There’s been a lot of chatter recently about the Norris Trophy, and Adam Fox being a legitimate contender to win the award as the NHL’s best defenseman in 2021.
Rangers fans, who see Fox on a nightly basis, and see all the big things and all the subtle things he does for the Blueshirts, think Fox should be in the conversation. Fans outside the New York Metropolitan area, who maybe don’t watch a ton of Ranger games, maybe don’t know what they’re missing.
But it’s probably safe to say that, as good as he has been this season, the 23-year-old Fox, a native of Jericho, won’t be winning the Norris Trophy. Just as he didn’t win the Calder Trophy last year, as the NHL’s best rookie.
And that’s OK, according to Rangers radio analyst Dave Maloney.
"He's trending in the right direction,’’ said Maloney, a defenseman in his 11 years in the NHL. "It's just a matter of establishing a little more notoriety in the league. You know, the thing is with his game… you only really appreciate him when you can see him, shift in and shift out, and game in, game out. And that's perhaps the same as everyone.’’
Barring something crazy, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning will be the overwhelming choice to win the Norris Trophy this season. Maloney struggled to make an argument for anyone to beat Hedman out for the award.
The former Rangers captain is intrigued by the season Darnell Nurse, of Edmonton, is having, and he has long been a fan of Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton. Kris Letang of Pittsburgh is having a good year for a Penguins team that is challenging for the No. 1 seed in the East Division. And Long Beach native Charlie McAvoy, of the Boston Bruins, keeps catching his eye.
"It's a little difficult too, in this season, because we don't see everyone,’’ Maloney said, pointing out that in 2021, teams play a 56-game regular season, and only play within their division. "The guy that I've seen in our division that I like what I see is McAvoy in Boston. There's a lot of good stuff going on with that kid, too.’’
But Hedman is in a class by himself, according to Maloney. Hedman, 30, won the award in 2017-18, and last fall in the NHL bubbles of Toronto and Edmonton, he was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. The best defenseman on the best team — particularly when he is a 6-4, 241-pound, do-everything stud like Hedman — is usually a good place to start when talking about the Norris.
This season, Hedman has been at or near the top of the defensemen scoring list (through Thursday’s games, he was at the top, with 34 points, on six goals and 28 assists) and among the leaders in average time on ice (25:31 through Thursday).
Fox, 23, was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week last Monday, after putting up 11 points in four games the week ending March 28. He had 20 points in March, and through Thursday, his 31 points (4 goals, 27 assists) were tied with Washington’s John Carlson for third in defensemen scoring in the league. Like any of the top contenders, Fox plays on the power play and the penalty kill, and handles a lot of ice time (24:36).
Maloney put Fox in what he called "the next generation of defenders,’’ along with McAvoy, 23, Colorado’s Cale Makar, 22, and Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes, 21. Rangers rookie K’Andre Miller, 21, could be considered in that next generation, too, by the way.
"He just needs to play a little more,’’ Maloney said of Fox. "And there's every expectation that there's no reason not to think that sooner than later, he will warrant more and more consideration for the Norris. I just think it's a little early yet.’’
Other award contenders
What about other awards? Artemi Panarin won’t repeat as a Hart Trophy finalist this season, but could Miller, or goaltender Igor Shesterkin make a case to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s Rookie of the Year?
Realistically, Miller won’t win. As tremendous as he’s been for the Rangers, he’s not going to beat out Minnesota Wild left wing Kirill Kaprizov, who leads all rookies in scoring (with 13 goals and 30 points, through Thursday). Kaprizov is the favorite to win the award, though his teammate Kaapo Kahkonen — who, through Thursday was third among rookie goalies in wins (12), fourth in goals-against average (2.34) and third in save percentage (.920) — is part of a strong class of first-year goalies.
Kahkonen, Kevin Lankinen in Chicago, Alex Nedeljkovic in Carolina, Ilya Sorokin on the Islanders and Vitek Vanecek in Washington all have had good rookie years. But so has Shesterkin, who missed 10 games with a groin injury, but whose 2.29 goals-against average and .924 save percentage through Thursday were third, and second, respectively, among rookies.
Shesterkin will play a lot down the stretch as the Rangers chase a playoff spot. If he plays well and the Rangers finish strong, the door may still be open for him.