started the season as if he were ready to run away with the James Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman.
But an NHL season is an 82-game grind, and after a superb first half that saw him lead all defenseman in goals and points, Byfuglien has come back to earth -- as has his team, the Atlanta Thrashers
As the season hits the three-quarter mark, a man who’s already won the Norris six times in a career that will end with an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame is on target for No. 7.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings --
Maybe 40 really is the new 30. There's certainly no sign that Lidstrom, now 40, has any slippage in his game.
All he's done in the first year of his fifth decade is put up 12 goals and 48 points in 60 games, second among all defensemen. He's done all that while taking only seven minor penalties all season -- only one more penalty than he's had goals on the power play. He's still a minute-muncher (23:37 ice time per game) who plays effectively in all situations for the Central Division-leading Detroit Red Wings
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Lidstrom is his consistency. He does everything right so often that it's easy to take his brilliance for granted.
"The beauty of Nick is, he's the same every day and he's no maintenance," Wings GM Ken Holland said. "He might not wow you if you just watch him one game, but his greatness is that he rarely makes a mistake shift after shift, game after game, year after year."
Lidstrom nearly took his six Norris Trophies back home to Sweden last summer. Thankfully for the Wings, he opted for another season in Detroit. A seventh Norris would tie him for second all-time with Hall of Famer Doug Harvey
, one behind Bobby Orr
Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes --
Talk about flying under the radar: Yandle leads all NHL defenseman in assists and points, is the No. 1 scorer on a team that's battling for the Pacific Division lead, took part in the All-Star Game -- and astonishingly few fans know that he's become one of the best blueliners in the NHL.
The Boston native has already blown past his career-best total of 41 points, set last season -- not bad for someone picked 105th in the 2005 Entry Draft. Like Lidstrom (who picked him for his team at the All-Star Game), Yandle isn’t fancy -- but he's become an excellent puck-mover who can play in all circumstances, generates offense and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins --
The Penguins showed their confidence in Letang this week by trading fellow defenseman Alex Goligoski
to Dallas for help up front (James Neal
). Letang, taken by Pittsburgh two rounds after the Pens snagged Sidney Crosby
to start the 2005 Entry Draft, has had a breakout season -- one that included scoring a pair of goals in the All-Star Game.
More interesting is the improvement in his all-around game. Not only has Letang surpassed his career-best with 45 points, but he's posted a plus-15 rating -- pretty good for a player who was minus-10 in his career before this season.
Follow John Kreiser on Twitter: @jkreiser7nhl