Kolupanowich: The NHL needs an award for Best Defensive Defenseman

By: Tim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor
@TimKolupan_

The finalists for the Norris Trophy were announced on Thursday and this season Zdeno Chara, Erik Karlsson and Shea Weber are up for the honor.

While they were all fantastic this season and certainly deserving, it’s a shame there are a large group of players who will never be recognized with even a nomination, despite their importance to the game. The defensemen who look after their own zone like a mama bear does her cub deserve as much appreciation as the others. Their position is the hardest to master, they work the hardest and give up the most for their teams.

Defenseman Dan Girardi has been instrumental towards the success of the New York Rangers and has been the most consistent mainstay on the NY blue line for the past several seasons. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

Anyone who has watched the Rangers play the past few seasons knows what an impact Dan Girardi has had. Karlsson may have put up the glamorous point totals, but Girardi was much better in his own zone than Karlsson and, while this may sound redundant, the whole point of a defenseman is to play defense.

There are three awards given solely to forwards, three for goalies and just one for defensemen. There is a trophy for both the top offensive forwards and the best defensive one, but none for the best defensive defenseman. There are countless players that fit in to the stay-at-home or defensive defenseman category who have had major impacts on the teams they’ve played for, not to mention fantastic NHL careers (see fellow Executive Editor Jeff Blay’s article, The art of the defensive defenseman via The Good Point.com, where I also provide some commentary).

Even awards that are available to players at any position are rarely won by blueliners. The Hart Trophy for league MVP has been awarded to a defenseman just 12 times since 1923-24 and only two, Bobby Orr and Chris Pronger, since 1943-44. A defenseman has received the Lady Byng just four times since 1924-25 with the latest being Red Kelly in 1953-54. Ten defensemen has won the Calder Trophy since 1936-37 and only Bobby Orr has won the Ted Lindsay Award.

They should keep the Norris Trophy as is, awarded to “the defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position,” but create a new award for the player judged to be the best in his own zone. All-around would be kept to include a mixture of both offense and defense, but another awarding players who aren’t in the limelight by recording high point totals would highlight a side of the sport few take the time to notice.

Just how the Hart Trophy has slowly evolved from being awarded to the most valuable player to the best player, the Norris Trophy is now only awarded to one of the top scoring defensemen.

Since Bobby Orr revolutionized the position as a rookie in 1967-68, the Norris Trophy has been awarded to the top scoring blueliner 22 of 43 occasions. In that span, Rod Langway is the only true defense-minded defenseman to win the Norris; he finished 46th in scoring among defensemen in 1982-83 and 43rd the next season. Outside of him, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is the lowest scoring blueliner to win the award, finishing 12th in 2008-09. The winners have finished on average fourth in scoring among defensemen; second if you don’t include Langway.

The award would be named after someone known for their work in their own zone, so let’s go with Scott Stevens. A fierce competitor and the hardest hitter of all time, Stevens captained three Stanley Cup winners in New Jersey. From 1982-83 to 1993-94, he averaged 56 points a year, but didn’t become the player he’s remembered as until he focused all his attention to his own end and from 1994-95 to his final season in 2003-04. He averaged just under 24 points a season in that span, but that’s when he was at his best.

The finalists for this season’s Scott Stevens Award are:

Dan Girardi – Teammate Henrik Lundqvist is up for the Hart Trophy, but Girardi deserves a lot of credit for The King’s stellar numbers. He not only keeps forwards and pucks from bombarding Lundqvist with his highly physical style of play, he rarely takes a penalty, only spending 20 minutes in the box this season. He is one of just two players, Brent Seabrook of Chicago is the other, to register at least 350 combined hits and blocked shot in the past three seasons.

Josh Gorges – With Andrei Markov missing the majority of the season, Gorges became the Habs’ best defensemen. The steady blueliner led the NHL in blocked shots by a wide margin, 51 more than Brett Clark of Tampa Bay. He was also second in the league among those who played a full season with 3:53 spent shorthanded a game and set a career high with a plus-14 on a team that finished with a minus-14 goal differential.

(Cassie Storring/CM)

Ladislav Smid – The Czech native is a steady blueline presence on a very young team built for offense. He had 184 hits and 184 blocks this season and finished second on the Oilers with a plus-4, one of just four full-time Oilers to register a positive rating. He was their top penalty killer, playing 3:22 shorthanded a game, tenth in the NHL.

Who do you think was the top defensive defenseman in the NHL? Visit our Facebook page to submit your vote.

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  1. […] goals in these situations as well as against strong opposition. Tim Kolupanowich created his own Scott Stevens Award for the group of defencemen he feels should be given more […]

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