Thursday, April 23, 2009

An objective take on the Norris race

Almost every year the announcement of the Norris Trophy finalists ignites the age-old debate: should the trophy go to the highest-scoring, or the most-feared, or the most-respected defenseman in the league?

This season we have a particularly interesting trio of finalists. Mike Green is shattering scoring records but has a mediocre defensive game. Zdeno Chara is a dominant physical force, but scores fewer points for a better team. Nicklas Lidstrom is the incumbent, a future Hall of Famer and captain of the defending Cup champions.

If you're not a numbers person, skip to the bottom to find out which of these had the most Norris-worthy profile in 2008-09.


Before we get into the numbers supporting each candidate, let's remember the vague guidelines that the NHL provides for voters:

The James Norris Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.

Much like the Second Amendment, that phrase about "all-round ability" is just vague enough to allow for a wide range of interpretations. In order to try and capture the spirit of that description, I've set up a balanced system of measurement: three general, equally-weighted categories which isolate important parts of each blueliner's game.

The idea here is that the number of categories, and the equal weight assigned to each, will compensate for specialization -- the candidate cannot simply rely on one part of his game to carry him through. Only someone with truly excellent "all-round ability" would do well in this system.
Thanks to and for the numbers.
Defensive Ability

Chara 169, Green 86, Lidstrom 43

Blocked Shots
Chara 123, Green 110, Lidstrom 67

Green 49, Chara 28, Lidstrom 26

SH Time on Ice
Lidstrom 3:27, Chara 3:21, Green 2:28

Quality of Competition
Lidstrom 0.09, Chara 0.06, Green 0.00

Lidstrom +31, Green +24, Chara +23

Offensive Ability

Green 31-42-73, Lidstrom 16-43-59, Chara 19-31-50

Green 243, Chara 216, Lidstrom 180

Shooting Accuracy
Green 12.8%, Lidstrom 8.9%, Chara 8.8%

Green 95, Chara 54, Lidstrom 46

PP Time on Ice
Green 5:22, Lidstrom 3:55, Chara 3:46

Power-play production
Green 18-20-38, Lidstrom 10-23-33, Chara 11-17-28


Time on Ice
Chara 26:04, Green 25:45, Lidstrom 24:49

Penalties Taken
Lidstrom 14, Chara 18, Green 26

Penalties Drawn
Green 17, Chara 9, Lidstrom 4

Wears the C
Lidstrom and Chara Yes, Green No

Chara 3, Green 0, Lidstrom 0

Quality of Teammates
Chara 0.03, Green 0.12, Lidstrom 0.38

If we assign 3 points for first place, 2 for second, and 1 for third, we get the following results:

Green 39
Chara 37
Lidstrom 32

Much as it pains me to admit, it looks like Green has a legit claim as the most well-rounded defenseman in the league this season. The balance was tipped by his underrated defensive numbers, including very respectable totals in hits, blocked shots, and takeaways. Chara simply didn't produce at a high enough level offensively, especially considering his team scored more goals overall.

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