There’s no question that Drew Doughty is an accomplished hockey player. At the ripe old age of 25, the Los Angeles Kings‘ defenseman has won two Olympic gold medals as part of Team Canada and two Stanley Cups with the Kings. But there’s one award Doughty has yet to achieve: the Norris.
Despite the fact that Doughty has been called the best defenseman in the league by many, the NHL’s James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the defenseman “who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position,” has so far eluded him.
Along with the Montreal Canadiens‘ P.K. Subban and the Ottawa Senators‘ Erik Karlsson – both previous Norris recipients — Doughty was nominated for the 2015 trophy. Doughty has been nominated previously, finishing third in the voting in 2010, but has never won the trophy. In fact, despite the defense-oriented play that the Kings are known for, only one King has ever won the award – Rob Blake in 1998.
Discussions about the Norris inevitably turn to the definition of the award and what the voters actually look for when determining a winner. While the definition clearly calls for a defenseman with “all-around ability,” many point to the unusually heavy consideration given to a defenseman’s offensive production. If this is true, the Norris will likely still elude Doughty who had only 7 goals and 46 points for the 2014-2015 season.
But if the voters take the “all-around” verbiage to heart, there is likely no stronger candidate for the Norris than Doughty. Doughty played in all 82 games in the 2014-2015 season, played in all situations including the penalty kill and the power play, and logged the most total time on ice of anyone in the league and second in average ice time (28.59) behind Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild. Perhaps more telling for a defenseman: when Doughty was on the ice (which, as noted above, was quite a bit), the Kings registered 410 more shot attempts than they allowed (props to LA Kings Insider, Jon Rosen, for this tidbit). The Kings play a puck possession game and Doughty leads that effort. Add to this the fact that Doughty had to bear the brunt of a season in which the Kings lost defenseman Willie Mitchell to the Florida Panthers after last year’s Cup win, then Slava Voynov to suspension, and during the season lost defensemen Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez to injury for periods of time, and you can appreciate the enormity of Doughty’s defensive burden. Coach Darryl Sutter paired Doughty with multiple defensive partners and was fond of saying that these other players needed to be better to play with Drew.
Despite all of this, there is the old “East Coast bias” theory. This year’s nominees prove that, at the very least, the members of the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association who vote on the NHL awards, have become better at recognizing the contributions of teams and players in the West and may be staying up later to watch the games. That said, in reviewing previous Norris winners, the bias clearly exists: only one previous winner (the aforementioned, Rob Blake) hailed from a team in the Pacific or Mountain time zone.
Is it Doughty’s year? The odds say no, but it seems just a matter of time before Doughty joins the illustrious list of NHL Norris recipients.