As we approach the midway point of the 2010/11 season, it’s about the time we start looking more heavily at possible awards nominees. Brian and Patrick debate who would take home the Norris as the calendar flips to 2011.
Kris Letang By Brian Huddle
When Sergei Gonchar left the Penguins organization in July of 2010, Ray Shero was unaware of who would anchor his blueline as his team had hopes of more Stanley Cups. As a contingency plan, Shero signed defensemen Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek during the free agent frenzy.
However, in 39 games, Pittsburgh's third-round pick in 2005, Kris Letang, has taken the Penguins backend by storm.
Sitting in third in defenseman scoring behind only future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom and Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien, Letang is off to a tremendous start for the Cup-Contending Penguins.
Letang has taken his game to a new level this season. With some YouTube-worthy checks and his rising point totals, Letang can be considered part of the Penguins’ core. Where Letang has taken a step up is his defensive play. A key part of the Penguins transition game, Letang sits at +19, which is better than both Lidstrom (+1) and Byfuglien (+6), and good for second in all NHL defensemen for plus/minus.
Letang also leads both guys ahead of him in scoring in hits with 76, good for close to two hits a game. This young D-man, in only his fourth NHL season, has become a household name in Pittsburgh. Playing for a Cup Contender this year, Letang has the opportunity to play a big role in a postseason run and forever etch his name in the NHL's history books.
While it helps playing with great players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Letang has taken his game to a level ahead of most others in the NHL.
If I were given a Norris ballot, I'd be marking an ‘X’ next to Kris Letang.
Nicklas Lidstrom By Patrick Hoffman
When talking about Norris Trophy candidates this season, it is easy to mention the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom (Atlanta Thrashers), Kris Letang (Pittsburgh Penguins), John-Michael Liles (Colorado Avalanche) and Dan Boyle (San Jose Sharks).
However, one name that is consistently brought up deserves to win it for the seventh time. The defenseman I am talking about is none other than Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.
In 38 games this season, Lidstrom has 11 goals and 25 assists for 36 points, which is currently second among all NHL defensemen. He’s also added six power play goals and averages 23:32 minutes off ice-time for Mike Babcock and company.
However, when it comes to Lidstrom, it is not all about the statistics. Simply put, this is a defenseman that does everything the right way and has been doing so for his entire career.
Obviously, point-production is part of his forte. Night in and night out, you will spot the 40-year-old defenseman’s name on the score sheet whether it is a goal or an assist. He is the quarterback of the team’s power play and knows how to find the open man.
Secondly, Lidstrom is out there constantly. He plays in all situations for the Wings whether it is even strength, power play, or penalty kill.
He is also one of the league’s best defensive-defenseman. He is usually always in the right position to break up passes, block shots or clear the puck out of the zone. Rarely does Lidstrom get beat in a one-on-one situation and when he does, he seems to find a way to get back into the play and break it up.
While it is hard not to ignore the other candidates – especially since it would be a new winner of the trophy – if Lidstrom keeps up at this current pace, he should be winning the Norris Trophy for the seventh time in his illustrious career.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.