There weren’t many – if any, people betting on Adam Fox to be the 2020-21 Norris Trophy (top defenseman) winner before the season started. Even with Fox’s stellar play throughout the season, most thought it wasn’t his time yet. The trophy is traditionally awarded to more seasoned defensemen who’ve proven their talent, grit, and consistency on the backend over the course of five or six years.
However, Fox’s name was called this past June 29 after his second NHL season when he beat out former Norris Trophy winner (2018), now two-time Stanley Cup Champion, and former Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) winner Victor Hedman, along with Colorado Avalanche standout Cale Makar. What exactly was the turning point when Professional Hockey Writers Association voters started to see Fox as the frontrunner, or that he deserved to get the nod over the other two defensive stalwarts?
Numbers aren’t the only component that makes up a Norris Trophy winner, but they do tell a tale. If nothing else, they’re a starting point to find out who should be called the leagues’ top defensemen.
Fox finished second in NHL scoring by defensemen with 47 points in 55 games. Hedman finished two points behind Fox, playing in 54 games. Makar had the third-most points of the three finalists with 44. However, he only played in 44 games. Throwing style of play out the window, you’d have to give the edge to Makar when it comes to points. (Tyson Barrie of the Edmonton Oilers led the league and had 48 points in 56 games.)
Time on ice (TOI) is a stat that’s held in pretty high regard for defensemen. Some defenseman can play almost half of some games. It means you’re playing in all situations, and the team relies heavily on you to help keep the puck out of your own net, make plays up the ice and even put points on the board.
Fox ranked 11th in the league among defensemen averaging 24:42 TOI per game. Hedman led the trio of finalists in TOI as the seventh-ranked defenseman in the NHL with 25:03 TOI per game. Makar rounded out the group ranked 16th in the league among defensemen with 24:19 TOI. We’ll call this one a wash.
Some, especially those who are more into analytics than “older” types of stats, consider plus/minus to be dated or even obsolete. I beg to differ. I think it’s still an important gauge of what a player contributes to his team. Sure, like many stats, it’s not perfect, or the end all be all, but it does mean something. Perhaps more than many give it credit for these days.
So let’s take a look at how Fox, Hedman, and Makar shaped up this past season. Fox led the three finalists with plus-19, Makar followed close behind with plus-17, and Hedman was third among them with plus-5. Neither of the three made the top 10 in this category, with the league leader being plus-30.
Those are the three main stats I like to look at to gauge where a player, especially a defenseman, is at. However, as I mentioned before, winning the Norris is about quite a few other things as well. All three of the finalists were relatively even in these categories for the most part. Since I wasn’t paying enough attention to Hedman and Makar throughout the season to give a fair assessment on the “intangibles” they may or may not have brought to their respective teams, let’s focus on Fox; and dive deeper into where he may have taken the lead and gotten over the hump.
THW Rangers Collegues’ Thoughts
I posed the question of at what point during the season do you think Fox may have taken the lead or won the Norris to my THW Rangers colleagues, and they had this to say.
- Sean Crimmins – “Not sure if it was a particular sequence [of plays] as opposed to him regularly making incredible plays and having such a large impact [throuhgout the entire season.]”
- Brian Abate – “He had a really long point streak from late march to early April, but I agree with Sean, I think the most impressive thing about his play was his consistency at both ends.”
- Brendan Azoff – “I remember one shift, I can’t remember what team it was against, where he dominated the puck and got numerous chances off his blue line moves and feeds.”
- Tom Castro – “Agreed. Just spectactularly consistent. Doesn’t wow you like a Makar with his skating, just quietly piles up points and allows the Rangers to outscore opponents when he’s on the ice.”
- Rachel Nones – “Can’t forget his Vezina worthy performance.”
Rachel is referring to this amazing play. I can’t disagree with anything my colleagues said. For me, it’s the 12 game point streak Brian alluded to. The timing of it might have cemented the deal. It happened from March 17 to April 8 and helped boost the Rangers into contention for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Divison. Ultimately they fell short, but the run Fox had during that span was phenomenal. Fox had 22 points in 12 games, including a career-high five-point night. He was also plus-10 during that streak, so it wasn’t just a bunch of power-play points.
A Special Season
Whether you agree with Fox being voted the Norris Trophy winner or not, one thing for sure is that he had a special season. Here are some things to keep in mind. Fox is only the second player in NHL history to be awarded the Norris Trophy in one of his first two seasons. The other was Bobby Orr.
The Rangers have been an organization for almost 100 years and are one of the most storied franchises in all of professional sports. Fox is only the fourth Rangers defenseman to win the Norris Trophy (Brian Leetch-1997, Harry Howell-1967, Doug Harvey-1962).
If there’s a play, sequence of plays, or game span that you felt did the trick, send me a comment below. I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!
Scott Blair is an author and journalist from Los Angeles, CA, by way of Detroit, MI. Uniquely diverse experiences have shaped Scott’s life in both of those places he calls home. He is now traveling the world, learning and growing as a human and a writer. He was a professional hockey player and then turned to the arts, becoming an actor for about 15 years. His passions turned to poetry, prose, politics, and journalism when he got tired of the Hollywood machine and what it represents. Scott is available for interviews and welcomes questions and topic ideas.