We’ve reached the heavy hitters of the NHL’s award slate.
Late Wednesday morning, the Professional Hockey Writers Association announced that New York’s Adam Fox, Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, and Colorado’s Cale Makar have been named finalists for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league’s top defenceman.
The decision couldn’t have been an easy one. This 2021 class of Norris hopefuls is perhaps the most crowded in the award’s recent history, with a bevvy of old and young blueliners alike generating some eye-popping production that could, in any other year, put them at the head of the pack. Whittling down three finalists from that group did not seem like an enviable task for the PHWA members responsible for the voting.
But after some assuredly difficult cuts, this trio has risen to the top.
Fox absolutely exploded in 2021, his second season in the NHL, with a monster campaign that saw him emerge as a bonafide superstar. In 55 games, the 23-year-old racked up 47 points while also leading all Rangers defensemen in scoring and logging the 11th most average time on ice in the entire league. Quite simply, Fox was sensational. And after finishing just outside the top-three in Calder Trophy finalists last season, New York’s top defender could cap off his revenge tour by taking home one of hockey’s premier individual honours.
An annual fixture on the ballot, Hedman finishes off his 12th NHL season with a fifth consecutive Norris nomination. The 30-year-old, who won the award back in 2018, might be earning finalist honours based on past performance, however, as his underlying defensive metrics took a bit of a dip in 2021 despite Hedman not even playing against top competition. Offensively, though, the towering Lightning defender put forth the typically dominant performance many expect from him, racking up 45 points in 54 games while finishing seventh among all NHLers with an average time on ice of over 25 minutes.
Despite his defensive lapses, Hedman produces dizzying offensive numbers from the back end while seeing the ice for nearly half the game. For some, that’s Norris-worthy.
And then there’s Makar, the crown jewel of the potentially dynastic Avalanche, not to mention the 2020 Calder winner, who ends his sophomore campaign with his first career Norris nomination. It’s hard to imagine this will be Makar’s last, either. The 22-year-old did it all this season, scoring at a point-per-game pace with 44 points in 44 games, quarterbacking a top-10 powerplay, and logging the 16th highest average ice time among all NHLers at more than 24 minutes per game.
And the best part? Makar is the age of your average university graduate, meaning his best days are undoubtedly ahead of him.
If he doesn’t earn Norris glory this year, well, it’s only a matter of time.