Kris Letang Deserved the Norris Trophy Over Drew Doughty
Kristopher Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins had a phenomenal 2015-16 campaign. Without him, the Penguins would have been lucky to survive the first round of the playoffs against the New York Rangers, let alone win the Cup. He's the driving force behind the Penguins breakouts, and the ability to cleanly breakout out of the defensive zone and transition it into offensive zone time is generally a recipe for success. Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Drew Doughty were the final nominations for the top defenseman in the league, with Doughty ultimately winning the Norris. But did he rightfully earn it, or did he simply win due to he himself being robbed of the award in the past as well?
Let's start with the third place player, Brent Burns. He's a terrific player and has a terrific beard, that is for certain. Burns can definitely put up the points, earning 75 this past season with 27 of those being goals in 82 games, while Letang had a career best 67 points in 71 games played. That's about 0.91 Points Per Game for Burns, and 0.94 for Letang, so while Burns had a larger sheer amount of points than Letang, the Penguins blueliner was still playing more effectively every game when not injured. Letang was also relied upon slightly more often than the Sharks star defensman, averaging 26:57 per game, while Burns played more than a full minute less with 25:52 per night. While playing large quantities of hockey every night, Letang had also done an exceptional job limiting his giveaways, with only 69 in 71 games, whereas Burns coughed up the puck 102 times during a full season in 2015-16. Not only does Letang beat out Burns on the point per game front, but he also does so in CF%. Burns had a CorsiFor% of 53.8% meanwhile Kris Letang has the edge with 54.9%, all the while putting up more points per game and playing more per night than Brent Burns. While Burns narrowly managed to beat out Kris Letang for third place on the Norris ballot, I think it would be reasonable to assume that Letang is still much happier with his summer enjoying the Stanley Cup rather than third place Norris nomination.
The argument against Erik Karlsson however, is a little tougher to make than the one against Burns. The Ottawa Senator has already won two Norris Trophies throughout his seven years in the NHL, one in 2012 and another in 2015. He has continuously proven he's an offensive threat nearly every night, putting up a point per game this past season. While Karlsson had more impressive point production, Letang had the more impressive CorsiFor% which generally translates to possession. While Letang was on the ice his team had possession 55% of the time while Karlsson's team held 52% possession. That gap may not seem massive, but that 3% can mean the difference between a goal against and a goal for. That gap is significantly more impressive when you take note that Letang's shifts started in his defensive zone 45.9% of the time meanwhile Karlsson's only 44.7%. So while the Penguins coach Mike Sullivan started more of Letang's shifts in the defensive zone, he still has managed to gain more overall possession than Erik Karlsson.
Arguing against the Kings defenseman Drew Doughty is perhaps the easiest of the three. There is no doubt that he is an elite player that has been deserving of the Norris in past years, but the 2015-16 season was not one of those years. Doughty had a career high giveaway total of 97 and a career low takeaway rate (minus the lockout shortened season) with a mere 10, while Letang had a career high in both categories with 69 and 47 respectively.That was not Doughty's biggest downfall this past season though, if you can believe that. His biggest fault however, was his utter lack of point production. Drew Doughty could only muster a measly 52 points in 82 games, a far cry from Letang's 67 in 71 games. Doughty also struggled to drive much offense while not on the powerplay, earning only 0.3 points per game while even strength, when at the same time Letang was earning over half a point per game at even strength. Now I am not saying that Doughty is a bad player, but I am saying that there were three defensemen more deserving of the 2016 Norris Trophy, the most deserving somehow falling to fourth in votes.
All four players are really something special, and are all incredibly exciting to watch, that goes without saying. But, when it comes to the best defenseman in the league during 2015-16, Kris Letang should have been the front runner without a doubt. He can do it all, he puts up points on as well as off the powerplay, drives possession, creates breakouts without coughing up the puck and can turn a great defensive play into an offensive chance, he can really do it all. He's incredibly skilled as well as smart when it comes to the game of hockey, which is why he is so heavily leaned upon by the Penguins coaching staff. Letang is one of the teams most valuable payers, as well as one of the league's top defensmen, night in and night out bar none. If he could have stayed healthy and played a full 82 games for the first time in his career, there's a good chance Kris Letang would be enjoying not only the Stanley Cup but the Norris Trophy as well this summer.