With his goal yesterday against the Flyers, Kris Letang tied his season career high in points (54) and added to a high in goals (14). Letang's also playing 26:37 per game, much higher than the next Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta with 19:57. Simply put, it's been another terrific season for Letang.
Is he in the Norris race? Well, yeah. But let's see how he's stacking up.
Ok, let's face it - the Norris Trophy these days is basically for the defenseman who scores the most points. Since Nicklas Lidstrom retired, 3 out of the last 4 years the leading d-man scorer has won the Norris. Letang won't end up doing that this season.
Letang trails Erik Karlsson - who's scoring an unreal point per game and logging 29 minutes a night, and Brent Burns (enjoying a boost from playing with our old friend Paul Martin) who has 64 points. Letang also missed some time this year, which puts him behind the 8-ball there.
Karlsson, the reigning Norris holder, represents Letang's biggest challenge. As well he should, he's a terrific player and the best pure offensive-defenseman in the game.
And, even though it's a minor point, it's worth noting Letang is 2 of 4 on shootouts this season, with both of those goals ending up game-deciding goals. Further indication of the value he's given the team. That leads all defensemen in the league so far this year, with Burns having 1 SO goal and Karlsson having 0 to date.
As far as pure boxcars go, Erik Karlsson is the most impressive defenseman this season. But his team won't make the playoffs which, fair or not, will probably count against him in the mind of voters.
In the 2012-13 lockout year, Letang finished 3rd in Norris voting (and he missed 13 of the 48 games that year). Letang finished 8th last year, 9th in 2011-12 and 6th in 2010-11. Basically any year Letang has had a modicum of health, he's been comfortably in the top-10. Had he been healthy in 2012 or '13, he probably could have won.
Though Letang's missed 10 games this year, he's in pretty good shape for the Norris voting if he plays the rest of the games.
Oh, they're there, especially after the December coaching change. Peep that gray bar.
Kris Letang got going around his midseason and just didn't stop. pic.twitter.com/h2ktzpbk2a— Carolyn Wilke (@Classlicity) March 14, 2016
Kris Letang is ok pic.twitter.com/7MnDPbGjPP— ㅤ (@PenguinsWorId) March 6, 2016
Numbers can be deceiving, but there's no way around Letang playing 7+ minutes more per game than any of his peers on the team. He's clearly the top dog that the Pens are riding, and he's doing very well at tilting the ice, especially since the coaching change the Pens made in December.
Since Karlsson's Senators won't make the playoffs and since he routinely puts up huge numbers, he might be dismissed this year from high-end Norris consideration. While Burns is very talented, his reputation is more of just a "guy on the team" compared to Letang who is "THE guy on the team". Drew Doughty and Roman Josi will also receive and deserve Norris consideration as well. Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Duncan Keith will be in the mix on reputation alone- and all of them are having great seasons. Letang certainly isn't a breakaway contender for the award.
However, Letang probably is the most well-rounded player, having a career year and playing on a playoff team..All of that looks very good. There are still +/- 12 games to go and things could change, and there's still games to be played....But right now the case for Kris Letang winning the Norris Trophy looks as good as any defenseman in the league.
By definition, the Norris Trophy gets awarded to the league's "top defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position". There's still some time to go this season, but so far Kris Letang ought to definitely be a top contender for such an award with his excellent play this season.