LOS ANGELES — With the Chicago Blackhawks winning the 2010 Stanley Cup on June 9, the 2009-10 National Hockey League season is over and attention now turns to the league’s annual awards, which will be presented at the Palms in Las Vegas on June 23.
Perhaps the most interesting race for the awards will be for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league’s best defenseman during the regular season.
Green, 24, led all defenseman in goals, assists and points with 19 goals and 57 assists for 76 points. He ranked tenth league-wide in assists, led all defenseman with ten power play goals, ranked second among defensemen with a +39 plus/minus rating and was second among blue liners with four game-winning goals and ninth in time on ice per game (25:28).
The 26-year-old Keith also had solid offensive numbers, scoring 14 goals and adding 55 assists for 69 points. Among defensemen, he ranked sixth in goals, second in assists and in points, ninth in plus/minus and second in ice time per game (26:55).
Among NHL defensemen Doughty, 20, ranked third in overall scoring with 59 points on 16 goals and 43 assists, second in goals, fifth in assists, and eleventh in plus/minus (+20). He tied for second in power play goals among defensemen with nine and ranked first with five game-winning goals among the blue liners. League-wide, Doughty ranked thirteenth in ice time per game (24:58).
Looking at those numbers, Green’s statistics jump right out at you, as his 76 points and +39 rating are considerably better than the numbers put up by Keith or Doughty, and many have already proclaimed him as the league’s best defenseman.
Green’s statistics certainly don’t lie, as they place him among the very best blue liners in the NHL. But statistics, especially the plus/minus category, rarely tell the whole story. In fact, they can be rather misleading in many cases, and that is exactly the case in this year’s race for the Norris Trophy.
Indeed, Green plays on a Washington Capitals team that is loaded up front with the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL’s third-leading scorer and Hart Memorial Trophy (Most Valuable Player) candidate (50 goals, 59 assists for 109 points) who ranked third in overall scoring, Nicklas Backstrom (33 goals, 68 assists for 101 points) and Alexander Semin (40 goals, 44 assists for 84 points) up front, along with four other players with 51 points or more.
The way the Caps were built, they won games by scoring goals in large bunches—313 goals this season, an average of 3.82 goals per game.
Ranking a distant second was the Vancouver Canucks, who scored 286 goals this season, an average of 3.27 goals per game.
Looking at goals scored during five-on-five play, the Caps led the league here too, scoring 213 goals, an average of 2.60 goals per game.
The second place team, Chicago, was far behind with 179 five-on-five goals, an average of 2.18 goals per game.
Those numbers shine a bright light on how the Caps found regular season success this season—primarily on the offensive side of the red line.
Although they were not absolutely horrible in their own zone, the Caps were in the bottom half of the league defensively, ranking 16th, allowing 2.77 goals per game.
Add all that up and what do you get? Skewed plus/minus ratings. To be sure, the +50 rating Caps defenseman Jeff Schulz (three goals, 20 assists, 23 points in 73 games) earned seems quite telling under the circumstances.
So what does all this say about Green’s +39 rating? That it was earned primarily because he was on the ice when his team scored at even strength.
Was it also due to his solid play in his team’s defensive end?
Not so much.
Indeed, Green is not known for his defensive prowess and has, at times, earned criticism for poor play in his own zone. This was the apparent reason he was left off of Team Canada’s roster for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Canada won the gold medal.
Perhaps even more telling was who made the team…Keith and, most notably, Doughty, whose selection over Green had many people, especially Caps fans, howling. They all pointed to Green’s statistics, claiming that Green was, by far, the best defenseman in the league.
But that was the serious flaw in their argument, one that the powers that be at Hockey Canada saw right through, as if they were looking through a window.
Keith and especially Doughty, quickly emerged as Canada’s very best players in the Olympic tournament.
Keith was already gaining high praise for his efforts on the Blackhawks’ blue line and has been talked about all season as being one of the league’s elite defensemen, if not the best. He was a huge factor in making the Blackhawks one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season (and, eventually, helping lead his team to a Stanley Cup Championship), while Doughty was still mostly under the radar in terms of being one of the top defensemen in the NHL.
All that changed in Vancouver, as Doughty was, arguably, Canada’s best player throughout the Olympic tournament, despite going into the Olympics being thought of as Canada’s number seven defensemen, one who would see far less ice time than the veterans ahead of him, including 2000 Norris Trophy winner Chris Pronger and future Hall-of-Famer and 2004 Norris Trophy recipient Scott Niedermayer.
But Doughty not only got onto the ice, he quickly became Canadian head coach Mike Babcock’s go-to defenseman. Indeed, it was Doughty who was holding down the fort on Team Canada’s blue line in the most critical situations, at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty-kill.
Doughty’s play during the Olympics generated a definite buzz in the hockey media that did not wane after the Olympics. Rather, it continued through the announcement that he was one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy on April 23 and into the NHL playoffs.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Doughty. “You always dream about winning a Norris Trophy as a defenseman, but you never really think it’s actually going to happen.”
“I guess my name being tossed around at such a young age, in my second year, it’s an honor,” added Doughty. “It’s kind of hard to believe, but I’ll do everything I can to win it one day.”
That day should be June 23, 2010.
Although his offensive numbers are not as good as those of Green or Keith, who must get a lot of credit for his crucial role in the Blackhawks’ ultimate success this season, Doughty outshined both in terms of being a more complete defenseman, one with great ability to get the job done better than the rest in all three zones
Indeed, Doughty is a better skater than Keith or Green, is stronger defensively and is able to play a more physical game than either of his fellow Norris Trophy finalists.
In other words, Doughty was the best defenseman in the NHL during the 2009-10 regular season.
“He is deserving, absolutely,” said Kings head coach Terry Murray. “There has to be a lot of consideration for him. His statistics, his points and, most importantly, his defensive play—he’s a high-plus player. He plays lots of minutes, critical minutes. That earns him the right to get some consideration.”
Given what Keith has accomplished during the regular season, including helping make his team a favorite to win the Stanley Cup, he has to be considered the leading candidate for the prestigious Norris Trophy. Nevertheless, Doughty should get more than just some consideration. He should leave Las Vegas with the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman for the 2009-10 season.
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