For the second season in a row, the Washington Capitals’ Mike Green has been nominated for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s top defensive player. While he joins a list that features bluelining mainstays such as Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Pronger, and other “young guns” like Drew Doughty and Shea Weber, Green stands heads and shoulders above the competition and, without a doubt, should walk away with the Norris Trophy at seasons’ end. As if yesterday’s late shot-blocking heroics weren’t enough to convince you, we will take time toplainly lay out all of the unmistakable evidence in his favor.
Now, before I get into explaining to you why I feel this is the case, I would first like for you to understand the criteria by which the Norris Trophy is decided:
The voting is conducted at the end of the regular season by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and each individual voter ranks their top five candidates on a 10–7–5–3–1 points system. Three finalists are named and the trophy is awarded at the NHL awards ceremony after the conclusion of the playoffs.
B) All around ability
The James Norris Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League’s top “defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position”. The James Norris Memorial Trophy has been awarded 53 times to 22 different players since its beginnings in 1954. At the end of each season, members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association vote to determine the player who was the best defenseman during the regular season.
Certainly emotions always come into the equation when anyone is voting, “I don’t like the cut of his jib”, “He shops at Walmart”, but in an attempt to be as impartial as possible we should at least try and look at the facts & stats before we come to our own conclusions.
Now, I mention the methodology of voting because it’s important to understand that even if a player ends up getting mostly 2nd votes nominations, he still has a great chance of winning the vote. This is important because you will be voting not once, but 5 tiered votes. Now, granted that if out of 10 voting ballots one player is unanimously elected the defenseman with the best all around ability, the second place player even if unanimously voted 2nd obviously cannot win. Yet the mechanics are vital all the same as each nominating writer has to have 5 defenseman listed.
Additionally, the ‘all around ability’ is mentioned because it’s important to be aware that offensive contributions are just as important as their defensive contributions. One component does not out way the other in these criteria, as the Norris Trophy is not awarded to the Defender with the Best Defensive Stats, and likewise is it not awarded to the Defender with the Most Offensive Points. It’s imperative to note that one component does not out way the other, because as we attempt to put our emotions aside this will be one of the most difficult to do as each and every voter will have in their mind the words “defense man”, and what that phrase means to them. Placing an emphasis on defense would be weighting the criteria when in fact both are equally considered. For example, if the rating system for the criteria were as simple as 1 to 10 for Offense, and 1 to 10 for Defense, a Player with a 10 for Defense and 3 for Offense would be a said to have a better ‘all around ability’ than a Player with 10 for Offense and 1 for Defense because obviously 13 is greater than 11. While the system isn’t as simple as numerically assigning a value to each facet of the game try to weight the statistics as equally as possible.
Let’s take a look at some statistics for 7 Defenders, all of which have been nominated for the Norris Trophy. These players in alphabetical order are:
Dan Boyle (SJS)
Drew Doughty (LAK)
Mike Green (WSH)
Duncan Keith (CHI)
Nicklas Lidstrom (DET)
Chris Pronger (PHI)
Shea Weber (NSH)
The above stats have been sorted by Points to provide you with a general idea of how a player has done through the course of the season until March 30th 2010. Below is a modified table to provide you with an idea of their average contributions per game.
The final column is a statistic for RPPT, which I’ve created to use for Relative Points per Playing Time. This is a fairly simple equation that takes their established points per game, breaks it down to their averaged points per minute, then compares each player based on the same amount of playing time. In this instance I used 25 minutes for each player. This was done because there was a range of about 4 minutes between the least and most ice time, which is roughly 20% more playing time in most cases. In this manner we are able to speculate, if I played each defender for the exact same amount of time, what should I expect regarding offensive production. This is a more accurate gauge based on offensive production while the player is on ice. The offensive stats are fairly self explanatory.
