On the first day of New York Rangers training camp, Adam Fox stepped onto the ice with the nameplate “Norris.” It was a humorous yet memorable moniker given to Fox by his teammates, who wanted to remind everyone that the Norris Trophy winner from 2020-21 is indeed a Ranger.
And during the Rangers media availability, Fox was asked, “The big question is what do you do for an encore?” That is where the conversation around the reigning Norris Trophy winner starts, heading into a crucial campaign for the state of the Rangers organization. Can Fox, who was brilliant last year, continue to grow, adapt, and be a perennial Norris candidate?
The 23-year-old New York native was coy with his response, stating, “Hopefully the same thing.” Boy, would another Norris-caliber season do wonders for this Rangers team who has their sights set on their first postseason berth since 2017? But the odds of repeating are undoubtedly stacked against him. The chances of him even equaling his production the season following a Norris Trophy is not something Blueshirts fans may want to see.
Looking Back at Past Norris Trophy Winners
The last repeat winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy was Nicklas Lidstrom, who won it three consecutive times from 2006-2008, following up his first three-peat from 2001-2003. But Lidstrom is the anomaly. Most defensemen who win the award have down years, by their standards, the following season.
Duncan Keith won the Norris in 2010 and 2014, and his magnificent seasons were followed by down campaigns both times. In 2009-10, Keith had 69 points in 82 games and a plus-21 rating for the Blackhawks en-route to his first Norris Trophy. The following season, Keith tallied 45 points in 82 games and a minus-1 rating. The same scenario unfolded three seasons later when a 61-point campaign in 2013-14 won Keith a second Norris, but the following season saw his totals drop back down to 45 points.
I used Evolving Hockey’s player card tool to assess his play during and following Norris Trophy seasons for those wanting to look past the offensive stats and dive into the metrics. Keith scored a 98 overall during the 2009-10 season, followed by a 77 overall score, including a drop in his defensive metrics from an 83 to a 28.
This trend holds true for Norris winners like Mark Giordano, Brent Burns, P.K. Subban, Drew Doughty, and Roman Josi. The only two players who seemed to counter the trend were Erik Karlsson (who missed most of his next season with an injury) and Victor Hedman, who analytically was better in 2018-19 than when he won the award in 2017-18.
Why Fox Can Avoid the Post-Norris Slump
Fox enters the 2021-22 NHL season at 23 years old. Unlike his past Norris-winning counterparts, Fox is still developing his all-around game. Josi won it at 29 years old, Giordano won it at 35 years old, Doughty was 26 years old, and Burns was 31 years old. But the best comparison for what to expect from Fox this season is a replica of Subban’s Norris season.
Subban won the Norris at 23 years old during a 48-game lockout-shortened season. Fox, similarly, won the Norris at 22 years old during a COVID-shortened 56-game campaign. Subban tallied 38 points in 42 games, while Fox scored 47 points in 55 games. Both players were dominant over their short seasons.
For Subban, the 2013-14 season saw him maintain his offense with 53 points in 82 games, struggling to play at the same elite level defensively. Fox, who started coming into his own defensively while scoring at a gaudy pace, seems poised to continue growing his offensive game. The difference between the two is the role Fox was forced into on a rebuilding Rangers team, in comparison to the role Subban played on a playoff-bound Montreal Canadiens group.
According to Vince Z. Mercogliano of USA Today Sports, Gallant gave this response when asked about overworking Fox. “We’re not going to put the burden on him to play all special teams and play 30 minutes a night. That’s not going to happen.” This lesser workload will lessen the responsibility on Fox’s shoulders, giving him the ability to excel on both sides of the puck.
Entering just his third NHL season (and first whole NHL campaign), Fox faces the possibility of having his own post-Norris letdown. But he has adjusted to a COVID postponed season, a bubble playoff, no training camp, and a 56-game sprint against strictly divisional foes. With an entire training camp, the best cast of players he has had around him, and a full 82-games to demonstrate his worth, Fox is poised to do what his predecessors have not.
And if the Rangers want to end their postseason drought, they are going to need their number one defenseman to play like Lidstrom did back when he went on his Norris runs. There cannot be a drop in Fox’s performance, which is a heavy ask for a player as young as No. 23.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!