over the next 16 years.

Howell won the trophy in Orr's rookie season and said, "I'm glad I won it now because it's going to belong to that Orr from now on." Orr won the Norris Trophy for the next eight years.

Howell played 21 seasons in the NHL -- including 17 seasons for the New York Rangers -- and three seasons in the WHA from 1952 to 1976. He still holds the Rangers' record for most games played (1,160). Howell scored 94 goals and had 324 assists for 418 points. Howell was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979. He also coached the Minnesota North Stars that season. His 1,581 games in the NHL and WHA are the most of any defenseman.

Randy Carlyle, 1981 -- Nearly as famous for the two trades in which he was involved, Carlyle was a terrific puck-moving defenseman who combined great on-ice vision with a strong shot. He quarterbacked the Pittsburgh Penguins power play in 1981 when he had 16 goals and 83 points to win the Norris Trophy over Denis Potvin, Borje Salming, Larry Robinson, Mark Howe and Brad Park.

The Penguins did very well with Carlyle, the Toronto Maple Leafs' first-round pick in 1976. Pittsburgh sent Dave Burrows to Toronto for Carlyle and George Ferguson on June 14, 1978. They traded the Norris Trophy-winning defenseman to the Winnipeg Jets on March 4, 1984 for Moe Mantha and a first-round pick that Pittsburgh used to select Doug Bodger. More importantly, the Penguins nose-dived after the trade and wound up with the No. 1 pick that year, Mario Lemieux.

Carlyle played 17 seasons in the NHL, scoring 148 goals and adding 499 assists for 647 points in 1,055 games.

Doug Wilson, 1982 -- Among defensemen, only Paul Coffey (twice) and Bobby Orr ever scored more goals than the 39 Doug Wilson posted for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1981-82. He also had 46 assists for a career-high 85 points. In 16 seasons (the last two with the expansion San Jose Sharks), Wilson had 237 goals and 590 assists for 827 points in 1,024 NHL games. The Blackhawks selected Wilson with the sixth pick in the 1977 NHL Entry Draft.

He retired as Chicago's all-time highest scoring defenseman, was an NHL All-Star eight times and the Sharks' first captain. The Sharks and Blackhawks helped him start a scholarship foundation that still exists on the occasion of his 1,000th game.

Wilson, an Ottawa native, was an important member of Canada's 1984 winning Canada Cup team. In the 1987 Canada Cup he had an assist on the winning goal in Game 1 and a goal in Canada's 5-3 Game 2 loss to the Soviets. An unofficial Sharks' website lists Wilson's acquisition as the second-most important thing to happen to the club, after the awarding of the franchise. Wilson is the Sharks' Director of Pro Development. Of all his trophies, the one his wife, Kathy, is proudest of is the 1990 Chicago Sports Father of the Year Award. The Wilsons have four children.



View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.