The James Norris Memorial Trophy is handed out by the NHL to the “defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” according to the league itself. The thing is, what do you define as the greatest all-round ability as a d?
Is it the ability to stop the puck getting to your goal? Is it being an attacking threat and getting plenty of points of your own? Or is it a mix of the two?
If it is option C, I firmly believe that Dougie Hamilton, of the Calgary Flames, should be this year’s recipient. In this article, I’ll tell you why he won’t.
(This article was inspired by the great thought piece from Travis Yost, who suggested the pairing of Hamilton and Mark Giordano should win it. Read that here.)
All stats quoted are from Corsica, and were accurate at time of research, which was prior to play on Thursday 23rd March 2017.
Previous winners of the Norris have usually been big points getters, hence the likes of Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Duncan Keith, PK Subban and Nicklas Lidstrom have been previous winners. So by that criteria, I picked the top eight point-scoring d-men to do a comparison on, to see who qualifies on that basis.
- Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks) is ninth in overall scoring in the NHL for all positions.
- Dougie Hamilton (Calgary Flames) is fourth in team scoring for the Flames, behind only Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund.
- Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks) is also fourth in his team’s scoring, behind Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Toews.
- Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators) leads his team’s scoring, and is the backbone of the Senators.
- Justin Schultz (Pittsburgh Penguins) is fifth in scoring on the Pens and has really turned a corner since escaping Edmonton.
- Kevin Shattenkirk (Washington Capitals) was acquired from the St Louis Blues this year and is going to make a lot of money come July.
- Torey Krug (Boston Bruins) is fifth in team scoring, and second in assists only to Brad Marchand.
- Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning) is the only thing stopping the Bolts being a dumpster fire this year.
There’s your top eight d this year, then. A cavalcade of talent, indeed. Let’s go in depth.
As mentioned above, the Norris goes to the big point scorers, so who leads that run exactly?
Already, Dougie languishes behind. His goals tally ranks fifth out of our eight, while his assists are tied for last.
However, the other guys we’re looking at here have been the highest minute players. Again, in that respect, Hamilton is third last, but only on account of him having played more games than Shattenkirk and Schultz – he would have been last if they had played their usual amount of minutes in those games missed. Hamilton spent the start of the year as part of the blender that was the Flames’ D, while Glen Gulutzan tried to figure out who worked with who.
So how do those points work out in relation to how much ice time each player as had?
Just below average of the eight on goals, just above average on the assists. Things aren’t looking good for my case already. But he trails a lot less in this regard than he does in the raw numbers.
If the Norris is given out purely on points, Brent Burns is walking this award.
Let’s pretend that the award voters look at what happens to the puck when the player is on the ice, rather than how far up the charts they are. Hamilton has been a key part of the Flames actually looking good, so this will look good, right?
It does…kinda. Hamilton is third in Corsi for per 60 minutes, fourth in Corsi against, second in CF%, third in Fenwick for, fourth in Fenwick against, and second in FF%, all at even strength. He’s among esteemed company here, and not looking like he’s fluking some scoring rates, so that holds up well.
Naturally the best thing you want to do if you have possession of the puck is score, so how does the team play with Hamilton on the ice?
A brief summary here: expected goals are formed around Fenwick shooting percentages, and give you an indication of what a player should be achieving. In this case, it relates to how many goals a team should be expected to score while the related player is on the ice.
Again, this doesn’t look good on Hamilton. He’s performing below his expected goal output, but on the other hand is performing above his expected goals against rate. He’s certainly not on the Torey Krug level of bad offensively, but he’s also not performing at the rate Burns and Justin Schultz are.
Defensively, he doesn’t have the rate of overperformance that Burns or Keith do, but is outperforming Karlsson, Shattenkirk and Krug.
How do these relate to percentages?
Dougie is performing more or less at the level that is expected of him. Burns, Keith, Schultz and Karlsson are above their expected rate, but Shattenkirk and Krug have a big drop off on their rates.
Again, if you’re using possession and expected goals, you probably look at Burns for the award, but at least Hamilton is in the mix here.
The hallmarks of being a good player is how good you are compared to the rest of the team. Ideally, everyone would be as good as each other, and you wouldn’t notice if someone wasn’t out there. We all know that isn’t possible, though.
So, you need to look at the effect the player has on a team, and how much above the others they are. After all, if you’re good at the all-round game, and in the hunt for an award, you should be outperforming your team-mates.
Firstly, hello Brent Burns being on ice for many more goals than the rest of his team.
Secondly, LOOK AT HAMILTON!
With a minimum of 500 minutes played at even strength, Dougie Hamilton leads the league in relative Corsi for, and Fenwick for, and shots for, and expected goals for. And, at least in terms of our nominees here, it is not even close.
The effect Hamilton has on his team is obvious. The top three of the Flames – Hamilton, his regular partner Mark Giordano, and TJ Brodie – are good. The others? No. Matt Bartkowski, Deryk Engelland, Dennis Wideman, Jyrki Jokipakka and (to a lesser extent) Michael Stone have not been good possession players by any stretch of the imagination.
Hamilton and Giordano make this team what it is. Gio won’t be in the Norris conversation this year because he only(!) has 34 points on the year, but damn is he good. As a pair, they have a 56.62 CF%, 57.79 FF%, a relative CF% of 9.19 and a relative FF% of 9.81. They are comfortably the best in the league.
If possession and relativity came into the Norris voting, Hamilton would have a hell of a shout.
It’ll come down to old tropes of who scores the most and who stands out the most. It’s almost certainly going to be one of Burns or Karlsson, and that makes me sad. I don’t think Hamilton will win it, but he should at least be on the shortlist.