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Ryan McDonagh’s case for the Norris

March 25, 2014, by
Photo Credit: LoHud

Photo Credit: LoHud

If there is one award that is up in the air this year, it is the Norris Trophy for best defenseman. Only once in the post-Lidstrom era has a purely offensive defenseman (Erik Karlsson) won the award, but the award does generally lean towards those with pretty offensive numbers (although that’s clearly not the only criteria, or else Mike Green would have won a few times). The award goes to the guy that can play in all three zones, and be one of the best in the league at doing so. It’s why guys like Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara, Duncan Keith, and Chris Pronger are (were) always in the running. It’s why we expect P.K. Subban to be in the running for the majority of his career.

But yet, Ryan McDonagh seems to be an afterthought for this award. I don’t think I’ve even seen him mentioned in the conversation this year. But yet, he sits 12th in defensive scoring with a line of 13-29-42 on an offensively starved Rangers squad. The four guys from 8th-11th are all on non-playoff teams. We still don’t hear his name mentioned, despite him playing almost 25 minutes per game (13th in the league).

So who do we constantly hear about for the Norris? This year, it appears to be Keith’s award to lose. But we also hear a lot about Subban, Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo, and Ryan Suter. All great defensemen, but where does McDonagh line up with all these guys?

Aside from the scoring measures, we have to look at deployment (quality of competition, zone starts) and effectiveness (puck possession) to measure how good a player is at playing his actual position. I pulled together a comparison, courtesy of ExtraSkater, of the players I believe will finish in the top-ten in voting for the Norris. Below is a graph of their usage:

Courtesy of Extra Skater

Courtesy of Extra Skater

From a zone start standpoint, you can see how favorable the deployment is for Keith, Karlsson, Hedman, and Suter. These guys are facing quality competition, but they are doing so with over 54% offensive zone starts. Meanwhile, guys like Subban, McDonagh, Weber, and Chara are doing this with 46%-47% offensive zone starts. This isn’t to take anything away from the first group, but heavy offensive zone starts like that tend to lead to more favorable offensive numbers. After all, it’s much easier to notch a point when the play starts in the offensive zone.

Fenwick/Corsi don’t really favor McDonagh too much here, he’s in the middle of the road in terms of pure CF%. From a relative standpoint, he’s near the bottom of the list. It doesn’t help his cause, but it doesn’t really hurt his cause either.

What does help his cause is deployment, factoring quality of competition and zone starts together. Chara, Weber, and McDonagh are top-three in quality of competition faced. Weber, Subban, and McDonagh are bottom-three in offensive zone starts. Of those four, McDonagh sits third in points. If we are truly measuring based on deployment, then three of these four would be the finalists. But therein lies the conundrum: How can you punish players for their deployment? Byfuglien and Pietrangelo don’t exactly have favorable matchups, so are those extra offensive zone starts worth that much in offensive production?

All ten players on this list are great players, that we all know. ¬†Where they finish in the Norris voting, well that’s not up to you and me.¬†This may not be McDonagh’s year to win the Norris, or even be a finalist, but he is certainly in the category of top-ten defensemen in the league. Should this offensive outburst be a breakout and not a blip, McDonagh’s name will appear in the conversation sooner rather than later.

"Ryan McDonagh's case for the Norris", 5 out of 5 based on 14 ratings.
Categories : Players


  1. Hatrick Swayze says:

    Awesome Dave… that chart really does quantify things. Obviously, its a sore spot that the award tends to correlate more with offensive #s than what the player brings to his squad in all 3 zones. McDonagh is worth much more than his 42 points on the season. I haven’t yet looked up all these guys points total, but I didn’t realize 2 things that jumped out at me:

    1) Didn’t realize how many shifts Suter started in the offensive zone. I guess it may come with the territory when you get 30 minutes of ice time per game, but I thought he was leaned on slightly more definsively.

    2) This may have slightly weakened Keith’s case for me as out of all these top 10 D…. he starts MOST in the O zone, and faces the WEAKEST competition. Couple that, with the fact that he is on an offensively STACKED Hawks team, and all of a sudden his stat line is slightly (just slightly) less impressive.

