Lindholm a very worthy Norris candidate
In first full season with B's, defenseman has been terrific
Whether or not the Bruins’ spectacular regular season leads to the coveted Stanley Cup is anyone’s guess. But with less than a month to go before the end of the 82-game slate, it’s pretty clear that they’ll be well represented at the NHL Awards ceremony in Nashville in June.
Linus Ullmark should be a shoo-in for the Vezina Trophy and Jim Montgomery is a good bet for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
But don’t sleep on Hampus Lindholm’s candidacy for the Norris Trophy.
The race for the award given to the most outstanding defenseman is one of the more interesting of the season. San Jose’s Erik Karlsson is a unique player having a unique season. With 11 games to go in the Sharks’ season, he’s just 13 points shy of the 100-point mark, a magical plateau for a defenseman only achieved by five players in the history of the game — Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey five times each, and Al MacInnis, Brian Leetch and Denis Potvin, who all did it once. They’re all Hall of Famers.
But Karlsson is also a minus-14 player who doesn’t kill penalties on the second worst team in the league. The Sharks have a grand total of 19 wins, so he hasn’t exactly affected that team’s fortunes a heck of a lot. His defensive work in his own zone can be indifferent.
Lindholm, on the other hand, has been the most consistently excellent defenseman with a team on the verge of some historical achievements. He’s produced 10-38-48 numbers, only 15 points of which have come on the power play because, until recently, he’d been relegated to the second unit for much of the season.
He’s the league leader in plus/minus with a plus-46 (yes, it’s a flawed stat but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored) and plays in all situations. And when it was still anyone’s guess what kind of team the B’s would be when they started the season without Charlie McAvoy, Brad Marchand and Matt Grzelcyk in October, Lindholm was arguably the team’s MVP among the skaters. He helped set the table for what this Bruins team would become.
It is by no means a twoman race. Past winners like
Adam Fox and Cale Makar are having fine seasons, though Makar has missed 13 games with concussion issues. Dougie Hamilton and Quinn Hughes will get votes.
But asked to make a case for Lindholm, Montgomery spoke about how both he and McAvoy (a tough sell here for the Norris simply because he missed 13 games) have impacted the outcomes of games.
“If you look at how he’s driven play at both ends of the ice, especially carrying the load of the ‘D’ corps while (McAvoy) was out early in the year … and then just how he continues to have an impact, night in and night out with the plus minus and the goals scored when he’s on the ice and the impact he has on those goals is significant. And how much we lean on him to match up against top players and top lines. That plays into it, too. That would be the significant arguments for him,” said Montgomery. “Our problem is we have two D-men who could or should win the Norris.”
To be sure, while Karlsson will lose votes because of how bad his team is, Lindholm could lose votes because of how good his team is. Five of the league’s top 10 players in plus-minus are Bruins, and some voters could perceive that he’s simply riding a wave with a great team.
But one thing that has stuck out to Montgomery about Lindholm that he didn’t know about was the “it” factor he possesses.
“What’s really surprised me, not knowing him coming in, is … he could be having a below average game for him and his belief in that he’s going to make something positive happen to help us win … he never gets deterred. And I always marvel at the players who have that ability,” said Montgomery. “It’s the old thing with Michael Jordan. He could go 2-for-21 but he wants that ball in the last minute because he goes, ‘I’m going to go 3-for22 ‘…. I would have thought, ‘It’s not my night.’ But it’s always his night. Great players have that and I think Hampus has that.”
Lindholm has heard his name bandied about for the award and appreciates what it means, but it is not driving him.
“I just try to focus on the process and get better each day, because we’re playing for something bigger here and that was my goal coming to Boston,” said Lindholm. “I want to win something as a team and that’s the mindset to this group this year. It’s my mindset every year. It’d a feather in the cap, but at the end of the game, you try to improve each game and do your best to give us a chance to win a hockey game. That’s my goal every game. If people think you’re doing a good enough job to be mentioned with those names, then just it’s a feather in your cap.”
There is still no timeline on the return of Taylor Hall, who continued practice in a non-contact jersey on Wednesday, but Montgomery likes what he’s seeing.
“Honest to God, he looks really good. He’s skating out there, flying like he usually does. I know there’s some more steps that have to happen, but he does look good,” said Montgomery. … Nick Foligno, behind Hall in his recovery, had a scheduled day off the ice.