The National Hockey League wrapped up its end of season award ceremony last Wednesday, the 21st of June. This year, the NHL dangled the expansion draft over would-be viewers to try and increase viewership. I’m not so sure that was effective, especially after NHL insiders leaked most of the selections well before the actual event.
Nonetheless, between Marcel Dionne making an ass of himself, Bryan Bickell’s touching goodbye, and some obscene voter decisions (two people left Erik Karlsson off their ballots, and Torey Krug received a 2nd place vote)*, there was more than enough to discuss after the event.
*Maybe it is time for the NHL to release the ballots of everyone who voted.
But let’s talk about Brent Burns
Brent Burns was this year’s Norris trophy winner, and it was also the first of his career. The veteran defender not only put together the best season of his career, but also of any defender 31 years or older. It is true that he slowed down towards the end of the season, but his 29 goals were historic.
Here is how Brent Burns compares to other 31 year old defensemen:
He ranks fifth all-time in average points per game. His goal totals are the highest of any defenseman in this age bracket. Looking purely at points, he ranks 4th all time.
It staggers me how rare of a feat it is for a veteran defenseman to have the kind of season Brent Burns just had.
Even if you compare Burns to the best seasons of any defenseman that was 31 years of age and older, you still get ridiculous numbers:
Those are the 13 best seasons posted by any player who fit this age bracket (31 years of age and older). Brent Burns comes in 13th all time in the NHL. Not only that, but his goal totals are still the highest among this group.
Even if you take the entire history of the National Hockey League, Brent Burns had the 18th best goal total among defensemen. Further to that, it isn’t until Al MacInnis comes in at 28th that we even see another defenseman that is 30 years old.
Voters got it right this year
For all the same reasons Erik Karlsson should have won the Norris trophy last year, I believe voters righted that wrong (well, slightly) by choosing Brent Burns. He is one of the most interesting players in the National Hockey League, and with all certainty, one of the most skilled. Brent Burns had the kind of season defensemen his age just don’t often have. It is never a bad thing to see skilled goal scorers get the type of recognition this trophy brings, and anything that encourages high-end skill to flourish in hockey is a positive contribution to the sport as a whole.
One for the readers
Awards in the NHL often create a lot of friction between fan bases, media, and teams. There is an interesting juxtaposition between being arguably the best player at your position, and being deserving of an award. It is my belief that Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman are the two best defensemen in the league, but does that mean one of them must win a Norris trophy each season? What about believing a defenseman was more deserving of the Hart trophy than they were the Norris? I won’t posit an answer to these questions, but I do want to leave it out there as a thought experiment for readers to comment on.