The Norris Trophy finalists were announced Tuesday.
Boston’s Zdeno Chara, Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom and Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf were voted in that group. The Pittsburgh Penguins were surprised to learn Sergei Gonchar was not among the three.
However, his exclusion was no surprise to Gonchar, who has not won the award in his distinguished 13-year NHL career.
“There’s nothing I can do about. I guess I have to play better and maybe next year I will have a chance,” he said. “You always can improve your game. Obviously, I am playing better defensively, but I will have to play better. Offensively, there are more chances I can take. I guess there is improvement I can make on every side of my game. I wasn’t a finalist this year, but hopefully I can make it next year.”
Gonchar finished the season ranked second in scoring among defensemen for the second-straight season. He had 65 points (12+53) in 78 games. Lidstrom led the way with 70 (10+60).
“That’s pretty unfortunate. Obviously, those guys are pretty great players, but I can’t say anyone in here would agree with [Gonchar left out of the finalists],” Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. “In my opinion, he’s been the best defenseman in the league this year. That’s disappointing for him because he should have at least had the chance to win a Norris Trophy this year.
“He’s played against a team’s top players every night and done a good job. He’s, in my mind, the best defenseman in the league this year. I am not just talking offensively, where he and Lidstrom are superior. Defensively, he’s a plus player and plays against the top lines and plays more than 20 minutes a night. What more can you cay?”
Whitney is right about that. Lidstrom and Gonchar have been unparalleled production-wise in this decade. Since 2000, Gonchar leads all blueliners with 111 goals and is second to Lidstrom in points, 442-431. No other defensemen can match that output level as Sergei Zubov is next with 352 points – nearly 80 behind Gonchar. Nevertheless, Lidstrom has five Norris Trophies and Gonchar none.
“It’s tough. He’s definitely an elite defenseman and could easily be a part of that group,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “Those guys are great defensemen, too, and you don’t want to take anything away from them, but I think Gonch has proven he’s one of the top defensemen in the league and could easily be there.”
Brooks Orpik, who has been Gonchar’s defensive partner, was surprised Gonchar was not a Norris finalist as selected by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
“Based on his play that we get to see every day, I am surprised. Without naming any names, I think if he played in a Canadian market just like one of the other guys, I think he’d be chosen way over some of the other guys who were chosen. I am sure he is disappointed, but at the end of the day, I don’t put a lot of value in any individual awards. I think he’d put a lot more value in it if the guys in the league he played against voted on it, rather than media outlets,” he said. “You see media outlets catch onto certain guys and start promoting then and it kind of runs from there. I think the perception from a lot of the media outlets is that he’s just an offensive guy. Obviously, everyone around here knows he’s not. I am sure he’s disappointed, but I don’t think we should put too much value in individual awards.”
Gonchar has stressed becoming a better defensive player. He’s achieved that in recent seasons and remains on the Penguins’ top defensive and penalty killing pairing as a result.
“He’s been playing great, especially this year going against the top lines every night,” Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “He puts up big numbers, especially on the power play. Basically, he does everything. I know that those three are very good defensemen, but at the same time, I am just really surprised he wasn’t there.”
|Sergei Gonchar is one of the NHL's most-productive defensemen. |
The Norris Trophy is awarded “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.” Gonchar’s multifaceted play has been a huge key for the Penguins this season.
“First of all, the defensemen who have been nominated are good defensemen. But, on the other hand, there’s no doubt Sergei Gonchar should be there,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “I am really disappointed for him. We had a good season with our team and he has a huge role. He’s playing against top players every game and penalty killing and he’s running our power play. He is our key guy. He did a fantastic job all year long. There’s no doubt in our mind that Sergei Gonchar should be there. We’re really disappointed.”
Gonchar’s teammates aren’t sure what he needs to do to gain more recognition for his skills and contributions.
“I don’t know. Some of those guys come up with some pretty big hits sometimes. Maybe that’s something that the powers-that-be are looking for?” Scuderi said. “As far as everything else goes, I wouldn’t take too many defensemen over him right now.”
Orpik believes Gonchar is physical despite not registering many highlight-reel hits.
“When you watch him play, he’s a lot more physical than people think. He doesn’t have really, really huge hits. Once in a while he does. But, he gets really good leverage on guys and just uses his body well. He always gets between the guy with the puck and the net. It might not be flashy the way he defends, but it’s definitely really effective,” he said. “I think his offense is the thing that really jumps out at you, more so than the other aspects of his game, but he’s so good offensively and that’s why his other stuff goes unnoticed and is probably underappreciated by a lot of people. No one here feels that way. Everyone here has a lot of respect for him and what he does for us.”
It was the second snub for Gonchar this season as he was left off the ballot for the NHL All-Star Game. Later, he was added to the Eastern Conference all-star team once the fan balloting was complete.
“It’s been like this my entire career. When I was in Washington, it was the same way. I don’t know. What can I do about it? That’s the way it is. It’s not up to me, obviously,” he said. “I can only do one thing and prove it with my game that I can be better and I deserve it. So, I have to finish the season strong and come back even stronger next year and maybe I will have a chance.”
Gonchar understands, too, that with so many talented and young players in Pittsburgh, it’s easy to have the spotlight shine in different directions.
“We have a lot of guys here who are doing a wonderful job for us and they deserve all the attention,” he said. “At the same time, it’s not something I am worried about. As long as we’re winning and moving forward, especially at this time of the year, that’s what I am worried about.”