The James Norris Memorial Trophy, more commonly referred to as the Norris Trophy, is an award that is given annually to the NHL’s best defenceman since the 1953-54 season. The trophy is named after James E. Norris, who owned the Detroit Red Wings from 1932 to 1952, and has been won by 26 individual skaters since its creation.
The award has been given out to some of the game’s most decorated players such as Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, and Nicklas Lidstrom. In more recent years, some of the games elite players who are on track for Hall-of-Fame careers have taken home the award in players like Adam Fox, Roman Josi and Victor Hedman.
All Mentioned Have Big Offensive Numbers
As mentioned, the players who have won the award, both in recent years and well into the past, are all incredible talents, some of the best the games ever seen. However, almost all of them have one thing in common, and that is the year(s) they won the award, they all put up big numbers offensively.
That isn’t to say some of them aren’t incredible defensively as well, as many of them are. Instead, what I am getting at is the fact that it is almost, if not completely impossible, to win the award unless you put up north of 50 points. This often leaves some other very quality defencemen out of consideration, as they either aren’t as capable offensively or are simply just not relied upon to produce as big of numbers as some of their peers. These players deserve to be recognized, and the solution for the NHL to do so would be rather simple.
Defensive Defenceman Award Needed
While it is stated that the Norris Trophy goes to the player who is the NHL’s ‘top defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position’, that isn’t entirely the case. As mentioned above, offence seems to factor into the award much more than defensive play. That is where the NHL could and should step in to fix the problem.
A defensive defencemen award would give credit to just how great some of the league’s top shutdown players on the back end are. A great throwback example is Scott Stevens, who was and still is regarded as one of the better defencemen to play the game, yet never won a single Norris Trophy.
A more recent example would be Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks. Though his play has slowed down these past few years, he was regarded as the league’s premier shutdown blueliner for a long time. Despite this, he never finished better than 11th in voting for the Norris. Instead, he watched his longtime teammate in Brent Burns take home the award in 2016-17 after a 76-point season. There is no denying it was a great year for Burns, but if the Sharks were ever in a situation that season where they were up a goal late in the third, it would be Vlasic who they’d put out to defend the lead. That should be rewarded too.
There are several other great shutdown blueliners in the game today. Players like Jaccob Slavin, Jonas Brodin, Mattias Ekholm and Chris Tanev are all fantastic at their role, yet Slavin is the only one to finish inside the top 10 in Norris voting.
Some Defensive Players Hold More Value
While they don’t get nearly the same recognition due to their non-flashy styles of play, there are plenty of general managers throughout the league who would prefer certain shutdown defencemen over some players that are often in the Norris Trophy conversation. That is due to the fact that, despite their great offensive abilities which gain them the attention, not all of them are great when it comes to defending.
This isn’t meant to take away from the great offensive talent that certain blueliners in the league possess. Fans tend to be drawn more to the flashy players, and it helps grow the game. The Norris Trophy should remain, and should continue to be given to the types of players who post big numbers. With that being said, the steady, stay-at-home defenders should be recognized too, and the league should create an award to make that happen.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.