Making the Case: Doughty vs. Hedman for the Norris Trophy

Who truly is the best defenseman in the National Hockey League?

Sure, that’s a topic subject to much debate. That much we can easily agree upon.

And I’ll freely admit, in my opinion, Drew Doughty is the best. It’s an open and shut case, in fact. However, as somebody who has covered the Los Angeles Kings for years, making a statement like that can easily open me up to criticism. Detractors will quickly label that a form of homerism – even though ardent readers here would likely say our comments and analysis don’t resemble anything close to that notion.

Still, following this morning’s announcement of The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) Midseason Award “winners,” this topic felt worthy of a quick review.

Yes, I listed Drew Doughty No. 1 on my Norris Trophy midseason ballot. He finished second to Victor Hedman.

Normally that wouldn’t be a big issue.

What escalated my thinking today was the fact Hedman secured 63 first place votes, while Doughty received only 44.

Does that seem appropriate?

Clearly there isn’t an issue with Hedman. I listed him second on my ballot.

Last season, Hedman finished third in Norris voting (behind Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson). The year prior, Doughty, a multi-time nominee, took home the hardware handed out annually to the league’s best defenseman.

So, let’s jump into the debate.

Hedman is one of the key reasons for Tampa Bay’s success thus far this season, where they currently lead the Eastern Conference. You could even draw a correlation to Hedman being out recently and the Lightning cooling off during that stretch.

Doughty has a poise to his game and has done it on the biggest of stages. Hedman has not been as dominant when playing in similar situations. Doughty will make the glaring mistake, but moments later make the game breaking play. Hedman does get hurt occasionally and does not play as physical.

Hedman plays less on emotion, more like a very calculated machine. Doughty occasionally has too much emotion.

Numbers-wise, Doughty leads the league in average ice time, playing 27:14 per night. That’s roughly 1:40 more per game, which equates to 4-5 shifts more per game.

Despite the lack of help from the LA Kings lineup, Doughty is having an up year, offensively speaking, compared to the last few. The two-time Cup winner has four game-winning-goals to Hedman’s one. Overall, he has put up 34 points in 49 games, a pace slightly behind Hedman’s 33 points in 44 games. Again, though, the latter is surrounded by more offensive firepower, helping drive up his numbers. Simply look at the some of the top scorers in the league – Kucherov and Stamkos come to mind – they’re Hedman’s teammates.

Maybe this is near a dead-heat for some.

On the defensive side, Doughty has 71 blocked shots, compared with 58 from Hedman.

And how about this new award The PHWA came up with, the Rod Langway Award. While not an officially recognized award, it was meant to honor the league’s top Defensive Defensemen – somebody who may not put up great offensive numbers, but is tremendous at his job.

Doughty placed tops among all blueliners according to the 150 PHWA writers who voted, Hedman finished third.

[NOTE: I put Doughty fourth on my ballot for the Langway. Reason being, in my mind, if you’re creating an award to recognize guys who wouldn’t normally be part of the Norris talk, I felt three other names should get my votes. Fearing that not everybody would think like I do – which is what happened, as Doughty and Hedman finished in the top three for both awards, I put a little insurance on my ballot by listing Doughty fourth for the Langway.]

Hedman has a great team around him that can win games without him.

You can’t say the same thing about about Doughty.

The man who finished second is the best player in the NHL. He should have finished first.

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