It “is an annual award given to the defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”
Said definition belongs to the James Norris Memorial Trophy, given annually to the NHL’s top defenseman — and this year, in the risk of sounding bias, it should go to none other than Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. After all, from his defensive prowess to his work on special teams to his physical abilities, Doughty certainly has more than enough reasons not to walk out of Las Vegas this coming June without some hardware.
Along with Doughty, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is another favourite to win the Norris. Already a two-time winner of the award, the Sens blueliner will be looking to three-peat at season’s end. But not so fast.
Whether it’s an east-coast bias or not emphasizing “defenseman” in “league’s top defenseman”, Drew Doughty has rightfully earned to be called a Norris winner. Heck, if the NHL stressed more defense for the Norris criteria and allowed players from the forward position to be nominated as well, then Los Angeles’s No. 8 would certainly be given a run for his money from teammate Anze Kopitar. But that’s an argument for another day.
This time last year, I was admittedly unfair towards Doughty. There were a plethora of outings where the blueliner looked sluggish, having given up on the play and yours truly had called him out for it. In fairness, though, his ice time literally covered half the games plenty of times and was pretty good considering how much he played — never mind that his performance earned him a Norris nomination. Said nod last year was deserved but not as much as a win would have been. In the same breath, Karlsson certainly deserved his win with Ottawa’s historic streak that got them into the playoffs in 2015.
Erik Karlsson is a phenomenal player. Regardless of how the Ottawa Senators perform, Karlsson can be counted on to, like Doughty, bring his A-game on any given night. However, as strong as he is offensively, his defensive skill, with all due respect, pales in comparison to that of Doughty’s, who is even one of the strongest D-men in the neutral zone, making him one of the best 200-foot players in the game at any position.
Having already won two Stanley Cups, Doughty’s need to win a Norris isn’t necessary. With that said, it would be nonetheless gratifying to see the 26-year-old be recognized as the league’s top defenseman in such an illustrious way. He may not put up the offensive numbers like Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey or Nicklas Lidstrom did but he definitely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath — and that is not to be taken lightly.
For eight seasons, we have watched Drew Doughty grow not only into one of the game’s greatest players but into a cornerstone of the Los Angeles Kings franchise, a figure who is already regarded by some as the greatest blueliner in franchise history — still just 26 years old.
In addition, while it may not count towards this season, Doughty’s contributions last year in the wake of the Slava Voynov matter in addition to the off-season departure of Willie Mitchell is just one of countless reasons why the blueliner is as revered as he is in Los Angeles. There may be less drama on the back end this season but the Kings have still had their issues nonetheless and Drew Doughty, once again, has been there as the rock of the defensive corps by not only breaking up sure scoring opportunities but helping the likes of Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez become better D-men themselves.
Erik Karlsson’s 29:04 of average ice time leads all NHL blueliners, but Drew Doughty is close behind — third-overall with 28:05. Doughty leads Karlsson with more shifts per game, however, with 33.6 to 26.9.
On even strength, Doughty has proven to be the bigger asset on the ice despite less points. This season, the Kings blueliner is a plus-14 while Karlsson boasts a modest plus-two. As well and good as those numbers are for Doughty, however, his numbers in the special teams department gives the veteran more noise in his push for the Norris.
Of his 11 goals this season, Doughty has scored eight of those on the power play, which currently ranks him fourth-overall in said category. In addition, Doughty brings his A-game when his team is shorthanded, blocking 16 shots on the penalty kill next to Karlsson’s three. Doughty has also manned 2:59 on the penalty kill, which ranks him first on his team and 21st overall. Karlsson has logged 1:11. So, with all due respect to the latter, if he isn’t good enough to play on the PK, then winning a trophy for the league’s best defenseman doesn’t seem logical. Luckily for Drew Doughty, he doesn’t have anything to worry about in said regard.
What Doughty brings to the table on any given night is nothing new. After all, these contributions are what helped the Los Angeles Kings win two Stanley Cups and, even on the international level, Canada to consecutive Olympic gold medals.
While this writer does put plenty of positive emphasis on shot blocks, Ross A. of SB Nation’s Silver Seven has a different theory, and it makes sense.
If players are blocking more shots, it means that the puck isn’t in the offensive zone. With that said, Erik Karlsson has 114 blocked shots thus far. Drew Doughty has 71. So, as effective as the latter is in keeping the puck out of harm’s way, he spends more time being an effective puck-mover and further inflating the Kings’ strong knack for puck possession. Speaking of which, Doughty has committed 73 giveaways this season to Karlsson’s 67 and while that may seem like Ottawa’s D-man holds the advantage, it proves — again, according to Ross A. — that Doughty simply has the puck more. Even Karlsson’s coach, Dave Cameron, once made a statement in Doughty’s favour, and note the emphasis:
“Elite players make more turnovers because they have the puck more.”
Even when he ended his contract holdout in 2011, Drew Doughty took the small margin of error given to him by frustrated Kings fans and thrived in the face of criticism. His offensive numbers have dipped but few in Los Angeles seem to care, and why would they? Doughty is, as head coach Darryl Sutter put it, “head and shoulders better than every other defensemen in the league,” and while Shea Weber, Duncan Keith and Ryan Suter all deserve notable mention as well, this writer, again, in the risk of sounding bias, would have to agree.
Sutter strongly endorses Doughty's Norris campaign (and more quality quotes from today's morning skate): https://t.co/MrnAvvAH8n
— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) February 18, 2016
For those voters who are in bed by the time most Kings games start, that is more than justifiable… assuming this were 1990. But in a day and age of technology so advanced that we can get access to any highlight and any stat at the touch of a handheld screen in the middle of the night, going to bed early does not give anyone a reason to ignore what is truly wonderful on the west coast. Heck, to put it simply, “I’m in bed by 10″ is the modern-day equivalent to “the dog ate my homework” and the homework was the study of canine digestion. It just doesn’t fly. So, let’s give Drew Doughty his rightful due because if Corey Perry can win the Hart, then there is absolutely no reason as to why Drew Doughty should not win the Norris. But above all else, the Norris Trophy must go to the league’s best defenseman.
It is just that simple.