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Pittsburgh Penguins

Column: Kris Letang should be a Norris Trophy finalist

March 17 2016: Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) skates during the first period in the NHL game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Photo by Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire)
Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire

Among the many defenseman who’ve won the Norris Trophy, or even been nominated, Pittsburgh Penguins defender Kris Letang is almost never in the conversation. In large part, injuries have been a major reason keeping him off the ballot, but he may finally get his shot to be one of the finalists this year along with Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty.

His importance to the Penguins can’t be understated, as he runs the top power play, plays 25-26 minutes a night, and is the best puck moving defenseman on the team. Without him in the lineup, the Penguins struggle to win games. Just look at their record last season, after Letang was sidelined with a concussion.

Now that he’s at the end of one his best ever seasons, leaving him off the ballot would be a mistake. 

Offensive Production 

Letang has been unbelievable in the offensive zone this season. He has 57 points this season, which third among all defenseman in the league behind Karlsson and Brent Burns. He has two more goals than Karlsson with 11 fewer games played. He also has a new career high in goals with 15 — more than several Penguins forwards.

The coaching change has helped, too. In 39 games under Mike Sullivan, Letang has 14 goals and 29 assists to equal 43 points. No other defenseman has had more points in that span.

His ability to work the power play has improved drastically as he’s limiting turnovers and creating more good scoring chances. He also leads all Penguin defenseman in time on ice each game. Against the Detroit Red Wings this weekend, he set a new personal record of playing 29:52 — basically half of the game. And that was all without Olli Maatta, his usual defensive partner who is week to week with an injury.

Almost every Norris trophy finalist has great offensive production and Letang’s situation is no different.

Possesion Numbers

Letang’s HERO Chart should also help persuade some voters to vote for him to be a finalist. Here is Letang’s compared to Brent Burns.

Dashboard 1 (5)

Burns is another defenseman who’s in the running to be a Norris finalist and their HERO charts look nearly identical.

Burns has a better goals and assists per 60 minutes. However, Letang’s primary points per 60 minutes absolutely skyrocketed when Sullivan took over, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down.

While some of the voters may not look at the underlying possession numbers when they vote for the Norris, it’s clear that Letang’s impact is similar to other candidates.

Defensive Metrics

There seems to be this myth that Letang is terrible in his own zone and turns the puck over like a machine. This is the same perception that has been dogging Karlsson all season as well.

However, Letang has broken up numerous odd man rushes and is an expert at exiting the zone under pressure from the opposition. As you can see from his chart above, Letang’s actual numbers are very similar to Burns, who likely sneaks into the top three this year. While points are often the major difference between Norris Trophy winners and losers, if defensive positioning is taken into account, Letang stacks up well, too.

Letang has been one of the best defenseman in the league this season and hopefully the voters see that.

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