Please Don't Let Brent Burns Lose The Norris Trophy To Shea Weber,
As the first month of 2017 comes to a close, there are two things I fear:
1. The collapse of the United States as a democracy, which will include the new president cutting programs that benefit the poor and ignoring climate change research and the realistic possibility that one perfectly crafted tweet will cause a 70-year-old man with a bad spray tan to launch a nuclear attack on his own country.
2. Brent Burns losing his Norris Trophy to Shea Weber.
Speaking of elections rigged by foreign entities, let’s talk about the 2016 Norris vote that gave the award to Drew Doughty instead of Erik Karlsson. In this case, instead of Russia installing a false leader through hacking, it was Canadian (and a few American) hacks installing a false best defenseman by using propaganda about defensive abilities that weren’t true.
“But what about Karlsson’s defense?” was the “But what about the e-mails?” of the Norris vote. The Swede delivered one of the best seasons by a blueliner in NHL history and the best in at least two decades, but the false narrative that he couldn’t play in his own end coupled with the notion that the 26-year-old Doughty was simply due for his award led to a defenseman coup.
Burns vs. Weber has the potential to end as an even bigger robbery than Karlsson vs. Doughty.
Burns is having the best season by a defenseman in 30 years. He is on pace for 35 goals, 85 points, and 316 shots. That would be the most goals since 1985-86a number eclipsed by only Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Dit Clapper, and Doug Wilson, the San Jose Sharks’ general managerbut the shot total is what’s particularly impressive. Although Burns’ current projection puts him behind his own total of 353 last year, he leads the league in shots right now, which a defenseman has done only twice before in NHL history (and of course it was Orr both times).
As historic a candidate Karlsson was last year, Burns is even betterhe’s on pace for twice as many goals, a few more points, and about 70 more shots.
And yet Weber poses a strikingly similar threat to his Norris hopes as Doughty did to Karlsson’s last year.
Doughty won the Norris election with 14 goals and 51 points, tenth most among defensemen, in 82 games. The Los Angeles Kings went from missing the playoffs the year before to qualifying last year. He was bestowed this career appreciation award in his eighth NHL season in the face of Karlsson’s greatness.
Weber is on pace for 18 goals and 50 points, ninth most among defensemen, in 82 games. The Montreal Canadiens will go from missing the playoffs last year to qualifying this year. Please don’t bestow this career appreciation award upon Weber in his tenth NHL season in the face of Burns’ greatness.
This is where people will use twisted logic to give Weber the award, because while his numbers pale in comparison Burns’, he’s perhaps slightly better than Doughty was last year. And just like Doughty, Weber has that physical side general managers love. If Marc Bergevin makes a speech about how Weber does things numbers can’t explain the way Dean Lombardi did for Doughty last year, voters who take everything general managers say at face value will nod stupidly in agreement like they did last year and put Weber at the top of their ballots.
Instead of compounding the mistake, voters should realize that Weber actually isn’t having as good a season as Doughty had last year.
For all his offensive flaws, Doughty (58.5 percent raw Fenwick) was a possession beast; Weber (51.5 percent) is middling and a negative possession player in relation to his team. That can be twisted, still, as voters may use the extra time Weber spends in his own zone as a way of showing he can block shots and hit a lot, even though that’s a product of the Canadiens not being as good with Weber on the ice relative to other players.
Although Weber looks the part of a bruising, menacing defenseman, he has picked up 17 of his 30 points on the power play. If he were a little smaller, had longer hair and a smaller build, and hailed from Sweden, you could use that stat to say he’s an offense-only defenseman who doesn’t thrive in his own zone. You’d be an idiot, but you could do that.
Last year, Karlsson had a raw Fenwick of 50.6 percent, an impressive number considering how poor the Senators were as a whole in this area. Burns is at 53.1 percent, the second-best mark among players with at least 20 games on a team that does quite well at five-on-five. As incredible as Karlsson was a year ago, Burns has exceeded him in almost every area.
You can take that for one of two things: it either means Burns should be the runaway Norris winner, because he’s blown a historic season by a defenseman out of the water with his own historic season, or it means he’s just like Karlssonoffense only, not good in his own end, blah blah blah, let’s give this to Weber.
After all, Burns has only 49 hits in 49 games. Weber has 90 hits! He’s rugged! He grinds you down! You can’t see that physical wear and tear on opponents when you look at the scoresheet! Watch the games, nerd!
Hey voters, look! This is a big tough defenseman with a huge beard. Photo by Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
It feels like explaining that the Earth is round and revolves around the sun at this point, but if you have fewer hits than someone else, it’s because you have the puck more, which is the object of hockey, which means you’re putting yourself and your teammates into positions to do good things more often than the other guy, which is, again, good.
This is the stupidest thing of all, but the ends will justify the means if this is the basis for your voteBurns’ physical appearance may give him an edge that Karlsson was never afforded. Burns looks like a rugged defenseman. He is big, strong, toothless, and has facial hair that makes him look like Bigfoot if Bigfoot hadn’t left his apartment for three months after having been laid off.
Voters who pay no attention to underlying numbers will look at Burns and think he’s a menace on the ice, when he’s on pace to finish with two fewer hits and 72 fewer blocked shots than Karlsson last season. Playing on the West Coast when everyone is asleep may actually benefit Burns, because no one will realize he plays a “softer” game than Karlsson.
Please don’t screw this up, PHWA voters. We get one crack at this. We don’t have the option to impeach Weber two years from now.
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Dave Lozo For VICE Sports