The St. Louis Blues kicked off their Stanley Cup-defending season with a banner ceremony and an overtime loss to the Washington Capitals. This year is gravy for the Blues, who can revel in their franchise’s first-ever title and soak in the good vibes that surround a city when such an occasion arises. Of course, the Blues themselves won’t have that mindset – like all champions, they’ll be hungry for more and gunning for back-to-back titles. But even if they fall short of that goal, I could easily see at least one member of the team earning some more hardware next summer.
Captain Alex Pietrangelo was an integral part of St. Louis’ championship run and given how he played then, it’s only fair to wonder if he can snag his first Norris Trophy this season. Incredibly, Pietrangelo didn’t get a single vote for the award last year – though Jeff Petry and Esa Lindell were among those who did. Pietrangelo did get votes the season prior, but he wasn’t even close to winning. It’s curious. The Blues mainstay puts up decent offensive numbers each year and is just as good, if not better, in the defensive zone.
Not to give too much away, but for the next issue of The Hockey News, I undertook a survey of current NHLers, coaches, skills coaches and recently retired NHLers. Pietrangelo’s name came up frequently when the conversation turned to elite defensemen.
“He was the hardest to play against in the playoffs,” said one NHL coach.
“He’s unreal,” said an ex-NHLer. “Put him at the top of guys who can do it all. He’s worth every penny.”
Pietrangelo plays against top competition and still comes out as a positive possession guy on the Blues – in fact, his 53.3 Corsi For percentage last year was one of the better marks among St. Louis regulars, despite the fact ‘Petro’ logged more defensive faceoff starts than offensive ones. At 29, he still has top-level hockey in him and the all-around game he possesses is incredibly efficient. So where’s the love?
Maybe Pietrangelo was getting overlooked because the Blues often underachieved, but with a Cup ring on his hand now, that argument is sunk. There is also the fact that Norris voting often becomes about points from the blueline, which naturally favors players such as Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns or Victor Hedman.
Having said that, I’ve noticed over the years that with the Norris, there seems to be an unconscious hivemind from voters where it appears to be someone’s “turn” in many years. After a run of dominance from Nicklas Lidstrom that began in 2001 and didn’t end until 2011 (during which he won seven of 10 Norris races), only one player has won the award more than once: Erik Karlsson. And truthfully, he probably deserved to win a third in that span. Mark Giordano just won his first Norris at age 35 and it’s hard to see him winning another in his career based on some of the other guys coming up the ranks. Pietrangelo would be in that company, as would Seth Jones in Columbus, Miro Heiskanen in Dallas, Morgan Rielly in Toronto or John Carlson in Washington. Shea Weber may never win it because of all those younger names, plus his recent injury woes – and Shea Weber has been a pretty good defenseman in his career.
So Pietrangelo has his work cut out for him. If the hockey writers who vote on trophies develop the same opinions of some of those who are actually on the benches during games, perhaps Pietrangelo’s stock will rise in the Norris race. But even if he doesn’t get the votes, he can always look skyward at home games and see the banner that represents his ultimate accomplishment so far in St. Louis.
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