What does a player need to do to be in consideration for the Norris Trophy? Well, that depends on who you ask.
In theory, the award is given to the top all-around defenseman in the league. In reality, that isn’t always the case. As The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn explored a few seasons ago, winners have historically been chosen based on their scoring totals, ice time, plus-minus, team strength and reputation. That’s why defenders like Drew Doughty are frequently leading this year’s conversation even if that isn’t merited.
So how should we evaluate the best defenders and contenders for the Norris Trophy?
With inspiration from the work of Luszczyszyn and Alison Lukan at The Athletic to help guide our analysis, let’s dive in.
As a starting point, The Athletic sought opinions from coaches and players in the league, of how they judge a top defender.
A Norris-caliber player is one the opponents focus their game plan on, Lightning bench boss Jon Cooper explained.
“When a team is pre-scouting you and there’s a couple of guys that they circle,” Cooper said. “If they’re circling a defenseman, that means they’re probably a Norris-caliber type player.”
Rangers coach David Quinn had a similar explanation. “To me, it’s a guy (who), when the game ends, the other team starts talking about the guy — someone that they recognize, have an awful lot of respect for, with the way he plays, and a guy they’d want to play with or don’t want to play against,” he said.
Those players are usually valued for more than one aspect of their game; Norris candidates can’t be too one-dimensional. As Wild defender Jared Spurgeon explained, the trophy is for an “all-around player“ — one who is “able to contribute offensively but still at the same time (play) big minutes defensively and effectively.”
One way to get started finding those “all-around” defenders is with Luszczyszyn’s Game Score Value Added model. GSVA is based on Game Score; it combines traditional boxscore statistics, including points, shots, blocks and penalty differential, with more advanced metrics like expected goals, and then it adjusts for usage.