NHL Awards 2012: Fear The Fin Casts Norris Trophy Ballot

SB Nation writers were recently asked to vote on the seven major NHL awards. This week and next, the results will be unveiled at the main site with today featuring the Norris Trophy, "an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position." Here's how Fear the Fin (okay, just me) voted.

Winner: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators. To me, choosing between Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara for Norris Trophy honors was every bit the toss-up Lundqvist vs. Quick for the Vezina turned out to be. Both blueliners played the toughest minutes on their respective playoff teams with Weber facing the 12th-toughest quality of competition (as measured by Corsi Rel QoC) league-wide among defensemen who appeared in at least 40 games this year while Chara ranked 35th in that category. Excluding neutral zone starts, Weber began 55.4% of his shifts in the defensive zone at even-strength (the 27th highest frequency in the league among qualifying d-men) while Chara started 51.9% of his shifts there.

Despite playing slightly tougher minutes, Weber's impact on the Predators from a possession standpoint was very similar to Chara's effect on the Bruins. Although the raw numbers significantly favor Chara, who played for a vastly superior team, Weber's relative Corsi of +11.2 per 60 minutes ranked 11th in the league compared to Chara's +13 which ranked 7th. Every single Predators skater who shared the ice with Weber for at least 60 5v5 minutes this year posted better possession numbers with him than without. Apart from Andrew Ference, the same was true of Chara. All qualifying Predators save for Nick Spaling and Jordin Tootoo had better 5v5 goal ratios when on the ice with Weber compared to without him as well while Milan Lucic, Chris Kelly, Benoit Pouliot, Dennis Seidenberg, Rich Peverley, Daniel Paille and Ference posted better goal ratios away from Chara.

With both defensemen having such similar statistical profiles, both in terms of surface stats and underlying numbers, a couple of things swung my vote in favor of Weber. First was the strength of the two blueliners' respective teammates. I'm not a fan of the quality of teammates stat on behindthenet as I think it's a little self-referential but Chara has a pretty substantial advantage there (going by Corsi Rel QoT) which seems to match my perception of their situations; while Ryan Suter is a hell of a lot better defense partner than Johnny Boychuk, Weber didn't play behind any forwards nearly as talented on both sides of the puck as Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand or Tyler Seguin. More importantly, though, was Weber's impact on the power play. The Predators were one of the worst possession teams in the league this season and made the playoffs on the back of Pekka Rinne and their ridiculously potent man-advantage unit. Weber was probably the crucial element there and was on the ice for a ridiculous 43 5v4 goals, more than any other defenseman in the league. Now the 19.5% power play shooting percentage Nashville enjoyed while he was on the ice helped quite a bit and probably isn't sustainable in the long run but since this award is more about single-season performance than sustainable skill, that stat, along with the fact that Weber played tougher minutes at evens with crappier teammates, clinches the Norris for him in my eyes.

2nd place: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins. Regardless of whether or not Nicklas Lidstrom retires this summer, I think Zdeno Chara has cemented himself as the best in the game at his position. Despite playing the difficult defensive minutes detailed above, Chara finished second among NHL defensemen in on-ice Corsi per 60 and 6th in +/- per 60 all while being a dominant force on both special teams units as well. He also deserves all of the credit for turning Johnny Boychuk from an AHL lifer into a guy who can hack it on a top pairing in the big leagues. There are very few players in the NHL who help their team win to a greater extent than Chara and I certainly can't argue with anyone who gave him a first-place vote for the Norris this year.

3rd place: Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues. It's always exciting to witness the development of a new generation of NHL stars and this season, Pietrangelo really emerged as one of the best young tough-minutes defensemen in the game. Pietrangelo played some of the toughest minutes on a Blues team that was the best in the league throughout the regular season and he absolutely killed it, posting the 12th-best on-ice Corsi per 60 among qualifying NHL defensemen. Additionally, only eight d-men in the league were on the ice for fewer 5v5 goals against per 60 minutes than Pietrangelo and none of them faced the quality of competition that he did. Despite an impressive campaign this wasn't his year to win it all but I'd be shocked if Pietrangelo doesn't get his name on the Norris Trophy sometime during his career.

Also considered:

Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks - Seabrook will probably be overlooked in the voting this year due to his team's defensive reputation and that's a shame. Forever considered the weaker of the Blackhawks' two Olympic studs on the blueline, this was really the season when I think Seabrook established himself as more vital to Chicago's success than his frequent defense partner and former Norris winner Duncan Keith. Seabrook faced the fifth-toughest quality of competition in the NHL, behind only the Rangers' and Flames' top defense pairings, yet still hit it out of the park with an overwhelmingly positive on-ice Corsi rating and the 20th-best +/- per 60 in the league despite the fact that Blackhawks goaltenders combined to post a pathetic .907 SV% when he was on the ice at evens.

Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers - No player in the NHL faced a higher quality of competition at even-strength than McDonagh and he did it while starting 57.2% of his EV shifts in the defensive zone. That's a hell of a hole to climb out of yet McDonagh proved capable, somehow posting both a positive Relative Corsi rating and a positive +/- per 60 rating despite playing arguably the most difficult minutes of any defenseman in the league. His lack of power play time may prevent him from earning PHWA votes but McDonagh absolutely deserves to be recognized for this wonderful season. Good thing the Canadiens traded him for Scott Gomez.

Dan Hamhuis, Vancouver Canucks - Alex Edler will probably receive some Norris votes because of his high point total but those are entirely misplaced in my opinion. Edler was average at best at even-strength playing against second-tier competition whereas Hamhuis was the guy who actually faced the toughs. Despite that, Hamhuis posted an on-ice Corsi rating of a shade over +10 per 60 minutes, along with one of the highest plus-minuses in the league (although that was heavily driven by a 1032 PDO).

Who's your 2012 Norris Trophy winner?

Shea Weber (Nashville)88
Zdeno Chara (Boston)33
Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis)29
Brent Seabrook (Chicago)4
Ryan McDonagh (New York)4
Dan Hamhuis (Vancouver)1
Erik Karlsson (Ottawa)61
Ryan Suter (Nashville)5
Kris Letang (Pittsburgh)3
Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit)5
Other (argue about it in the comments)2