Earlier today, Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber was named one of three finalists for the 2013-2014 Norris Trophy.
Joining Weber as finalists for the award were Chicago Blackhawks blueliner Duncan Keith and Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. Simply the public acknowledgement that Weber was one of the top defensemen in the NHL this season is not only quite an accomplishment for the 28-year-old, but also for the Predators staff that have touted Weber’s play all season long.
For example, Weber’s former head coach, Barry Trotz, stated his case for the blueliner on multiple occasions throughout the campaign, including this one:
“There’s nothing to say other than that you’ve got to be blind not to notice that Shea has been probably the best defenseman in the National Hockey League,” Trotz said after a game in late March. “It absolutely astounds me when I listen to stuff on the TV and radio that he doesn’t get any mention. It is absolutely absurd. You better watch him because he’s the best in the league.”
Now that Weber has been noticed, that part of the journey is over. Some questions remain, however. How stiff is his competition for the 2013-14 James Norris Memorial Trophy? Will Weber actually win?
Some of the top accomplishments for Weber this season are impressive. He led all NHL defensemen in goals with 23, set the Predators record for points by a defenseman (56), and was Nashville’s leading scorer for the second-straight year.
Chara falls short of Weber’s point totals, but his prominent place on the President-Trophy winning (best regular-season record) Bruins and legendary slap shot allow him to stick around in the conversation for Norris with Weber. It’s from Keith that Weber receives the greatest challenge though.
Keith’s 55 assists this year are one short of Weber’s entire point total and his 61 points overall and plus-22 rating beat the Predators defenseman in both categories.
But perhaps more importantly, it’s in an “unwritten” rule that Keith and Chara both have Weber beat. They’re still playing. Technically just an award for a player’s regular season performance, a Norris winner on a non-playoff team hasn’t happened in decades. Both past winners of the Norris, Keith and Chara have led their clubs to the second round of the NHL playoffs and the extra screen time has only padded their resumes. (Incidentally, Keith also matches Weber in “extracurricular” activities this year, as he too won a gold medal with Canada at the Winter Olympics in February).
There’s a stereotype that questions how good a player’s season can really be if he wasn’t able to at least get his club into the playoffs, and it’s likely to be Weber’s undoing this summer.
Will the media voting on the award see Weber’s No. 1 goal total for defenseman and the lack of hardware in his career as reason enough to give him the Norris? Maybe. But it usually takes something really special to breakup a tradition established over decades (i.e. required postseason qualification by Norris winners), and the Predators captain didn’t really have that season.
So will Weber actually take home the Norris on June 24th? My money is on Keith.