Disappointed, but not surprised, describes my reaction to part of this morning’s NHL awards news. The three finalists for the Norris Trophy, which is awarded annually to the league’s best defenseman, were revealed, and they are: Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning), Adam Fox (New York Rangers), and Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche). Now I know what you’re probably thinking, what’s wrong with that picture? Well, that’s going to surprise many people: it’s the inclusion of Victor Hedman.
Victor Hedman: Outstanding Defenseman, Terrible Season
It’s no secret that Victor Hedman is an outstanding defenseman. I’ve always found him a tad overrated, but I will still begrudgingly admit that he is excellent. However, he was TERRIBLE this season. Take a look at this card, courtesy of @JFreshHockey on Twitter (follow him if you don’t already, he’s incredible!).
For simplicity’s sake, let’s just focus on the first two boxes. While Hedman’s offense normally outweighs his defense, this season it was by much more than usual, and on top of that he stunk offensively. Only contributing to the even-strength offense at a rate of 48% better than a replacement-level defenseman is not great for anyone, but is laughable for a Norris candidate. And that’s not even the worst part since offense should not (although it does) matter as much as defense when it comes to determining a Norris candidate. He only contributed to the defense at a rate of 25% better than a replacement level player. 25%. That’s it. That’s horrible for anyone, let alone a supposedly elite defenseman. It’s mind-boggling to me that people still think he even deserves this nomination, let alone the award.
All of this gets even worse when you remember that Hedman didn’t even see a lot of tough matchups this season. The Lightning sheltered him, and he still didn’t perform well. The fact that he was sheltered at all should’ve automatically disqualified him from contention for the award, but since that was never going to happen, the fact that he still didn’t perform well shouldn’t have. And yet somehow, it still didn’t. It’s truly incredible to me how much reputation plays into these awards.
The Lightning Were Actually Better Without Hedman on the Ice
As if all of this isn’t bad enough, let me hit you with this: the Lightning were actually better with Hedman on the bench than with him on the ice. You read that right. Not only did Hedman not really help the Lightning this season, he actively hurt them. If you don’t believe me, take a look at his page on Natural Stat Trick and compare it to the general Lightning one. There are a lot of stats that I could use to illustrate this, but let’s just look at goals and expected goals, since that’s a great sign of how well a defenseman is doing since, you know, their job is to prevent goals.
The team outscored their opponents by a decent margin in general, but with Hedman on the ice, they were even. Their expected goals rate is similar. With Hedman on the ice, their expected goals percentage is 51.31%. The team’s general rate is 53.19%. That may not seem like a big difference, but it actually is. I could go on and on, but I think you get my point. If there are any important stats that drop when a player is on the ice, that should be a sign that they don’t deserve an award for being the best at their position in the NHL.
Who Would’ve Been a Better Option?
There were a lot of players who would’ve been better options for a Norris finalist than Hedman. Let’s take a look at just a few, with the cards again courtesy of @JFreshHockey.
Starting with the worst snub, take a look at Charlie McAvoy. He had a 100% wins-above replacement rate. One. Hundred. Percent. And he got snubbed. It’s a complete joke.
Jakob Chychrun was also another better option. His defense wasn’t the strongest either, but at least he had a big impact on offense. Due to his defensive lapses, I strongly believe McAvoy deserved the nomination more, but since the only point to this exercise is to identify better options than Hedman, that’s besides the point.
MacKenzie Weegar was an incredibly deserving option as well, more so than Chychrun but less so than McAvoy.
Last but not least, Adam Pelech and Chris Tanev would’ve been better options for the award than Hedman. Considering the fact that I bet at least some of you have never heard of these guys, that should say a lot.
All and all, it is incredibly disappointing that Victor Hedman was named a Norris Trophy finalist this season. That being said, it is far from surprising. The Norris is often reputation-based (as are most, if not all, other NHL awards), and Hedman’s reputation is that of an elite defenseman, so it seemed like a given. Hopefully, his reputation only carries him this far, because if he wins I might have to chuck my laptop out of a window. It should be Adam Fox (see his player card here), although I also won’t be too mad if Cale Makar wins it (see his player card here). Both of them are more than deserving of it. Basically, if it’s anyone but Hedman, I’ll be happy.
-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)
Featured image courtesy of Chris O’Meara/Associated Press.
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