The 2018-19 NHL season is officially in the books. With a couple of off-days before the playoffs begin, it is a perfect time to take a look at the potential nominees for the NHL Awards. With an abundance of strong performers, the James Norris Memorial Trophy is sure to be one of the tougher pieces of hardware to bring home at the 2019 NHL Award show.
Awarded annually, the Norris is given “to the defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position.” With these criteria in mind, here are the predictions for the 2019 edition of the award:
Predictions for Norris Trophy
Brent Burns: 82GP, 16G, 67A
Burns is no stranger to receiving accolades for his play, having won the Norris trophy back in 2017. This year, his 83 points lead all NHL defensemen in the regular season. Similarly, his point a game pace was enough to lead the San Jose Sharks overall in both points and assists. Having scored at least 60 points in five straight seasons, Burns’ offensive ability from the blueline is no secret.
Where his play has changed this season is his responsibility with the puck. In comparison to his 2016-17 Norris winning campaign, Burns giveaway and possession stats have both improved. Having committed 35 fewer giveaways, his playing style has slightly tightened up in the past two seasons, with his CF% finishing at 56.8% (his highest rate since 2013-14.)
The one stat holding back Burns’ from replicating his impressive 2016-17 season is his shooting percentage. Down from 9.1% to 5.3%, his goal scoring has experienced a similar regression (dropping from 29 goals in 2016-17 down to 16 this season.) Perhaps with a little more puck luck, Burns would be a lock for the award.
What prevents Burns from being the favorite to win is the questions that remain over his defensive play. Many traditional thinkers of the game feel the award has become the Art Ross trophy equivalent for defensemen. As the award’s description states, the trophy should recognize the player with “the greatest all-around ability in the position.” In the modern NHL, the position has evolved so that all top-tier defensemen are expected to contribute points from the backend. With this in mind, Brent Burns’ name definitely deserves to be near the top of the list.
Morgan Rielly: 82 GP, 20G, 52A
Unlike the bearded Burns, Rielly is a fresh face on the Norris Trophy scene. His 20 goals on the 2018-19 season were a career high and the most scored by any defensemen across the NHL. Finishing third among defensemen league-wide in points with 72, Rielly’s play has risen to an elite level for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In enhancing his offensive game, Rielly has managed to make improvements to his overall play. Rielly finished the season with a 51.7 CF%, this was a career-best number. Another strong asset of Rielly’s game away from the puck is the lack of penalties taken by the Leafs defensemen. He played 23:07 per game with only 14 penalty minutes on the season despite facing the opponent’s best forwards on a regular basis.
Much like Brent Burns, Rielly’s offensive abilities outweigh his play in his own end. Some critics cite Rielly’s low penalty minutes to a lack of physicality, engagement, etc. With that said, playing alongside veteran Ron Hainsey, he has started to make strides in his play defensively this season. If he can increase his reliability behind his own blueline while replicating the offensive efforts he had during the 2018-19 season, Morgan Rielly’s name is sure to keep coming up in this conversation down the road.
Mark Giordano: 78GP, 17G, 57A
No defensemen around the NHL is more deserving of the 2018-19 Norris Trophy than Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano. At 35 years old, Giordano set a career high with 74 points on the season. His contributions on the scoresheet as well as his strong overall play were key factors to the Flames finishing atop the Western Conference standings.
Where he separates himself from the field is his two-way game. With regards to possession metrics, his 57.1% CF topped both aforementioned competitors for the award (Rielly and Burns.) Considering both Rielly and Burns started more shifts in the offensive zone than Giordano, his possession shares are even more impressive.
Unlike the other two candidates, Giordano fits the mould of a true “all-around defensemen”. Blocking more shots and logging more minutes on the penalty kill than either Rielly or Burns, any generation of hockey fan can appreciate the impact he has from the blueline. Having never been nominated for the award in his 13 year NHL career, awarding Mark Giordano the 2018-19 Norris Trophy is a feel-good story everyone outside of Toronto and San Jose should embrace.