The Wild really has only two hopes of winning any individual player hardware this season. Josh Harding for the Masterton, a trophy no one wants to win and a trophy no player has won twice in a row (the Stars’ Rich Peverly put it nicely when he told Sports Illustrated he doesn’t “want to have attention for something that happened that isn’t good.”), and the Norris Trophy. One of those chances vanished today as the NHL announced the 2013-14 James Norris Memorial Trophy finalists.
I expect to have treason charges brought against me before the puck drops on Game 6 tonight, but I don’t think the finalists are bad choices. More to the point, I don’t think that Ryan Suter got snubbed.
There’s no doubt that Suter’s an elite defenseman and he probably got his fair share of votes for the Norris. He’s certainly in the running for team MVP this year. (Assuming that Josh Bryzkuemperov isn’t eligible.) He held the team together through injuries to star forwards Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Mikael Granlund, as well as injuries to the defensive corps with Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon, and Keith Ballard all going down at different times with injuries.
But that doesn’t make him a Norris finalist. To the point, because I don’t think many people would say he belongs on the finalist list over Keith or Chara, it doesn’t mean he should have beat out his former defensive partner, Weber.
Nashville didn’t make the playoffs, but Weber had an outstanding season on a team who had massive goaltending issues with Pekka Rinne missing all but 24 games (they didn’t have Josh Bryzkuemperov to bail them out) and troubles on offense. While they may have scored slightly more goals per game than Minnesota in the regular season, Nashville’s goals for/against ratio during 5-on-5 was significantly worse — .88 compared to Minnesota’s 1.15 — pointing to a larger job for the team’s top defenseman.
Weber also led all NHL defenseman in scoring with 23 goals and set a franchise record for points from a defenseman with 56. Those 56 points led the Predators and he finished only one goal behind the team’s leading scorer, Craig Smith.
Norris voting often leans toward strong defensemen who also provide offense, agree or disagree on the criteria of a top defenseman, offensive impact is a factor in voting. In Weber Nashville has one of the stronger defenseman in the league, who also provides offensive punch.
By contrast Suter ranked 17th among defensemen in points with 43 (Keith had 61, Weber 56, and Chara 40). He was tied for 33rd in goals with 8 and ranked 31st in shots.
There’s a strong case for Suter and many voters undoubtedly made that case. None of the three finalists played all 82 games, while Suter did. He led the league in ATOI with an average of 29:24, over two minutes ahead of second place Erik Karlsson. We can go on about his importance to the team and how sound his game is defensively (the guy, Game 5 of the playoffs excluded, almost never makes a mistake) but there were a number of good candidates this year. Just take a look at 15 voter ballots here, the Norris proved to be one of the most divisive categories this year.
I would have had Suter on my ballot in place of Weber if I had one, but no outrage necessary, diehards. All three of the finalists had great seasons and no trophy takes away what Suter brings to the team.