Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)
The James Norris Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the top NHL defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability at the position.
This year, Hockey’s Future has selected Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara as the recipient of this honor.
Winner – Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
While the decision wasn’t an easy one given the performance of young defenseman Erik Karlsson, Chara was given the nod as the top defenseman by Hockey’s Future.
Few in the league offer the overall package of size, skill, and leadership than does the 6’9 defenseman. Chara is arguably one of the most dominant defenders since the 2005 NHL lock-out, and can hurt the opposition in a variety of ways. Not unlike his competitor, Shea Weber, Chara can intimidate the opposition due to his sheer size and physical prowess, qualities that contribute greatly to his superb shut-down abilities. He also possesses the league’s hardest shot, clocking in at 108.8 miles-per-hour.
At 35-years-old, Chara is having the best statistical season of his NHL career. The veteran of 13 NHL seasons doesn’t look like he’s slowing down. He finished the season with a career-high 52 points and +33. His 52-point campaign put him fourth in league scoring, while his +33 was third in the entire league, joining four other Bruins in the top five. Chara's average of 25 minutes a night had him just outside the top 10 for time on-ice at his position.
Heading into Thursday night’s playoff contest against the Captials, Chara will have a task he is all too familiar with – shutting down the opposition’s top guns. In this case, Chara will be given the challenge of shutting down forward Alexander Ovechkin. It’s an assignment that Chara desires, accepts, and is exceptional at. It’s just one of the things that make Zdeno Chara HF's choice as the 2012 Norris Trophy winner.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators – Yes, Karlsson has been one of the more elite producers this season given his position, but he still (arguably) lacks the overall game that would secure him the Norris Trophy. Some would argue they see Karlsson more as a 4th forward than a defenseman most nights. That’s no knock on Karlsson, it just speaks to his ability to make his presence known in the offensive zone, a unique ability that few defensemen possess. Nothing to worry about, however, as at 21-years-old, Karlsson will only continue to mature and refine his overall game. He’s likely to find his name in Norris Trophy discussion for the next 10-15 years, which is great news if you’re a Senators fan. Karlsson finished 9th in defensive time on-ice with 25:19, and was a +16. His remarkable 19-goal, 59-assist, 78-point season blew away his competitors. Brian Campbell and Dustin Byfuglien finished tied for second in scoring with 53 points, 25 behind Karlsson’s numbers.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues – If you ask any Eastern Conference fan who their top Norris Trophy candidates would be off the top of their heads, few would even consider the name of Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo had a very quiet, yet dominant season for the St. Louis Blues. Much of it has to do with the system implemented by head coach Ken Hitchcock, but it also has to do with the ability that the young Pietrangelo possesses. The fourth overall selection from the 2008 NHL Draft really cemented himself among the upper echelon of defensemen in the league. Much like Karlsson, Pietrangelo is still young, but brings more of a complete game to the back-end. At 22 years of age, he is mature beyond his years and the Blues' top defenseman already. He’s averaged just under 25 minutes of ice-time with the Blues and his 12-goal, 51-point season had him fifth overall in defensive scoring. Again, much like Karlsson, expect Pietrangelo’s name to be linked periodically with Norris Trophy conversation throughout his career.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators – A player who isn’t unfamiliar with being grouped among the league’s elite defensemen, Weber is the prototypical cornerstone defenseman. He’s the type of player every team dreams about building around. In Nashville, they hope they can continue building around their franchise player as there has been speculation about his long-term future with the team. At 26, Weber is just entering the prime of his career. The 6-4 blueliner can change the pace of a game in a variety of ways. He can set the tone by laying a devastating hit, or by blowing one of his booming 100+mph shots past any goaltender. This year, the Predators captain has continued his elite level play by recording 19 goals and 49 assists in 78 games. He was also a +21 and had 177 hits. His point totals were the second highest in his career, and were sixth among defensive scorers.