Zdeno Chara is enjoying yet another terrific season as defenseman for the Boston Bruins. The captain has put up a respectable 40 points this season to go with a second best plus-25 rating among qualified players (24-plus minutes/game). Chara has been doing his best work this season all while logging 17 seconds less per game than last year, as the Bruins are hoping that the less amount of time on the ice will help the 37-year-olds legs this time around. The three finalists for the Norris Trophy were announced this past Friday and alongside Chara are Nashville’s Shea Weber and Chicago’s Duncan Keith. The past two times Chara had made the final three for the Norris Trophy (2010-11, 2011-12), he had finished third in both years just behind Weber- who had finished second in both of those years. Unfortunately for Chara this year, it looks as if that trend will continue.
The Norris in recent times has consistently gone to “offensive” type defensemen, which does not bode well for Chara or Weber. However, possibly in an attempt to balance the vote a little more this year, the three finalists appear to make up all three “types” of defensemen. Duncan Keith is the obvious choice under the category of “offensive” defenseman; Shea Weber brings a more balanced “two-way” style of defenseman; and Zdeno Chara- although is definitely still a “two-way” defenseman is by far the most defensively oriented one among the three. Again, that does not appear to be a good sign of things to come in the future vote for Chara. The big captain should-in a lot of people’s eyes- win the coveted award, but let’s take a closer look at some numbers.
According to the Relative Corsi Quality of Competition (min. 70 GP), the defensive pairing of Shea Weber and Roman Josi has the second highest rating of competition that they face on a nightly basis (1.854). In other words, the Weber/Josi defensive pairing is always tasked with facing every team’s “best-of-the-best.” Zdeno Chara is not far behind Weber in this regard as he ranks ninth among defenseman in this category with a 1.500. Compare that to Chicago’s top defensive pairing of Oduya/Hjalmarsson who gets tasked with that role every night and is the third best pairing in this category (1.725). Therefore, the front-runner in a lot of hockey circles for the Norris Trophy, Duncan Keith, does not even get tasked on his own team with facing the opposing team’s best. Duncan Keith has a much lower Relative Corsi Quality of Competition rating than the other two finalists, having a meager .681 (49th among qualified defenseman).
Also, a very telling stat of how well-rounded a defenseman is could be to look at the Offensive Zone Starting Percentage (min. 70 GP). For instance, if a defenseman spends most of his time starting in the offensive zone, it can dramatically increase his scoring opportunities as well as show how well that defenseman is counted upon in defensive situations. Not surprisingly, Duncan Keith leads the pack in this category having started in the offensive zone 56.4% of the time he got on the ice (9th among all qualified defenseman). Compare that statistic to Shea Weber’s 43.7% of the time and to Zdeno Chara’s 30.8% of the time.
Therefore, say Weber or Chara got the amount of time in the offensive zone as Duncan Keith and made sure that they faced the same quality of competition as Keith and the offensive numbers of Chara and Weber would definitely be a higher than what they were. The fact that Weber and Chara are having the offensive numbers they are having paired with facing a stiffer competition speaks volumes of how well they actually did this season.
For Zdeno Chara this season, the numbers are there for him to make his case for the trophy. But given the past few winners, paired with Shea Weber having one of the best seasons of his career, and that leaves Chara in third place and on the outside looking in, once again.
Final Norris Trophy Prediction:
First- Shea Weber (NSH)
Second-Duncan Keith (CHI)
Third- Zdeno Chara (BOS)
Commentary by Ryne Vyles