Leading up to the regular season, we’ll be taking a look at some of the favorites for the major awards. Who are the top Norris Trophy candidates for the 2011-12 season? 1. Duncan Keith, Blackhawks
The slick-skating, puck-moving defenseman rightfully won the Norris two years ago. However, Duncan Keith endured a 24-point drop-off in 2010-11 and struggled with consistency – just like the entire Blackhawks club. With a full off-season to re-energize (and no Cup hangover to worry about), look for the ‘Hawks to bounce back in a big way, including Keith. With Brian Campbell, Keith’s power play role will increase a bit. When the Hawks’ lineup is healthy, they are stacked up front. Keith, who is an elite blue-liner, is going to be in a great position to succeed this season in Chicago.
2. Shea Weber, Predators
If there is anyone that is the complete package defensively, it’s Shea Weber. Many consider him the best all-around defenseman in the NHL. Why not? He produces, he dominates, he hits and he leads. Last season, following a 16-goal and 48-point campaign, Weber finished second to Nicklas Lidstrom by just nine points in the Norris voting. The Predators captain could easily exceed his offensive totals from a year ago and has the voters’ attention going into the season. Weber’s also entering a contract year, so don’t expect a drop-off of any sort.
3. Zdeno Chara, Bruins
The 6-foot-9 mountain man has been a Norris finalist in four of the six seasons since the lockout, so it’s hard to NOT consider him one of the favorites for this year. Zdeno Chara led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup last year, so the risk of a Cup hangover is there. But I don’t think it would affect him as much as it could for some others on that team. You know what you’re getting from Chara. He’s an absolute workhorse for the Bruins and sees ice-time in all situations. It’ll be difficult to top his +33 rating from 2010-11, but Chara is undoubtedly a top D-man in this league.
4. Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings
Nick Lidstrom didn’t exactly have a Nick Lidstrom-type season in 2010-11. However, he did put up good numbers and subsequently won the Norris in what some thought was his final go-around. It wasn’t. Lidstrom is back for more and will play a big role for the Red Wings. With Brian Rafalski’s retirement, the Wings captain will shoulder much of the offensive load (despite the Ian White addition), which means his production probably won’t see a drop-off. Lidstrom is still an elite defenseman and Norris candidate, but can he really win a jaw-dropping 8th Norris Trophy?
5. Kris Letang, Penguins
Kris Letang definitely took a big step in the right direction last season, exceeding his previous career-high in points by 17. Some may not see Letang as a legitimate Norris candidate; but if last year was any indication, the more Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin stay healthy, the more it will benefit Letang. (Without No. 87 and 71, Letang had 9 points and a -8 rating in 29 games. With the dynamic duo? Letang recorded 41 points and a +23 rating in 53 games.) Defensively, Letang has improved leaps and bounds from previous years. If Letang puts up 60-plus points, for example, why can’t he be in this discussion?
Dark horses: Alexander Edler, Canucks; Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs; Ryan Suter, Predators
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.