    To see McDonagh in the quadrant of the chart that he is in and STILL see him accomplish such point totals and dictate play game in and game out is impressive. Looking forward to the next time I get to wear my McDonagh jersey on a trip up to Montreal.

  2. PopsTwitTar says:

    Nice. One question:

    Has anyone ever quantified what the difference between a 54% and 46% zone start is? I dont have a clue how many faceoffs and shot attempts that translates to.

    Crosby currently leads the league with 1700 faceoffs taken. So lets say McDonagh and Keith and the top TOI guys are on for 1500 a year to keep it simple. If faceoffs are evenly split between all 3 zones (I doubt they are) that means they are on for 1000 OZ and DZ faceoffs in this scenario. Which means McDonagh is on for 460 OZ draws, and Keith is on for 540. That’s a difference of 80 OZ faceoffs. How many “extra” shots can that 80 OZ faceoffs generate in a year…25-40? Doesnt seem like much. I guess Im wondering if theres any significant difference between a 45% ZS and a 55% one.

    • Dave says:

      Pension Plan Puppets has put together a stat called dCorsi that essentially measures effectiveness based on zone starts and QoC. They measure results versus expectations. I expect ES will have it up soon.

  3. Walt says:

    Don’t give me all the stats, just give me the Mac Truck!!!!

    On a serious note, Mac means more to this team than any of the other d-men being considered, and it’s funny, the media capital of this country, still McD doesn’t get near the press as some of the others. If they really looked at guys who have won the Norris, and or the finalists, Latang, Subban, are you kidding me?? These guys can’t hold McD jock strap, let alond fill it!!!!

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      “Mac means more to this team than any of the other d-men being considered”

      Hard to make that arguement. I’m not saying he does or doesn’t…. but consider things like

      McD plays 25:49 per game. Suter plays 30:47 per game. That 5 minute differential is HUGE. Then, consider that Rangers have Giradi, Staal and Klein on the depth chart behind him. Suter has Spurgeon, Brodin and Scandella. So it looks like the Wild lean more on Suter than the Rangers do on McD because they have to.

  4. Spozo says:

    I’ve been advocating for years (along with a lot of other people) that they need to make a second award for defenseman. Forwards have the Selke award for best defensive forward. How about make a Bobby Orr award for the best offensive defenseman. Then let the Norris trophy actually go to the best defenseman, ya know, the player who is best at actually playing defense.

    • Walt says:

      Yeah, like that Karlsson kid is a defensmen????? He got the award, but can’t play a lick of “D”. I’m with you my man!!!!!

    • Steven Cifuentes says:

      This makes perfect sense….but we are talking about the NHL you know.

      Hmm a Bobby Orr award for defenseman with most points…to easy.

      • The Suit says:

        I agree, but it’s hard to quantify defensive play. Combining these stats is a start, but we’re still a ways away from truly scoring all of this.

        • Dave says:

          dCorsi is a start, but ES hasn’t picked it up yet. Steve Burtch (the PPP guy who created it) is working out the kinks.

          • Spozo says:

            But if they can award the Selke award every year without clear cut stats likes goals, assists, and points, why can’t they do the same for a defenseman a play in his own zone?

  5. SalMerc says:

    Let’s make it simple. You just bought the Islanders and can choose 1 from this list, who do you choose?
    Keith, Karlsson, Hedman,Suter, Subban, McDonagh, Weber, or Chara

    • Spozo says:


      • Seahorse says:

        for one year, chara, but to build franchise in be a gm mode probably gonna have to agree with weber. 20 goals a year, 27 min a night, blast from the point on the pp and a rock in his own zone is hard to beat

  6. Chuck A says:

    Agreed – whether the Norris is quantitatively or qualitatively awarded, Mac – our future Captain – is going to get one soon

  7. Rob says:

    completely unrelated to this but her is a great topic for a post. Even considering the terrible road start to this seaso, the Rangers have the BEST road record. Yet are only 500 at home. Why?????