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Was Edmonton Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse snubbed as a Norris trophy candidate?

The three Norris trophy candidates were named this morning: Cale Makar, Adam Fox, and Victor Hedman.

Darnell Nurse’s name was left off the list of the top three, but was it warranted?

I took a dive yesterday into how Nurse fared in comparison to the aforementioned three and he drew close to them all. His 5×5 GF/60 ranked amongst the highest in defenceman who played over 800 minutes (96 eligible players), but his defensive woes held him back.

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TOI/Gp 5×5 (all situations) Games played P/60 CF% GF/60 GA/60 GF% xGF%
Nurse 20:40 (2nd) – 25:37 (4th) 56 1.19 (18th) 51.08 (38th) 3.68 (2nd) 2.9 (83rd) 55.91 (28th) 51.45 (45th)
Makar 18:14 (24th) – 24:17 (16th) 44 1.42 (5th) 60.88 (1st) 3.66 (3rd) 2.24 (41st) 62.03 (8th) 61.77 (2nd)
Fox 17:21 (55th) – 24:42 (11th) 55 1.13 (22nd) 49.85 (53rd) 2.7 (36th) 1.95 (15th) 58.11 (20th) 54.22 (17th)
Hedman 18:01 (33rd) – 25:02 (7th) 54 0.86 (42nd) 53.65 (17th) 2.65 (39th) 2.65 (72nd) 50 (59th) 51.31 (46th)

While the eye test on Nurse showed he was making improvements in his defensive positioning and his decision making has been much improved. Nurse looks calmer and more confident both with, and without the puck, than he ever has before.

But those have yet to transcribe into negligible numbers that could push him into the top-three Norris votes. Even this year Nurse had himself right close to the conversation in thanks to his impressive offensive play. There’s an argument to be made he’s more deserving of the top three-spot than Hedman based off their on ice-results this year.

In 56 games, he scored 16 goals and 36 points hitting a .64 point per game pace — a sizable increase from his previous career-high of .5 points per game in 2018-19. While a still flawed statistic, Nurse’s +/- rate of +27 ranked fifth among all defencemen in the league and higher than that of his closest competitors in Hedman, Fox and Makar.

Nurse also saw increases in his underlying numbers, too. His 5×5 CF% rose from 48.68 percent in 2019-20 to 51.08 percent this past season. Both his goal rate and expected goal rate rose, too. His GF% jumped from 47.41 percent in 2019-20 to 55.91 percent this past year. His xGF% climbed from 48.97 percent to 51.45 percent.

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Despite that, as JFreshHockey notes in this tweet below, Nurse still needs lots of work on his defensive game.

But if Nurse continues on the development path he has for the last number of years and builds off a very strong 2020-21 campaign, there’s no doubt in my mind that he could reach Norris trophy level of play in his career.


Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]