A hot topic as of late is the race for the NHL’s Norris Trophy. Each year a defenseman is labeled the MVP of the blue line, but this year the race has a dazzling mixture of veteran stalwarts and young talent. By using a combination of advanced analytics and everyday statistics, I have determined my top-five candidates. Here are my Norris front-runners:

(All Advanced Analytics Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick)

5. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

  • GP: 34
  • G: 7 A: 20 P: 27
  • Corsi For (CF%): 52.98
  • Expected Goals For (xGF%): 51.76
  • Avg. TOI: 26:40

At 31-years-old, Drew Doughty shows that he is still an elite defenseman despite the Kings not being the force they once were. The two-time Stanley Cup Champion and former 2015-16 Norris Trophy winner is playing well and often, averaging over 26 minutes per game. He has done enough to solidify himself as a contender for the Norris but falls just short in the statistical categories to claim the trophy.

Drew Doughty Los Angeles Kings

Evolving Hockey breaks down Kings’ defenseman Drew Doughty’s 2020-21 season.

Analytically, Drew Doughty is subpar at even strength, as told by this RAPM chart courtesy of Evolving Hockey. Despite underperforming in some analytical categories, Doughty is a workhorse that thrives on the powerplay and has limited opposing chances tremendously. You may disagree, but the Kings’ blueliner deserves mention in this race.

4. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

  • GP: 33
  • G: 4 A: 17 P: 21
  • CF%: 57.86
  • xGF%: 56.41
  • Avg. TOI: 24:22

In the midst of all the injuries and COVID-19 postponements, Charlie McAvoy is having himself one heck of a season. The lone ranger on the back end for the Bruins, McAvoy, emerged as a horse in the Norris Trophy race. Not only has he produced offensively, but defensively as well, playing vital minutes and exceeding expectations.

His CF% trails only Cale Makar in this group, but Makar has played 10 fewer games, distinguishing McAvoy from the pack. He has been as steady as any defenseman in the NHL this season, and when you include the circumstances that have unfolded around him in Boston, it is a no-brainer that he finds a spot on this list.

3. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

  • GP: 23
  • G: 3 A: 19 P: 22
  • CF%: 64.38
  • xGF%: 70.77
  • Avg. TOI: 23:48

Cale Makar is an exceptional hockey player. After bursting onto the scene in 2019-20, the 22-year-old has amazed thus far, racking up 22 points in 23 games played. When healthy, he is already a top-five defenseman in the NHL, seemingly poised for several Norris Trophies during his career. His underlying numbers are exquisite, boasting a CF% and xGF% that both rank near the league’s top.

Two things hurt his chances of winning the trophy this season. The first is his total games played in comparison to his competition. The second is how good the Avalanche are and how many quality defensemen are playing extremely well this season. Makar is coming for that trophy, but it may be one more year before he can officially win it.

2. Adam Fox, New York Rangers

  • GP: 35
  • G: 4 A: 27 P: 31
  • CF%: 55.96
  • xGF%: 63.74
  • Avg. TOI: 24:36

In only his second season, Adam Fox has toyed with the NHL over the past month and catapulted his name up the Norris Trophy rankings. He plays in all facets of the game for the Rangers, solidifying himself as the team’s number one defenseman. He, too, has exceptional underlying numbers and is tied in third with John Carlson for points among defensemen, despite playing one game fewer than Carlson and two fewer than Tyson Barrie in front of them.

It took a 20 point month of March for Fox to receive league-wide recognition, but now he is a prominent horse in the Norris race. If he can take the Rangers to the playoffs, he may be able to sneak away with the award. And if you truly think it is Hedman’s to lose (which I do), this chart might amaze you.

Comparison between Adam Fox and Victor Hedman

Comparing Adam Fox and Victor Hedman in the Norris Trophy race, courtesy of Evolving Hockey.

The Favorite: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

  • GP: 36
  • G: 6 A: 28 P: 34
  • CF%: 54.21
  • xGF%: 52.72
  • Avg. TOI: 25:31

All signs point to the 2017-18 Norris Trophy winner reclaiming his title of the league’s top defenseman. Hedman continuously shows why he is a perennial contender for the award with his phenomenal offensive play and shut-down game defensively. His 34 points lead all defensemen in the NHL, but Hedman’s defensive game is just as good despite his innate offensive ability.

As the number one defenseman on the league’s number one team, Hedman deserves all of the accolades he receives each season. His underlying numbers do not jump off the page, but consistency is key for the 6’6″ Swede. There is not one flaw to his game and he has dominated the NHL en-route to what appears to his second Norris Trophy.

Who do you think wins the Norris Trophy this season? Leave your pick below!

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