As the NHL moves past the midway mark of the season, it’s time to look back at which players deserve hardware, based on their performance over the first half. To answer that question, we polled writers from across the Nation Network, talking to writers at every site.
Today, we look at the second set of our midseason awards: our picks for the winners of the Norris and Selke trophies.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
Description: The James Norris Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.
Winner: Zdeno Chara
Runners-Up: Shea Weber, Nicklas Lidstrom
This was one of the tightest races for the writers we polled, with Zdeno Chara just barely squeaking past Shea Weber for the top honours at the midpoint of the season. These two players rather clearly represented the best defenders in the NHL in the opinion of our writers, with Weber receiving four times the votes of the third-place Lidstrom (who narrowly edged out some other defensemen listed below).
Chara won his first Norris Trophy in 2008-09, and has once again been instrumental in the Bruins success this season. As it stands now, he’s on pace to set career highs in assists, total points, and plus/minus, all while combining a take no prisoners style with a 6’9" frame. He’s one of the most imposing defensive rearguards in the league, and over the last decade has also been one of the NHL’s better offensive weapons on the blue line.
Of course, Shea Weber’s been pretty good in his own right. Jason Gregor, one of those who had Weber first overall in his voting, said that Weber has "no real weaknesses in his game, and he’s absolutely right. Even missing time to a concussion hasn’t led to a reduction of his duties; in his first game back Weber played more than 25 minutes and has been in that range pretty consistently since. As it stands, he’s likely to put up career highs offensively and like Chara he plays against the best opposition.
The rest of the field features former winners in Lidstrom and Duncan Keith, the NHL’s leading defensive scorer in Erik Karlsson, Toronto Maple Leafs’ captain Dion Phaneuf, and Weber’s frequent defensive partner in Nashville, Ryan Suter.
Also in the mix: Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf, Duncan Keith, Ryan Suter
Frank J. Selke Trophy
Description: The Frank J. Selke Trophy is an annual award given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.
Winner: David Backes
Runners-Up: Patrice Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk
A swell of support for David Backes, who has been instrumental in the St. Louis Blues return to respectability, moved him past a pair of very strong candidates in Bergeron and Datsyuk. Backes, as is fitting for someone winning this award, plays against the best opposition and starts more in his own end than in the offensive zone. He has also been one of the Blues’ regular penalty-killers and his physical style of play surely didn’t hurt him either. As Jason Gregor said in his comments on the vote, Backes "doesn’t have the same name recognition as Datsyuk or Toews, but he’s big, strong, and nasty and he wins lots of one-on-one battles."
Pavel Datsyuk is a three-time winner and is doing the same things he’s always done (as Gregor put it, "he is unreal all over the ice") while scoring at a better than point-per-game pace, while Patrice Bergeron remains a phenomenally good defensive player. Unlike Datsyuk and Toews (who are starting 58.1% and 62.4%, respectively, of their shifts in the offensive zone), Bergeron is starting in his own end well over 50% of the time and continues to push the puck in the right direction.
I also wanted to make special note of the fourth-ranked candidate, Manny Malhotra, who some will think an odd choice given his minus-6 rating for the Canucks. No player in the league starts more of his shifts in his own end of the ice than Malhotra, who Vigneault has converted into the league’s formost defensive zone specialist. Of his non-neutral zone faceoffs, 86.4% of them are in the defensive zone. Despite this brutal treatment from head coach Alain Vigneualt, Malhotra somehow has 13 points and is just minus-6.
Also in the mix: Manny Malhotra, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Callahan, Henrik Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen