Penguins' Letang a finalist for Norris Trophy
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The plan worked for Kris Letang.
Three years after he and Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden devised a strategy to become an elite defensemen, Letang has put together a season worthy of recognition.
He is a finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, annually awarded to the top defenseman, along with Montreal's P.K. Subban and Minnesota's Ryan Suter.
Randy Carlyle is the only Penguin to win the Norris, in 1981. No Penguin has been a finalist since Larry Murphy in 1993.
Letang on Tuesday credited teammates, coaches and the Penguins' organization, specifically Reirden, who upon being hired in August 2009 said he believed Letang could become “the best defenseman in hockey.”
“We worked on my defensive game after practices, the little details and obviously the videos. Every day I'm watching videos, either of the games, other players or the habits I have,” Letang said.
Letang sought a level of two-way excellence such as that displayed by future Hall of Famers Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer, the only defensemen to win the Norris from 2001-08.
Letang's 38 points were tied for most at his position in the regular season, even though he missed 13 games because of injury. His plus-16 rating and 25 minutes of average ice time were first and second, respectively, among Norris finalists.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Letang's value was most obvious when he returned from injuries. In wins against Montreal (March 26) and at Tampa Bay (April 11), Letang — coming off lengthy absences because of lower-body injures — played about 24 minutes in each contest.
Letang was seventh overall among defensemen in ice time and produced 13 points on the power play, a particular focus for him this season, he said.
The Norris nomination caps quite a year for Letang, whose first child, Alexander, was born during the lockout.
Letang, 26, is eligible for a contract extension this summer, and general manager Ray Shero said keeping him is a priority. Letang stands to possibly double his $3.5 million annual salary.
Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, the eventual winner, was a Norris finalist before signing a seven-year contract worth $6.5 million annually last June.
The Professional Hockey Writers' Association votes on several NHL awards, including the Norris. A record 178 members cast ballots. There are 285 PHWA members, but not all are eligible to vote.
Six members of the Pittsburgh chapter received voting privileges, including three reporters for the Tribune-Review.
Letang, Subban and Sutter are first-time finalists. The winner will be announced during the Stanley Cup Final.
The NHL Awards Show, recently held regularly in Las Vegas, is not being held this year. The Stanley Cup playoffs are running later into June because of the lockout, which left no extra time for the awards show.