When Nicklas Lidstrom won the last of his seven Norris Trophies in 2010-11, it ended an era of defensive dominance the NHL may never see again.
The Hall of Fame defender won those seven awards in just 10 seasons, bested only by the great Bobby Orr, who won eight in a row between 1968 and 1975 and Doug Harvey, who won seven in eight years during the 50s and 60s.
Lately it’s been a bit more of a dogfight to determine the game’s top rearguard, with only Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson winning two since Lidstrom bid the league adieu in 2012.
Speaking of Karlsson, he is having yet another monster season. He is averaging a point per game and logging significant time on the powerplay, penalty kill and defending against the opposition’s best forward units.
This is not to say he has a lock on his third in six seasons, but it will be hard to surpass him for honors.
Here are 15 defenceman we believe could find themselves hoisting the trophy when the NHL hands out its awards next spring.
No Finnish defenceman has ever won the Norris in NHL history. And there have been some good ones, like Teppo Numminen, who played 1,372 games but finished only as high as seventh in voting as best defenceman. The lack of recognition for Finnish born defenders could change in the near future, as Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen has made great strides in his play. The Sabres first round (8th overall) pick in the 2013 draft has seen his ice time go up every season, as well as his offensive and defensive stats. He has gone from 20 points in his first full season (2014-15) to 41 in 2015-16 and this season is on pace for 50 points with a goal and 15 assists in 26 games. Ristolainen has pared his plus-minus down from -32 in 14-15 to -5 this season, while his ice time has gone from 20:37 to 26:42. He is quarterbacking the powerplay efficiently, with his goal and 10 assists coming in man advantage situations. Finally, the Turku native is seventh among defencemen in hits with 71 and 24th in blocked shots (51).