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All aboard the Kris Letang for Norris train

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Let the hype begin

NHL: Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When thinking about Kris Letang’s masterful 32 minute performance against the Washington Capitals earlier this week, for some reason I started thinking about the Emmy’s. Well, specifically I was thinking about how actors and actresses of television shows submit a couple of their best episodes for consideration.

The NHL doesn’t determine their annual awards like that at all — but if they did Letang putting the Pens team on his back and leading them to a win and doing damage to end Alex Ovechkin’s career-high points streak while playing more than half the game would have to be probably the singular virtuoso performance of any defenseman of the season.

Kris Letang has flirted with the Norris trophy before, the voters have been pretty favorable to him over the years. Sergei Gonchar’s last season in Pittsburgh was 2009-10, Letang formally took over as the clear, undisputed #1 defenseman for the Pens in 2010-11. Since then, besides last season, he’s shown well in the voting in six of the previous eight years whenever he’s been healthy.

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Season Games Played Norris rank
Season Games Played Norris rank
2010-2011 82 6th
2011-12 51 9th
2012-13 35 3rd
2013-14 37 N/A
2014-15 69 8th
2015-16 71 4th
2016-17 41 N/A
2017-18 79 N/A

The Norris Trophy in definition is to be awarded to the “defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position”, but in practice has become a vanity award for the highest scoring defensemen in the league. Letang is off to meeting that criteria with the following boxcar ranks among defensemen around the league:

  • Goals: 7 (tied-5th)
  • Assists: 20 (t-10th)
  • Points: 27 (t-7th)
  • TOI per game: 26:07 (3rd)
  • Shots on goal: 110 (5th, also leads his team)
  • GWG and OT Goal: 1

Letang is in fine form, his 0.37 Goals/60 at 5v5 would be a career high if he can keep it up, and he’s on pace for 16 goals on the season which would tie a career best. He’s also at 1.03 5v5 assists/60, which would be the third best season of his career. Points-wise Letang is on pace for 63, which would be his second best campaign. The offensive numbers are definitely going to be there if he stays healthy and continues to play like he has been.

One other thing about the Norris is the voters love to spread the award around ever since Nicklas Lidstrom retired. Lidstrom won the award six times in seven seasons from 2000-01 to 2007-08 and again in 2010-11. In the seven seasons since then though, there have been six different winners, including a different winner in each of the last six seasons. That will work as a positive for Letang too that this is not the age of a dominant Lidstrom or before him Ray Bourque, where the voters almost lazily stuck to voting for a legendary player and don’t break in a new direction.

By season’s end there will likely be several really good candidates for the Norris. Morgan Rielly will get a lot of hype from the Toronto market if he continues playing above a point-per game. San Jose’s Brent Burns and Washington’s John Carlson are piling up the points too. Mark Giordano in Calgary has many of the same factors and importance for his team as Letang does for his. Roman Josi is the best of a good bunch in Nashville. Tampa’s Victor Hedman doesn’t have quite the boxcars of his peers but he is the defending Norris winner who plays on what is right now by far the #1 team in the league. All those players will probably have great cases for the award, and there’s still over half a season to play.

But with the form Kris Letang is now, playing 32 and 26 minutes the last two games (and those games coming off an injury scare, no less), his name should be up there with just about anyone. By the time voting happens in April most will have forgotten about his individual Herculean effort against the Capitals this week, but he still has a long time to keep building on the resume of what is becoming a truly amazing season, whether it comes with a trophy to recognize it or not.