Predators’ Weber, Josi add fuel to Norris Trophy debate

Joe Camporeale/Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE — If you would have consulted me two months ago and asked to predict a winner for the Norris Trophy, I would have more than likely said "Shea Weber" … and that would have been it.

With the majority of teams already in the midst of their final 10 games of the regular season, this hotly contested battle — which happens every spring — will once again come down to a handful of names all vying for one trophy.

Weber, Nashville’s perennial Norris Trophy finalist, has again enjoyed a season worthy of the league’s top defensemen. In the same respect, Roman Josi has been equally impressive.

However, if Nashville only had one defenseman that could qualify a Norris finalist, who would it be?

In terms of scoring, both Weber and Josi have had near-identical seasons.

Weber’s 15 goals/30 assists rank 10th in the league, while Josi’s 14 goals/38 assists have him tied for fourth alongside Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban — the Norris winner from two seasons ago.

The Weber/Josi pairing ranks first and second for the Predators in points, among defensemen, respectively.

Weber sits 11 points from his career-best point total of 56 (last season), while Josi is already posting his best numbers ever.

They’re easily Nashville’s most utilized defensive pairing and are quite possibly the NHL’s most elite pairing.  

In my opinion, there are nine players — outside of Calgary’s injured Mark Giordano — who would have also been in the Norris discussion: John Carlson (Capitals), Drew Doughty (Kings), Erik Karlsson (Senators), Duncan Keith (Blackhawks), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Coyotes), Kris Letang (Penguins) and the aforementioned Josi, Subban and Weber.

Of those nine, Weber and Josi find themselves playing hefty minutes every night. They’re also more offensive-minded than the other Norris candidates.

When you compare them to the remaining blue liners, they may be trending toward the bottom.

That’s not to say Weber and Josi aren’t considered elite defenseman. However, it’s more to point out that in the bigger picture, there are better defensemen having better seasons in respect to both production and how they play defensively.

Let’s look closely at Doughty:

Doughty ranks 19th among NHL defensemen in points, with five goals and 36 assists. However, he logs the most ice time in the league and forces the most shots toward the net while he’s out there.

Also, Doughty has a positive differential this season of plus-300 shots, regardless if they were on net, missed or blocked.

Simply put, for every five shots he encounters on the ice, only four come toward his team’s net. That statistic for Doughty is also the highest in the league.

In the case of Weber and Josi, both defensemen have a slightly negative differential in the amount of shots faced toward their own net. Essentially, it means that whenever Doughty is on the ice, the Kings record more shooting chances. Nashville’s pairing does not.

Every defenseman on that list outside of Ekman-Larsson finds their team forcing more shots when on the ice. But that’s not the full story.

One must consider how many goals are allowed, as well.

Weber and Josi both rely on the capable services of Vezina-worthy Pekka Rinne as a backstop, but even so both rank at the top of the NHL in goals allowed per 60 minutes. When Josi is on the ice, Nashville allows only 1.70 goals per 60 minutes.

For Weber, that number increases slightly 1.75.

The next closest from the previous list of defensemen? Keith with 1.92 goals per 60 minutes.

There’s an argument for and against the inclusion of Nashville’s top defensive pairing in the Norris discussion — but their nominations have merit.

Josi may not be the household name that Weber is, but the level of his play adds to the Predators’ stinginess on defense. The same could be said for Weber. Unfortunately for Josi, he’s still largely unknown to the vast multitude outside of Nashville.

Weber, on the other hand, has been a Norris finalist for three of the last four seasons. He’s on the short list of the world’s greatest players at that crucial position.

Weber and Josi represent good choices for the Norris … but in the end, Who would you pick?

Your selection could easily be the winner at the end of the season. That’s how tight the race is at this point.