Norris Trophy: Is the PHWA Missing The Point?

There was a time when the Norris Trophy was awarded as it should be, but this hasn’t held true for several years now. The NHL’s definition (or description) of the The James Norris Memorial Trophy is rather clear: an annual award given “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.” But with their votes, the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) seems to have changed this to the best offensive defenseman. The first example of that is when they awarded it to former Edmonton Oilers Paul Coffey, who was basically an offensive forward playing defense… and it showed in his own zone.

The names of great all-around defensemen are on this award, with guys like Doug Harvey, Jacques Laperrière, Bobby Orr (yes, he was great defensively too), Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson, Randy Carlyle, Rod Langway, Raymond Bourque, Chris Chelios, Chris Pronger, Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer and Zdeno Chara, amongst others, were all excellent in almost all aspects of the game. But then, it somehow switched to offensive defensemen.

2019-20 Norris Nominees

It was announced that the three finalists to the Norris this past season are: John Carlson (WAS), Roman Josi (NAS) and Victor Hedman (TBL). These guys are pretty good defensemen and I doubt any team would say no if they had a chance to have them on their team. However, by picking the top three defensemen in points in the NHL, the PHWA has once again shown its true colours.

2019-20 top scoring defensemen

Exercise of futility

We have explored in the past how ridiculous this Norris award and the Selke award (top defensive forward) are being decided and we even looked for solutions by adding an award for the top offensive defenseman. So instead of ranting on that once again, I decided to have fun with this by adding two of my favourite defensemen and a fan favourite, and compare their numbers with this year’s nominees. The purpose of the exercise is not to say that those three names should be nominated for the Norris, but but rather just to show their numbers in comparison.

Shea Weber and Seth Jones were once teammates in Nashville.

Two of my favourite NHL defensemen are Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens’ captain Shea Weber. My admiration for Man Mountain dates back from his days in Nashville, well before he joined my favourite team. For shits and giggles, I’ve added “former Norris trophy winner” and Habs’ fan favourite P.K. Subban. How do those three defensemen compare to the three Norris Trophy finalists on every aspect of the game? See for yourself.


By doing this exercise, I couldn’t help but noticing that off that list of six defensemen, four of them either play for the Nashville Predators (Josi) or are former Preds (Weber, Jones and Subban). Off those four, only Subban wasn’t drafted by Nashville.

I will spare you the “how deserving” any candidate or forgotten players are as everyone has an opinion on this, and most are very defendable. What I do know though is that I would absolutely love if the Norris trophy went back to being awarded to the best all-around defenseman, not simply by looking at the scoring leaders. All-around is what’s missing in the PHWA’s vision as in my humble opinion, there’s more than just points to judge how good a defenseman is. And if you were to combine most key aspect of playing defense, we would have had much different results in the voting. But hey… that would be too much work.

Leave a Reply