Islanders fans believing Mark Streit will receive an invitation to Las Vegas for the NHL Awards Ceremony should be prepared for disappointment. Contrary to a lot of the talk over the last few days, Streit is a longshot to be one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman.
As the most valuable member of the league’s 30th-place team, Streit is unlikely to garner enough votes to break into the top three. The writers who do not vote for Streit will cite that he racked up a lot of points in games after the Islanders were out of the playoff race, and they will cite…well, that he’s the best defenseman on the league’s 30th-place team.
It’s important to understand that, unlike the Hart Trophy given to the league’s most valuable player, there is no mention of “value” in the judging of the Norris. The award is supposed to go purely to the league’s best defenseman. On those grounds, Streit unquestionably merits inclusion in the discussion.
But a Norris nomination is just not going to happen for Streit. Despite the language in the voting manual, most writers will go by the standard, “If Streit wasn’t on the Islanders, they’d still be in 30th.” This would be unfortunate and unfair, but it’s reality.
The Professional Hockey Writers Association is a group that for most of the last 15 years has presented the Masterton Trophy to players returning after recovering from injury or illness, from Mark Fitzpatrick to Jason Blake. The Masterton is supposed to go to “the player that best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” Coming back to your chosen career after a major injury or illness does not qualify as perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.
The James Norris Memorial Trophy is awarded to “the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in his position.” Attention, PHWA: it doesn’t say anything about value to one of the league’s best teams. Nevertheless, expect Streit to be the odd man out.
Washington’s Mike Green is a lock for one of the nominations and the leading contender to take home the hardware in Vegas. Green leads the league in D scoring (24-36-60) and this season broke the record for goals by a dman in consecutive games.
As long as Detroit’s all-world Nicklas Lidstrom is upright, he’ll probably get a Norris nod. Lidstrom is 13-35-48 and +26. The only thing standing in the way of another Norris nomination for the great Lidstrom is that his teammate Brian Rafalski (9-44-53, +17) may be having an even better season. I don’t believe they will cancel each other out. Lidstrom will join Green as a Norris nominee.
In the battle with Streit for the final nomination are several worthy candidates, starting with Rafalski. Zdeno Chara, despite his brainlock on Streit’s Leetchian rush on Saturday, may get in. (The Norris is like the Gold Glove in MLB or the Pro Bowl in the NFL. Once you get a nom, it’s yours to lose). Andrei Markov will get all the votes from the writers in Montreal, who will never concede they were wrong about Streit. Boston’s Dennis Wideman (44 points, plus-30) has had an exceptional season, but Chara’s shadow is pretty big.
Shea Weber is so good, he overcomes the hurdle of getting press outside of Nashville. Sheldon Souray has 19 goals and the advantage of everyone in Edmonton falling all over themselves about him, like they used to for Eric Brewer. On the other hand, this will not be the year for studs Dion Phaneuf, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
My prediction for the third nomination after Green and Lidstrom is Dan Boyle. The first-year Shark is 14-34-48 and only +8. He’s the 5th leading scorer among NHL defensemen, while Streit is current tied for third. The big difference is Streit’s Islanders are last in the NHL and 14 games under .500, Boyle’s Sharks are second in the league and an incredible 32 games over .500. San Jose is also tied with Boston and New Jersey for the fewest goals allowed (167). Boyle leads the team with 24:40 average time on ice.
Mike Green. Nicklas Lidstrom. Dan Boyle. If Streit is in that conversation, it’s quite an honor. Put it this way: if the Islanders were one of the top teams in the league, and the Rangers, Flyers, Wild or any other team were in 30th but had a defenseman tied for third in scoring, would you think their player deserved one of three Norris nominations?
Streit has 12 more games to stake his claim. To have any chance, he’ll need to rack up some points to get past the 60 mark and separate himself from the pack after the unreachable Mike Green. If he does that – and upping his plus/minus into double-digits wouldn’t hurt – Streit’s odds of getting to Vegas rise from none to slim.
More importantly, Streit has had a wonderful season and is signed up for four additional years at better-than-market value. If the Islanders can add another top defenseman through the draft or free agency, his production (and visibility) will increase. When team success merges with personal honors, Streit and Islanders fans will really be able to savor it.
ETC: Islanders return to practice at Iceworks tomorrow and Thursday before leaving for games in Carolina (Friday) and Ottawa (Saturday)…Andy Sutton is signing autographs at the Islanders Team Store at the Sunrise Mall in Massapequa on Wednesday from 6:30 – 7:30 pm.