With Ryan Suter playing like, well, Ryan Suter, the numbers are starting to pour in, and his defensive play has never been better. His Calder candidate defensive partner, Jonas Brodin, is becoming a household name in Minnesota and beyond. The only thing left for Ryan Suter to do is win some sort of award. Something given to the top defenseman in the NHL, perhaps?
But is Ryan Suter really in a position to be considered? Is it even possible he could win the Norris?
The Norris trophy is not actually given to the best defenseman in the NHL. The award is given annually by the Professional Hockey Writer's Association to the defenseman who puts up the greatest number of points and meets some sort of other magical combination of being Nicklas Lidstrom or playing in the Eastern Conference. So, while the defensive play of Suter cannot be discounted, the Norris really has nothing to do with it, so we'll skip right to the numbers.
Goals: 2 - Not great, but not terrible. PK Subban leads d-men with seven.
Assists: 21 - good for second in the NHL. Kris Letang leads with 25.
Points: 23 - second in the NHL. Kris Letang leads with 28.
+ / -: Useless stat, as evident by the fact that Francois Beauchemin leads with a +17. Letang is at a +12, Suter sits at a -3.
TOI /G: 27:20 - Leads NHL. Second is Erik Karlsson, who will not play the rest of the season.
PP TOI: 118:54, 5th in the NHL. Andrei Markov leads with 140:48. Letang sits in 4th with 122:43
The dream would be that all that matters in this decision is the performance on the ice, and that each voter in the PHWA would review tape and be fully informed before making their decision. The dream would be that Suter would be considered on his merits, and not on the reputation of the team or what division they play in. The dream would be that NHL awards were awarded to the player who most deserved them, and not to the player that is "represented" by the largest contingent of PHWA writers.
The fact is, it is likely just a dream.
As mentioned above, the Norris Trophy is voted on by the PHWA, the same organization that decided Ian Laperierre deserved the Masterton Trophy in 2010. The same Laperierre that spent his career leveling cheap shots, getting suspended, and doing more damage to his fellow NHLers than the Department of Player Safety Jokes. This is the player that the PHWA deemed worthy of an award that has sportsmanship as one of the qualifications.
Suter's defensive partner in Nashville, Shea Weber, deserved to win the award at least the two of the last three seasons, but was usurped by the PHWA rewarding points over defense (and all around play) in 2012, and giving the award based on past performance in 2011. Instead of choosing the best defenseman in the league, the PHWA has routinely chosen players based on market, points, or name alone.
To be fair, this is not an indictment of the entire PHWA. There are a number of very smart people in the organization. The problem really comes from the distribution of the members, with there being a number of writers who simply don't watch much Western Conference hockey, and those that do only watch the games on NBCSN. This limits their ability to make the right choice, and they vote based on what they do know. Fans howl "East Coast Bias," but it is actually just ignorance to the league as a whole.
Much like when Americans vote in November, a blind choice is made based on comfort zones, and no one is happy about it.
Given the situation right now, the favorite has to be Kris Letang, as he has better numbers, and plays in a market that the majority of PHWA members pay attention to. If it is anyone other than Letang or Suter, someone needs to share whatever it is they brought home from Vancouver, because parking on the grass is not cool.
The likelihood that the vast majority of the PHWA has even watched more than one or two Wild games this season is slim. Without the knowledge to make the right choice, it is a pipe dream that Suter will win. He'll be nominated, and he may even pull a couple of votes. Unless he turns on the jets and scores more points than everyone else, the rest of his accomplishments will mean nothing.
If Ryan Suter is going to be the Norris Trophy winner, he will need to make it so plainly obvious that he should that no one can have the slightest question, otherwise the voters will go to their safe place, vote the players they watch, and history will simply repeat itself.
Does Suter deserve serious consideration? Yes. Will he get serious consideration? Not until the Wild as an organization earn the right to not be judged by what Jacques Lemaire did here ten years ago.