None of the usual suspects are among the finalists for the 2013 Norris Trophy.
Hockey fans knew going into the season that perennial favorite Nicklas Lidstrom was out of the picture when he retired at the end of last season.
That meant the likely candidates would be Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.
However, none of them made it to the final three. Karlsson, the 2011-12 winner, spent most of the season on the injured list after his Achilles was torn as a result of Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke's errant skate.
Chara has long been a tower of power on defense with a booming shot for the Bruins, but he appeared vulnerable and mistake-prone on several occasions this season. Weber got off to a slow start with the Nashville Predators and didn't hit his usual stride until late in the season.
This season's finalists for the award that goes to the league's best defenseman include Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild, P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens and Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Suter and Subban stepped up their games quite a bit, while the offensive-minded Letang performed quite consistently—whenever he was in the lineup.
Letang was dogged by a number of nagging injuries this year, but he still managed to score 38 points in 35 games for the Penguins. That tied Subban for the league lead in points by blueliners, but Letang scored better than a point per game. Subban came close to that as he played in 42 games, but he could not top that figure.
Letang used his speed and agility to assert himself defensively. Since he is such an integral part of the Penguins offense, he often starts off many plays out of position defensively. However, he can turn on the jets to catch up with the play and he is poised enough to get back in position and break up opposing rushes.
Letang scored five goals and had 33 assists and he was plus-16 on the season. He averaged 25:38 of ice time per game and Dan Bylsma obviously had no hesitation about using him in all game-deciding situations.
What can't be denied is that when Subban is concentrating on his game, he is a superb player with great skills as an offensive player and he is also more than competent as a defender.
Subban started the season on the sidelines because he was engaged in a contract dispute with the Canadiens. Once the two sides finally came to an agreement, Subban played with greater maturity and effectiveness than he had in the past.
He scored 11 goals to lead all defensemen and also added 27 assists. Subban was plus-12 on the season and averaged 23:14 of ice time.
Subban is one of the top skating defensemen in the league. He carries the puck well and can take it on an end-to-end rush. His hard slap shot is one of the most devastating weapons in the league. He is one of the few shooters in the league who can simply beat opposing goalies with velocity even when they know it is coming.
Subban has developed into more than a shooter from an offensive perspective. He is a pinpoint passer who often keyed Montreal's success on the power play.
Subban is a also a fundamentally sound defensive player. He can cover up his teammate's mistakes and he does not often turn the puck over himself.
When it comes to playing mistake-free hockey, few players did more to help their team than Suter did this year.
After signing a huge free-agent contract with the Wild last summer, Suter got off to a somewhat slow start, as he did not score his first goal until the 22nd game of the season.
However, he still managed to score 32 points this season—four goals and 28 assists—and he was plus-two on the season.
What made Suter such a special player was his ability to stay on the ice. He averaged 27:16 of ice time per game, a figure that led the NHL.
Suter's endurance and his ability to handle the puck in traffic makes him a dominant player. He had been a star during his time in Nashville prior to signing with the Wild, but he stepped up his game this year and he was one of the primary reasons the Wild made the playoffs.
All three players are worthy candidates, but Letang's loss of 13 games to injuries puts him at a disadvantage compared to the other two finalists.
Subban is probably the most gifted player, but he still has some distance to go before he can match Suter.
Subban should feel good about the progress he made and his runner-up status. However, Suter is the best defenseman in the NHL and he deserves the Norris Trophy.
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