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It’s no secret that Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes is one of the best players in the NHL.
On a heavily flawed Canucks team, Hughes has managed to have a positive impact defensively, all while pulling off feats that have seldom been seen in NHL history.
And certainly, he’s doing things that no Canucks defencemen has ever done before.
Here’s a quick breakdown of Hughes most recent accomplishments:
- Hughes recently became the first defenceman in 29 years to register back-to-back 60-assist seasons (Ray Bourque had five straight 60+ assist seasons from 1989-90 to 1993-94).
- Hughes became the fastest defenceman in NHL history to register 200 assists, doing so in just 263 NHL games.
- Among current and former NHL defencemen that have registered 200 career assists, Hughes’ 0.76 assists per game is third-best all-time, trailing only Hall of Famers Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr.
So, Hughes is clearly special.
But, is he Norris Trophy special?
Quinn Hughes with the heads up pass, J.T. Miller with the absolute dangle on Andrei Vasilevskiy to tie the game. #Canucks pic.twitter.com/5uYfKx7tJA
— Lachlan Irvine (@LachInTheCrease) January 13, 2023
Why Hughes deserves some Norris love
Hughes isn’t going to win the Norris this year.
But, he should firmly be in contention.
The 23-year-old currently sits fifth overall among NHL defencemen with 65 points on the season.
He’s second overall with 60 assists, trailing only Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks, who has 65 helpers.
At even strength, Hughes drops down the points rankings a bit among defenceman, sitting in a six-way tie for ninth overall with 27 points.
However, on the power play, no defenceman has been more productive this season.
Hughes ranks first overall among all blueliners with 30 power play points so far this season. Unsurprisingly, 28 of those 30 points are assists.
Those 28 assists aren’t just tops among defencemen, it’s the fourth-best total in the NHL, trailing only Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Aside from the points, another reason why Hughes deserves some Norris love is because of the defensive impact he’s having for the Canucks.
While he’s not a traditional shutdown defenceman, his in-zone reads are sharp and he’s adept at using his stick to break up plays in his own end.
That lines up with data compiled by NHL microstat tracker Corey Snazjder. Based on his tracking, Hughes has one of the highest defensive zone retrieval rates in the NHL among all blueliners.
On first glance, it looks pretty scattered with some lower sample/third pair guys mucking things up. This is going by my definition & you have some messy situations where a failed retrieval leads to nothing or gets bailed out by a teammate. pic.twitter.com/9TtPii0MEy
— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) March 21, 2023
Here’s something else that highlights not only how good Hughes is, but how important he is to the Canucks.
At even-strength, the Canucks have scored 72 goals, while allowing 54 goals-against with Hughes on the ice. That’s a +18 even-strength goal differential.
When Hughes isn’t on the ice, the Canucks have scored 74 goals while allowing 114 against, for a goal differential of -40.
That -40 goal differential would stand as the fourth-worst total in the NHL, ahead of only the Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Chicago Blackhawks.
So basically, Hughes alone is what’s stopping the Canucks from being one of the worst teams in the NHL.
Looking at Hughes’ Norris competition
Unless you’re Karlsson, who’s on pace to become the first defenceman to register 100 points in 30 seasons, it’s hard for players on a losing hockey team to get any kind of trophy consideration.
While that works against Hughes, it didn’t stop him from garnering votes last season.
In 2021-22, the Canucks rearguard received two fourth-place and three fifth-place Norris Trophy votes, which slotted him 13th overall in voting for the award.
It was the second time in his career where Hughes received some Norris love. He finished 15th overall in voting after his rookie season in 2019-20.
While he likely deserves to finish higher in voting this year, it’s certainly not a guarantee.
According to The Athletic’s Game Score Value Added model, Hughes currently ranks 17th overall among NHL defencemen. That model likely drops Hughes due to his expected goals differential (xGF%) of 48.1%, with most Norris-calibre defencemen at least being above 50%.
Unfortunately, that’s a byproduct of Hughes not playing for a good team, while having a rotating door of mediocre defence partners. Hughes’ numbers alongside Ethan Bear are stellar (52.9% xGF), but they’re mediocre with his other two-most common partners this season: Luke Schenn (43.2% xGF) and Tyler Myers (44.5% xGF).
That’s why trophy voting shouldn’t always be about the stats. It needs to be about the whole picture.
If that is the case, then Canucks fans should expect Hughes to garner a top-10 finish in Norris Trophy voting this season, although he’ll have to wait another year to become the first defenceman in Canucks history to ever be a finalist for the Norris.
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