There's some chatter going around hockey websites and newspapers about midseason awards and while no one wins the Norris Trophy at the halfway point, the fact that a lot of people have Dustin Byfuglien as their pick is a little unsettling.
While the 6'5 210-290 lb (that fluctuation is attributed to the broadcasters out there) Byfuglien has adjusted to his new (for this season) position and his new team extremely well so far, it might be a little much to say he's deserving of the award for best overall defensemen in the NHL.
Follow the jump for the rest of the argument and dive into the discussion.
The chatter about Byfuglien's exceptional year is how great he has been offensively for the Thrashers. Sure, that's true but can you really see that as a surprise from a guy who spent last year as a forward and would still likely be one in Chicago if it weren't for horrible salary cap management? Offensive numbers are great and all but we're not talking about a forward, we're talking about a defenseman.
But say we do consider those offensive numbers, for the sake of entertaining that side of the argument. Here's a quick set of stats for the three candidates at this point:
|2010 - Nicklas Lidstrom||43||11||30||41||0||10||6||0||1||94|
|2010 - Dustin Byfuglien||45||16||25||41||7||45||6||0||6||183|
|2010 - Kris Letang||45||7||33||40||20||54||3||0||2||135|
Now stats don't tell the whole story and you can skew them however you wish but if the "Byfuglien for Norris" camp intends to tout Byfuglien's offensive success, how do explain that Lidstrom is tied with Byfuglien in points in fewer games. To boot, Kris Letang is close behind in points and is a +20 on the season. As we know via JJ's CSSI, +/- handed out in official stats can be horribly misleading but it does offer a general idea of how a player is doing against opponents so it'd be easy to say that Letang is fairing better.
Here's a quick comparison (via behindthenet.ca) of how all three of those players stack up in Quality of Competition ("Average Relative Plus-Minus of opposing players, weighted by head-to-head ice time", Corsi Relative Quality of Competition ("Average Relative Corsi of opposing players, weighted by head-to-head ice time") and Goals Against per 60 minutes played (you hopefully don't need an explanation on that one)
|Player||Qual Comp||Rank||Corsi Relative QC||Rank||Goals Against/60 minutes||Rank (1=worst)|
Note: Stats are at even strength because, well Byfuglien doesn't play on the PK
Note #2: You know who has the highest GA/60 mins? Brett Lebda.
What do the stats show? That at this point it's pretty much a two horse race with Letang and Lidstrom and Byfuglien is far, far behind.
The Norris Trophy is awarded to the player deemed to be the best all-around defenseman. So how has a defender that falls in the 240 range of defenseman for short handed time on ice per game (a whopping 7 seconds) get considered for this award? It's also necessary to consider the actual defensive aspect of this (gasp!) and there's no doubt that Lidstrom and Letang (as well as about 10 others) would be higher on the list for their defensive play than Byfuglien.
There's another aspect to this, too. Is Dustin Byfuglien even the best defender on his team? Tobias Enstrom is easily a better defensive defenseman in my mind and is pretty close to Byfuglien in points. If I had to choose one of those two to shut down a divisional star like Steven Stamkos or Alex Ovechkin, it's a clear choice for me with Enstrom.
I think a lot of the selections for Byfuglien come from those that want to go off the beaten path, hoping to look like a genius at season's end for not choosing the obvious player. But a lot of the time, the obvious choice is the obvious choice for a reason: it's the right one.