As expected, the #1 pick in this countdown was unanimous:
|Rank||Player||DOB||Nationality||Draft||Vote Total||Last Year|
||12/8/1989||CAN||2 (1st), 2008||350||
Drew Doughty is obviously Los Angeles's best player under 25, so I won't spend much time arguing for that. Doughty is having what is probably the best season of his brilliant career. He's on pace to lead the league in minutes. At the same time, he's posted the best usage-adjusted Corsi of his career (54.8%) and his best Corsi relative since 2010-11 (+3.7%). There's no question that his high quality of teammates inflates his possession numbers. Doughty's stats away from partner and play driving aficionado Jake Muzzin (53.8% Corsi) are still pretty good, however, so the no doubt thousands of readers worrying that Doughty might be just a product of Muzzin can rest easy. It's been a good year.
Has it been so good that Doughty deserves the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the league, as NHL.com recently suggested? To definitively resolve this debate I made a sortable table including all of the players I've seen mentioned as serious Norris contender. I also threw in Muzzin, whom no one has mentioned as a serious Norris contender, but who will always be one in my heart.
2014-15 Norris Trophy Candidates
|5v5 TOI/60||4v5 TOI/60||Corsi Relative||Usage-Adjusted Corsi||Corsi On||5v5 points/60||5v4 points/60|
(table is sortable; click on column name to sort by that category)
A note on choosing this list: other than Muzzin, I only included guys who I think have enough of a league-wide reputation to be a plausible Norris nominee. Apologies to Nick Leddy, T.J. Brodie, and Anton Stralman, who otherwise have very good cases. Victor Hedman, Zdeno Chara, and Dustin Byfuglien are also great players who don't have enough games played at defensemen to be strong contenders.
I included raw Corsi for your edification, but to judge a defenseman's worth as a play driver I recommend using Corsi Relative and usage-adjusted Corsi, far more illuminating stats which are less dependent on a player's teammates.
Doughty does well in this comparison. He has a sizable edge in ice time over most of the competition, and the one guy ahead of him in 5v5 minutes per game (Ryan Suter) does worse by the advanced metrics. He does not quite have the same level of play driving and scoring that Mark Giordano and Duncan Keith have provided, but perhaps the slightly greater quantity afforded by his huge minutes makes up for slightly lesser quality. As is inevitable when choosing between the best players in the league, the difference comes down to hair-splitting.
Another point of interest is Shea Weber: by the advanced stats, Nashville's success this year has been due much more to the strong play of Ryan Ellis and Seth Jones than to Weber. Weber is scoring a lot of points and the Predators are winning a lot of games, but his possession stats are poor and have been so ever since Ryan Suter left Nashville. I doubt there is any other skater in the NHL, perhaps excepting Jack Johnson, for whom the gap between traditional opinion and analytical opinion is so wide.
So much for the question of who deserves the Norris Trophy. As for the somewhat-related question of who will actually win the Norris Trophy, I think Doughty has very good odds. He'll face strong competition from Keith (who won last year and is having an even better 2014-15) and Weber (whom voters may want to reward for Nashville's resurgence). But Doughty should benefit from the afterglow of LA's latest cup run and his excellent performance at Sochi. Doughty can also expect better shooting luck in the second half (he's currently shooting 3.4%; career shooting percentage 6.4%), which should propel him to the 10-goal and 50-point thresholds. Leading the league in minutes, if he pulls it off, will be highly impressive to the voters. And the NHL.com endorsement can't hurt, either. No King has won a major individual regular season award since Rob Blake's Norris in 1997; Doughty is the best chance in years to end that drought.