Should Ryan Suter be considered the front-runner for the Norris?


(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota blueliner Ryan Suter spends a lot of time on the ice. The Wisconsin native has logged more than 30 minutes of ice time in 11 of the 23 games played for the Wild this season and currently leads the league in ice time per game (29:32), a full two minutes more than Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson (27:31). Some think this makes Suter the Norris Trophy favorite, but it is going to take more than a ton of minutes to win the league’s top defenseman award.

The last time a defenseman skated at least 29 minutes per contest (minimum 70 games) was more than a decade ago, when Adrian Aucoin logged 2118 minutes over 73 games for the New York Islanders during his 2002-03 campaign. Nicklas Lidstrom also hit the mark that year, skating 2406 minutes in 82 games for the Detroit Red Wings, earning him the Norris Trophy.

In all, there have been eight seasons in which a defenseman averaged 29 or more minutes, but just four have made the cut as a Norris finalist. Boston’s Ray Borque came in third on the ballot after scoring 13 goals and 42 points during the 1998-99 season, and three others won the award: Al MacInnis (1998-99), Chris Pronger (1999-2000) and the aforementioned Lindstrom.

The other four seasons did not get much support in the Norris voting. Brian Leetch had more than 29 minutes a night in 1998-99 (29:52) and 2000-01 (29:21), but was not a finalist either year. Neither was Chris Pronger in 2001-02 (29:28) or Aucoin in 2002-03.

So if playing almost half the game doesn’t make you a lock for the league’s best blueliner, what does? Scoring and plus/minus.

Not surprisingly, it appears that a majority of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association cast their ballots based on how many points a blueliner scores in the season. Going back to 1997-98, the earliest that the NHL provides its scoring statistics online, only Zdeno Chara has been out of the top 10 in points for defensemen – and he wasn’t out by much, ranking 12th. Since then, the last four winners have all been either first or second in scoring among blueliners. Suter’s 14 points – all assists – currently ranks 12th.

Then there is plus/minus. Despite its flaws, plus/minus continues to be widely used as a barometer for defensive play by the voters. All but three winners since 1997-98 have had a plus/minus below double digits: Lidstrom was a plus-9 in 2000-01, Rob Blake had a minus-3 in 1997-8 and Lidstrom won his seventh Norris with a minus-2 in 2010-11. You would have to go back to when the “Secretary of Defense” Rod Langway won the first of his two Norris Trophies to find another winner with a plus/minus lower than plus-10. Suter is currently Even in plus/minus.

The season is just exiting its first quarter, giving the Wild plenty of time to help Suter rack up the points and increase his plus/minus to please the PHWA voters. But until then, expect someone else to leave the ceremony with the hardware.

Season

Norris Winner

Points

Plus/minus

2012-13

P.K. Subban

38

12

2011-12

Erik Karlsson

78

16

2010-11

Nicklas Lidstrom

62

-2

2009-10

Duncan Keith

69

21

2008-09

Zdeno Chara

50

23

2007-08

Nicklas Lidstrom

70

40

2006-07

Nicklas Lidstrom

62

40

2005-06

Nicklas Lidstrom

80

21

2003-04

Scott Niedermayer

54

20

2002-03

Nicklas Lidstrom

62

40

2001-02

Nicklas Lidstrom

59

13

2000-01

Nicklas Lidstrom

71

9

1999-00

Chris Pronger

62

52

1998-99

Al MacInnis

62

33

1997-98

Rob Blake

50

-3

 

greenberg
Neil Greenberg, when he isn’t watching the games, analyzes advanced statistics in the NHL and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd. Follow him on Twitter: @ngreenberg.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.

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