The book is about to be shut on the 2010-11 season and there are a handful of names that have been tossed around in the discussion of who should win the Norris Trophy. The usual suspects, Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara are once again considered strong contenders for the award, while the likes of Keith Yandle and Lubomir Visnovsky are in the conversation for the first time. Nashville’s Shea Weber has quietly had a fantastic season as well, and should be considered a decent shot at winning.

As the great Down Goes Brown once said, the Norris Trophy is “Awarded annually to the defenceman adjudged to be Nicklas Lidstrom”.

By that definition, the NHL’s best defenceman this season would be awarded to Lidstrom for the seventh time in his storied career. After two years of Duncan Keith and Zdeno Chara putting on their best Lidstrom performances and being named the league’s top defender – a look at the Red Wings 40-year old captain’s season would indicate that he’s once again the favourite.

We’ll take a look at why Lidstrom is once again deserving of the award after the jump.

The battle for the Norris Trophy looks like a fairly tight one when looking at the traditional points and +/- stats, but when you peer beyond the standard metrics it doesn’t appear to be quite as close of a race.

No defenceman in the NHL plays tougher minutes than Nicklas Lidstrom. His Quality of Competition (via BehindTheNet) is almost incomparable to his peers at an astounding 0.137. Lidstrom’s closest compeitor in terms of tough defensive assignments are Visnovsky and Chara at 0.055 and 0.054, respectively. In short, no other candidate comes close.

The knock on Lidstrom as the favourite for the Norris has been his (by Lidstrom standards) weak plus/minus rating of -1. Despite the relative lousy plus/minus, a polarizing stat in itself, Lidstrom still draws praise for his positional play. Both Lidstrom’s power play and shorthanded performance is tops among all defencemen. Of the aforementioned players, only Zdeno Chara ranks ahead of the Red Wings captain in terms of shorthanded minutes per game at 2:49. Lidstrom logs an average of 2:43 SH minutes a night, while still picking up 4:07 in power play time.

Not to take anything away from the seasons that Yandle and Visnovsky have had, but neither can be considered an effective penalty killing tool given the little time their coaches allow them to see the ice in shorthanded situations. Visnovsky skates against opponents’ top competition on a nightly basis, starts more shifts in the defensive zone than the rest, and possess the best Corsi rating of the bunch – so there’s little denying the impact he makes at both ends of the ice. Yandle, despite his impressive offensive play and puck-moving abilities, just isn’t in the same breath as the others.

Lidstrom, along with Chara and Weber, are their team’s go-to guys in all situations. Each averages at least two minutes of shorthanded time and three minutes of power play time per night. Lidstrom leads all defenders in power play points with 39, and that’s 10 more than Visnovsky who’s third in the league.

While there is certainly some validity to the argument that Lidstrom’s team and reputation help his cause for the Norris, it’s not fair to discount his chances on those grounds or a volatile stat like +/-. Too often we can get caught up in offensive numbers by defencemen when talking Norris hopefuls (think Dustin Byfuglien earlier this season), and forget that it’s an award given to the player who displays the best all-around ability at the position. It’s important to place significant weight on offensive totals, but a great defenceman should demonstrate the ability to excel in all situations.

If I had a vote, my hierarchy for the 2010-11 Norris Trophy would go Lidstrom, Weber and Visnovsky. Hate away…