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by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
This season's Norris Trophy race features three elite defensemen. 

With such a tight race to be the named the NHL's best blueliner, sought opinions from each of the three levels of the NHL hockey atmosphere:  professional hockey player (defenseman Nathan Paetsch); NHL scout (Sabres pro scout Jon Christiano); and finally the fans ( message board regular 30+yearfan).

Read each person's take on the nominee's past season and their prediction who will win the 2008 Norris Trophy.

[Note: To submit your opinion on future "Predictions" articles, become a member of the Buffalo Sabres Message Boards]

NATHAN PAETSCH: "Obviously, Boston had a really good season, as did Chara. He put up big numbers.  Every player knows how big of a threat he is all over the ice with the reach he has playing defensive and he's always an intimidating factor.

"He’s got a huge shot. Whenever he’s on the ice you’ve obviously got to be careful because they are just going to try to set him up for that big one-timer. He’s extremely composed on the blueline and moves the puck well.

 "Obviously, he’s a huge threat for them back there."

JON CHRISTIANO:  "He’s probably the backbone of Boston. When he’s on top of his game the team goes, they rely so much on him. He plays probably 27 minutes a game, he’s an all critical situations: PK; five-on-three; defending; and power play where he's a focal point and can pound pucks to the net.

"He's such a presence - physical, intimidating - and brings a lot to the table.  He makes other teams really have to work to score goals. Boston’s system, he just kind of backs into the slot in front of the net and he’s just so hard to get through because of his size, his long reach and it really makes getting scoring chances in the slot difficult since he’s out there half the game."

30+YEARFAN: "Chara, by far, appears to be one of the most intimidating defensemen presently in the league. When he used his size to intimidate this year, the results were good for his team. The knock on him, in my opinion, is that he doesn't always use this greatest asset to its fullest advantage. Injuries and age definitely factored into how effective he was as a defenseman, but when you are vying for an award with the elite of the league, I feel there are no excuses or exceptions.

"Of the three candidates, he is probably the most important to his team."

PAETSCH: "He’s won the award so many times and he’s just been such an elite defenseman for so long. He plays with such composure it just seems like he controls the whole game. He’s not only the quarterback on the power play, it seems every time he’s on the ice he’s the quarterbacking the game play.

"He’s just such an incredible, smooth skater that he’s deceivingly fast. It’s obviously a special gift that he has."

CHRISTIANO: "When you talk about Niklas Lidstrom, it’s pretty easy to say that he’s the best or one of the top two defensemen in the league. Lidstrom is almost your perfect defenseman: size-wise; skill-wise; maturity-wise; and poise-wise. When you watch him, he’s never rattled in any kind of situation.

"For a big man his feet are very good.  He can skate, his mobility - where he can turn, pivot -  it’s right up there with the best of them. He makes great simple passes, gets pucks to the net, knows how to block, knows his angles.

"There are no holes in his game.  He's a go-to guy, just a great influence back on D where he settles things down or jacks things up when they need something. But he’s so intelligent in his reading and reacting ... knowing where to go, when to go, why to go.

"In my opinion, he is the smartest defenseman that is up for the Norris Trophy this year."

30+YEARFAN:  "Lidstrom is having another career year, much like the one he had in his third NHL season only better. When you consider he has only had a couple of 'off years' during his long NHL career, it's hard to argue that he is not the best defenseman currently playing in the NHL.

"His dominance over the other candidates assist totals this season and his highly impressive plus-40 are clear indicators that he is one of the best. Acquiring a plus-40 is a difficult task. When you consider he has done this many times during his career and has never had a negative year, it leads you to only one conclusion."

PAETSCH: "Obviously, he's a guy that’s going to be a force in the NHL for many years to come. I played in junior hockey against him since he was 16 and even there you could see he had a lot of competitive edge to him and would become an elite player.  He goes out and battles every night.

"He’s a big boy and he lays up the body and brings a lot of different assets to the game.

"He played a ton of minutes for Calgary and plays a real key role. Obviously they had a real good run at the end of the season getting in the playoffs and everything and he was a big part of that."

CHRISTIANO: "Phaneuf had a heck of a year. When I think of him, the first thing that comes to mind is his physicality. He just really enjoys hitting guys hard. He jumps at the chance to check, he’s on top of guys real quick, he’s probably overaggressive but that’s his nature.

"Sometimes the puck gets through him but for the most part his physicality is a real intimidating presence when he’s on the ice. He’s, again, just like the other guys, in all key situations he’s out there. Defending-wise, he’s a good defender, a battler, somebody that doesn’t want to lose.

"His biggest fault might be that he’s a little overaggressive and can take some penalties because he gets so wound up.

"He's kind of a new-age defenseman where he can handle the physicality end of things and has offensive skills also to be a factor in the offensive zone."

30+YEARFAN: "Phaneuf is the complete defenseman. He can score, hit, defend his zone and he usually showed up every game. Odd is the game where he is not a contributor in some fashion.

"He has stats that are pointing strongly in the direction of an elite defenseman in the future, though he may have already begun to reach this level. He is consistently improving each year in the NHL and his young age will allow for many awards to be realized during his career. He will likely take over top honors when Lidstrom decides to retire."

PAETSCH: "Lidstrom is always the safest pick. He’s won it so many times and he’s just a dominant force every year, but maybe it’s Chara’s year. Phaneuf is a young guy and it probably might not be him yet.  But if he doesn’t win this year, I’m sure he’s going to win a few more in his career."

CHRISTIANO: "My pick, as boring as it might be, might be Niklas Lidstrom.  He’s so effective and he’s playing on a great team with a lot of high-skilled players.

"He’s got it all figured out how to play defense in my book. His mistakes are to a minimal - just a tremendous defenseman - got the whole package."

30+YEARFAN:  "Lidstrom.  All three defensemen's cap hits are nearly identical, therefore Lidstrom is giving more, in regards to the cap hit/production ratio.

"If the ages and remaining career years were equal for all three of these defensemen, you can bet that in a straight up trade, both Boston or Calgary would - without hesitation - give up Chara or Phaneuf to acquire the services of Lidstrom. I don't think the reverse would be as likely to happen. Since age and career years remaining are not factored into choosing the winner of this award, Lidstrom has to be the clear-cut favorite."
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