The above stats are still sorted by Points because the data was used in equations referencing that specific order. These statistics are intended to give you an idea of the player’s defensive contributions. I have included Penalty Minutes and Team Penalty Kill Percentage, because while we are looking at a player’s defensive contribution the PIMs can be used to represent how much of a potential liability a player can is to their team while in the penalty box. Below is a modified table to provide you with an idea of their average contributions per game.
The PIPK or Penalty Impact versus Team’s Penalty Kill was created to give you an idea of how much their penalty minutes negatively affect their team. The higher the number the worse the impact on their team is, due to their team’s ability to kill the ensuing penalty. The result is what portion of their minutes potentially results in a goal against, obviously the more penalties you commit the higher of a liability you are.
The RVR or Risk versus Reward, was created to be a comparison of the number of giveaways that player has to their number of takeaways. An attempt to see how many times a player has lost the puck and how many times they have stolen the puck. Essentially establishing how responsible a player is with the puck. Like before, the higher the number, the more of a risk a player is to their team. A takeaway is not awarded if the puck is immediately, IE the same play, taken away after a giveaway.
|Player||Val OG||Val D||Total GVT|
The next statistics are a little more complicated, but attempt to create the value of a player, in goals, above what a replacement player would have contributed. This is goals versus threshold and can be better explained with a quick search. This statistic attempts to easily quantify what I did at the beginning of this article (offense is worth up to X and defense is worth up to Y).
After looking at all these statistics, we should now have a pretty solid picture of who the real contenders for the Norris Trophy are and it comes down to the two players almost everyone is talking about:
OFFENSE: Trailing only Mike Green in Offense, Keith is among the premier offensive minded defenseman.
DEFENSE: One of the more responsible players in his own end regarding controlling the puck (giving it up and taking it away), Keith plays solid positional defense blocking a considerable amount of shots, but not being overly physical. Unfortunately this indicates he would and has struggled against more physical teams which are evidenced in his plus/minus and other stats.
OFFENSE: He has the most Offensive output by a substantial margin and has consistently produced for the past few seasons. This is also evidenced by his average points per game and his solid plus/minus rating. He stands a cut above the rest offensively.
DEFENSE: Overall Green still contributes more physically and with shot blocks than all but 2 of the other nominees, which makes him the 3rd highest contributor defensively, even more so over Keith. This comes as a surprise as Keith is touted as being the better defenseman. Unfortunately, either because of, or in light of, his offensive contributions, Green is still a higher risk with the puck when it comes to giveaways.
Now let us look at the other defenders who I don’t perceive statistically are actual contenders. Doughty, is a significantly higher liability with the puck than Green, and he also contributes less offensively and defensively clearly putting him behind both Green and Keith. Pronger contributes the most defensively, but is penalty prone and doesn’t contribute to the same caliber offensively as the other players in the list. Dan Boyle and Shea Weber, while both good defenseman, can’t really be seen as contenders given that they fall into the back of the pack regarding all around contributions. Nicklas Lidstrom, one of the greatest defenseman of all time is still the most reliable player with the puck and still contributes some offensively, but again his all around numbers put him statistically in the back of the pack. It appears his long run as the top defenseman is over, probably for good.
In summation, while Keith is a solid all around defenseman and good with the puck, he’s not the best defensively minded defense man, and statistically he contributes less than Mike Green on both sides of the puck. Both Keith and Green still fall behind Pronger then Weber, when it comes to defensive contributions and who you would want as a traditional defensive defense man. Yet they still contribute enough defensively to make a significant impact in the game, while contributing substantially more offensively. At the end of it all… the statistics and play of Mike Green simply cannot be ignored as the best all around defenseman as he leads all defenders by a considerable margin offensively, and yet is still among the top defenseman regarding his contributions in the defensive zone.
Stigmas aside, if you look at the numbers as we just did and consider the play over the entire course of this season, there is simply no way you could vote for anyone but Mike Green as the defenseman “who best demonstrates the Greatest All-Around Ability as a Defenseman.”