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Puck Possession Has Wild's Suter Leading Norris Race

by Corey Masisak / Minnesota Wild

Ryan Suter has led the NHL in time on ice per game for each of the past two seasons.

Logging a lot of ice time, and his reputation from having a successful tenure with the Nashville Predators, helped make Suter a candidate for the Norris Trophy and a consistent subject in "who are the best defensemen in the NHL?" discussions in his first two years with the Minnesota Wild.

Suter's statistics, both "advanced" and "traditional," beyond the time on ice, left questions about whether or not he was really having the impact of an elite defenseman. His puck possession stats were mediocre, especially last season when he didn't have a high percentage of defensive zone starts.

That has changed in 2014-15. Suter continues to pace the League in minute-munching, averaging more than 29 per game for the second consecutive season. The difference is what is happening when Suter is on the ice.

Minnesota has been one of the best puck possession teams in the League at the start of this season, and the Wild are controlling more than 57 percent of the shot attempts at even strength when Suter is on the ice.

He's not just eating a lot of ice time on special teams when there is less end-to-end action, either. Suter has played in more than 48 percent of Minnesota's even strength minutes, helping them dominate possession during that time.

Suter has one goal and 10 points in 19 games, which does not look like the offensive production of a typical Norris Trophy winner. His point total has been affected by the team's lack of production on the power play, but the advancement of analytics in the sport is going to lead to less "who has the most points" thinking for this award.

If Suter continues to help tilt the ice in Minnesota's favor while playing nearly half the game, he'll be in the discussion for the Norris. A few extra good bounces and somewhere around 50 points could help him win it.

FINALISTS

Drew Doughty -- Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have not been the same dominant puck possession team this season as they were from 2012-14 en route to three straight Western Conference Final appearances and two Stanley Cup championships. Well, at least they haven't been when Drew Doughty is not on the ice.

When Doughty is on the ice, they still look like the "normal" Kings. Los Angeles has controlled more than 55 percent of the shot attempts at even strength when Doughty is out there, and he has been out there a lot. With an injury to Jake Muzzin and then the suspension of Slava Voynov, the Kings have been short a top-three defenseman all season. Doughty is second to Suter in average time on ice per game, playing nearly 29 minutes a night.

Mark Giordano -- Calgary Flames

Last season Giordano wedged his way into the Norris conversation as an analytics darling, carrying a bad Flames team to success when he was on the ice. This season, he is probably the Norris favorite at this point because he leads the League in points by a defenseman.

If the argument for Giordano last season was "it shouldn't just be an award for the most points" then he shouldn't be the frontrunner right now. After having a Corsi for percentage of better than 54 percent last season, he is below 47 percent in 2014-15. Still better than his team's average, but not in an extraordinary way like 2013-14. He also plays less than 25 minutes a game, which is still in the top 20 in the League but well below the two candidates listed above him here.

If Giordano keeps up this goal and point pace, then he will almost certainly win the award. But at this point, all those points (and his very high individual PDO) look more like a small sample-size situation. He might be a better Hart Trophy candidate than Norris hopeful, given Calgary's surprising place in the NHL standings.

ALSO IN THE MIX: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators; Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks; Anton Stralman, Tampa Bay Lightning

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