It’s early in the National Hockey League season to be touting candidates for the various end-of-season awards, but that hasn’t deterred a couple of observers from weighing in with their picks at the one-quarter mark. And their choices for the Norris Trophy candidates reflect the ongoing debate over how to determine the best defenceman in the NHL.
TSN’s Scott Cullen and Dan Rosen of nhl.com each selected their three candidates and the result was six different names.
Cullen is the fantasy editor at TSN, which might explain why he likes Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, the 2012 Norris winner, with 2013 winner P.K. Subban and St. Louis’s Alex Pietrangelo as the other finalists.
Cullen is dazzled by Karlsson’s offensive numbers — he led NHL defencemen with seven goals and 22 points through Thursday’s games — but ignores the fact the Swede is minus-2 and has been a minus player for most of his career. Karlsson hardly meets the criteria set by the NHL, which says the Norris should go to the player who has demonstrated the greatest all-around ability at the position.
Take that definition into account and there’s no question Subban, with his 19 points and plus-7 rating heading into Friday’s game in Washington, is a worthier candidate than Karlsson.
Rosen offers a solid first choice in Minnesota’s Ryan Suter, provides a new name to the conversation in Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes, and goes deep into left field to find San Jose’s Marc-Édouard Vlasic.
Suter’s offensive skills are adequate, but he shines in his own zone and eats up minutes. Ekman-Larsson is a name to watch since he’s only 22. And while most teams would welcome a steady defenceman like Montreal native Vlasic, no part of his game reaches the Norris level.
One criticism of Subban’s selection last season as the Norris Trophy winner was the fact he wasn’t part of Montreal’s penalty-killing unit. It is only in the past two weeks that Subban has added penalty-killing to his list of duties.
“I started using him on the PK because the last month, as far as we’re concerned, he’s playing his best hockey,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “He’s dependable defensively. We really like the way he’s playing 5-on-5, and when a guy is solid defensively we’re not afraid to use him in any situation.”
Therrien added: “I don’t want to change P.K. Subban with all his passion, all his intensity and the way he’s going to control the puck and shoot it. That’s the type of hockey he was playing for us last season.”
Subban said he welcomes the opportunity to kill penalties.
“I did it two years ago and we had one of the best penalty-killing records in the league,” he said. “It makes things easier for me because you stay involved in the game. We had some games earlier in the season where we took three or four penalties in the first period and you’re sitting on the bench all that time, and it’s hard to get back into the game.”
Speaking of getting back into the game, Therrien said he was encouraged by defenceman Alexei Emelin’s return after missing seven months with a major knee injury.
“We’re bringing him along slowly,” the coach said. “His timing isn’t 100 per cent, but he’s getting there. In his first game, we were looking at 15 minutes and he played 16. The second game he played a little more. I don’t think he’s ready to play 22, 23 minutes, but he’ll get there.”
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One criticism of P.K. Subban’s selection last season as the Norris Trophy winner was the fact he wasn’t part of Montreal’s penalty-killing unit. It is only in the past two weeks that Subban has added penalty-killing to his list of duties.
Photograph by: Jean Levac, Ottawa Citizen/Postmedia News