The 2022-23 Bruins might be fixated on a Stanley Cup, but a number of key contributors are poised to walk away with some individual accolades this season.
Captain and center Patrice Bergeron’s two-way mastery should have him in line to secure a sixth Selke Trophy. Linus Ullmark’s stands as one of the favorites to take home the Vezina Trophy as the game’s best goaltender. Jim Montgomery and Don Sweeney could be recognized as the best coach and general manager.
But in a crowded field of uber-talented blueliners, could Hampus Lindholm be a viable candidate for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman?
“If you look at how he’s driven play at both ends of the ice, especially carrying the load of the ‘D’ corps while [Charlie 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,” Montgomery said. “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 argument for him.”
Lindholm may not have the offensive acumen and gaudy stats put up by other playmaking defensemen. Nor is his highlight reel filled with bone-crunching hits or howitzers blasted home from the point.
But when weighing the daunting minutes Lindholm has been handed this season, coupled with his ability to tilt the ice in Boston’s favor in a variety of ways, it’s hard to not view the 29-year-old as a viable contender for the Norris Trophy.
Thriving under taxing minutes
Over the years, voters for the Norris Trophy have gravitated toward the blueliners capable of impacting games offensively, including Erik Karlsson, Cale Makar, and Roman Josi over the past decade.
That fixation often leads to reduced emphasis on what should be the bread and butter of a defenseman’s game. You know, playing defense and negating scoring chances.
It’s a reason players who thrive on substance over style, like shutdown ace Jaccob Slavin of the Hurricanes, are unlikely to get their due as far as league accolades are concerned.
Lindholm has made major strides in his offensive game this season under Montgomery. He’s chewed up the most minutes (23:15 average ice time per game) on the league’s top defense.
But it’s what Lindholm is doing during those hefty minutes – specifically, where he’s starting a good portion of those shifts – that gives him a leg-up against other Norris contenders.
There have been 196 defensemen who have logged at least 500 minutes of 5 vs 5 ice time. Lindholm ranks 136th in offensive zone faceoff percentage at 45.56 percent, per Natural Stat Trick, meaning less than half of Lindholm’s faceoffs are beginning in the areas of the ice where he can make an instant offensive impact.
Coaches can maximize an offensive-minded defenseman’s value (or shield some defensive warts) by handing them a boatload of offensive-zone reps. Playmaking defenseman Torey Krug, a former Bruin, is first in that group of 196 skaters with 75.38 offensive-zone faceoff percentage this season.
Compared with the other names expected to be on Norris ballots, Lindholm is looking like an outlier in terms of the tough defensive assignments handed to him.
|Erik Karlsson, Sharks||64.32||4|
|Cale Makar, Avalanche||63.41||6|
|Brent Burns, Hurricanes||59.51||16|
|Rasmus Dahlin, Sabres||57.95||25|
|Charlie McAvoy, Bruins||57.31||28|
|Dougie Hamilton, Devils||56.53||36|
|Adam Fox, Rangers||56.23||38|
|Josh Morrissey, Jets||55.44||43|
|Hampus Lindholm, Bruins||45.56||136|
Even with Lindholm being tasked as a shutdown option, the Bruins are still holding absurd advantages in several statistical categories in Lindholm’s 1,210:58 of 5 vs 5 ice time this season.
Shot attempts: 1,212–1,071
Shots on goal: 698–579
Goals scored: 71–32
Expected goals: 61.01–45.98
Scoring chances: 696–540
High-danger scoring chances: 272–221
Especially when situated next to Brandon Carlo, Lindholm has rarely been burned despite plenty of defensive zone reps.
Of the 74 defensive pairings with at least 400 minutes of 5 vs 5 ice time, Lindholm-Carlo ranks 70th with a 33.79 OFZP. The Bruins are outscoring teams 31-16 during the duo’s reps.
If 55 to 60 percent of his faceoffs were set in the offensive zone, Lindholm’s offensive totals would likely soar, and his goals-against metrics would likely plummet.
But even with a steady dosage of difficult defensive assignments, Lindholm’s sound positioning, active stick, and 6-foot-4 frame allow him to snuff out scoring chances with regularity. Add in his contributions on the penalty kill (2:12 shorthanded TOI per game), and Lindholm holds up his end of the bargain as far as his defensive duties.
Reaching another gear
Lindholm falls further down the list when it comes to his tangible scoring totals among Norris favorites.
San Jose’s Erik Karlsson needs 13 points to become the sixth defenseman in NHL history to record 100 points in a season. The other five are Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Brian Leetch, Denis Potvin, and Al MacInnis.
Karlsson launching himself into such rarified air might be justification alone for a Norris, even with his heavy offensive zone reps and little time spent on the penalty kill.
Other blueliners like Josh Morrissey of the Jets (69 points in 70 games), Dougie Hamilton of the Devils (66 points in 71 games), and Rasmus Dahlin of the Sabres (64 points in 66 games) are also routinely stuffing the stat sheet.
But it’s not like Lindholm has been quiet on the offensive end. The Swede ranks 15th among defensemen with 48 points over 69 games, already surpassing his previous career high of 34 points in 78 contests in 2014-15.
Lindholm is projected to finish the season with 56 points. That’s more than Drew Doughty (51 points in 82 games) during his Norris campaign in 2015-16.
Armed with a sharp shot, crisp skating, and a willingness to activate off the offensive blue line, Lindholm has the ability to drive the puck into Grade-A ice with ease.
Beyond his ability to pepper shots from the slot or set up teammates in the fracas developing down low, Lindholm’s transition talents are often the spark that set up quality chances.
Lindholm’s ability to execute breakouts against puck-pressuring skaters make him an invaluable cog in Boston’s efforts to limit the amount of time spent in their own end.
A stacked supporting cast could be his undoing
Lindholm has been dynamic at both ends of the ice this season. So have most of the 2022-23 Bruins.
As Montgomery noted, Lindholm might have top competition in the same dressing room.
“Our problem is we have two D-men who could or should win the Norris,” Montgomery said.
Given that Lindholm serves as one piece of the well-oiled machine that is Boston’s layered and stingy zone defense, voters could focus in more on someone like Karlsson, who has been the lone bright spot on a dreadful Sharks team. San Jose has just 19 wins, but it somehow has managed to outscore opponents 86-78 when Karlsson is out logging his heavy minutes.
But one does have to wonder just how this Bruins team would fare without Lindholm.His dominance next to Carlo allowed Montgomery to essentially place two top-10 defensemen on separate pairs. But he also helped keep Boston’s banged-up defensive unit afloat during a tumultuous stretch to open the season when, with McAvoy out for 13 games, the Bruins still jumped out to an 11-2-0 record.
There were many factors that played into that fantastic start, but one was Lindholm’s dominant stretch next to Connor Clifton (18-4 goal differential in their 259:34 of 5 vs 5 minutes).
Lindholm may not be the flashiest option on the Norris ballots this spring. But few skaters have impacted their team quite like him.