Is Bruins’ Hampus Lindholm a Norris Trophy frontrunner? Here’s why he stands out among a crowded pool of talent.
Hampus Lindholm has been a key cog in the Bruins’ record-setting pace during the 2022-23 season.
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.
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 netminder. Jim Montgomery and Don Sweeney could be recognized as the best bench boss and GM in the league this season.
But in a crowded field of uber-talented blueliners, could Hampus Lindholm be a viable candidate for the Norris Trophy?
Count Montgomery among Lindholm’s top supporters.
“If you look at how he’s driven play at both ends of the ice, especially carrying the load of the ‘D’ corps while [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 following Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “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.”
He may not have the offensive acumen (and the gaudy stat lines) put up by other playmaking D-men. Nor is his highlight reel necessarily littered 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 title of top D-man in the league.
Thriving under taxing minutes
Over the years, voters for the Norris Trophy have gravitated toward the blueliners capable of impacting games down the offensive end of the ice. There have been no shortage of impressive candidates over the past decade, including Erik Karlsson, Cale Makar, and Roman Josi.
But that fixation with offensive mastery at such a position 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 why players who thrive off of substance over style like Jaccob Slavin will likely never get their due as far as league accolades are concerned, despite his track record as a shutdown ace in Carolina.
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 (and specifically, where he’s starting a good portion of those shifts) that gives him a leg-up against other Norris contenders.
In total, there have been 196 defensemen in the NHL this season that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5v5 ice time.
Among that pool of talent, Lindholm ranks 136th overall in offensive zone faceoff percentage at 45.56 percent, per Natural Stat Trick.
In other words, less than half of Lindholm’s faceoffs are beginning in the favorable areas of the ice where he can make an instant offensive impact.
Oftentimes, coaches can maximize an offensive-minded defenseman’s value (or shield some defensive warts) by handing them a boatload of offensive-zone reps.
(For reference, a playmaking defenseman in Torey Krug is first in that group of 196 skaters with 75.38 offensive-zone faceoff percentage this season.)
But when contrasted with the other names expected to be stamped onto Norris ballots in the coming months, Lindholm is looking like an outlier in terms of the tough defensive assignments handed to him.
Let’s take a look at a few other Norris contenders and where they fall as far as O-zone faceoff percentage is concerned.
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks – 64.32 Off. Zone Faceoff Percentage (4th out of 196)
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche – 63.41 Off. Zone Faceoff Percentage (6th out of 196)
Brent Burns, Carolina Hurricanes – 59.51 Off. Zone Faceoff Percentage (16th out of 196)
Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres – 57.95 Off. Zone Faceoff Percentage (25th out of 196)
Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins – 57.31 Off. Zone Faceoff Percentage (28th out of 196)
Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils – 56.53 Off. Zone Faceoff Percentage (36th out of 196)
Adam Fox, New York Rangers – 56.23 Off. Zone Faceoff Percentage (38th out of 196)
Josh Morrissey, Winnipeg Jets – 55.44 Off. Zone Faceoff Percentage (43rd out of 196)
And again, for good measure.
Hampus Lindholm, Boston Bruins – 45.56 Off. Zone Faceoff Percentage (136th out of 196)
Again, it comes as no surprise that teams like the Sharks or Avalanche will want to give players like Karlsson and Makar every opportunity to flex their muscles in the offensive zone.
But by extension, it does make their lives a bit easier when they don’t need to start as many shifts putting out fires and breaking out pucks in their own zone.
Lindholm hasn’t been afforded that same luxury this season. But that doesn’t mean the Bruins aren’t still thoroughly dominating play when Lindholm hops over the boards.
Even with Lindholm being tasked as a shutdown option, the Bruins are still holding absurd advantages in …
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
… in Lindholm’s 1,210:58 of 5v5 ice time this season.
Especially when situated next to Brandon Carlo, Lindholm has rarely been burned despite plenty of D-zone reps.
Of the 74 D pairings with at least 400 minutes of 5v5 ice time, a Lindholm-Carlo tandem ranks 70th with a 33.79 Off. Zone Faceoff percentage. And of course, the Bruins are still 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 offensively
Make no mistake, Lindholm is going to fall further down the list when it comes to his tangible scoring totals among Norris favorites.
Karlsson needs just 13 more points to become just the sixth defenseman in NHL history to record 100 points in a single season. The other five skaters? 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 O-zone reps and little time spent on the PK.
Other blueliners like Morrissey (69 points in 70 games), Hamilton (66 points in 71 games), and Dahlin (64 points in 66 games) are also routinely stuffing the stat sheet.
But it’s also 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 over 78 contests during the 2014-15 season.
At this current pace, Lindholm is projected to finish the season with 56 points. That’s more points than Drew Doughty accrued (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 down the other end of the ice for Boston.
Those smooth puck carries through the neutral zone or first passes out of danger may not always translate into secondary assists.
But 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 down both ends of the ice this season.
But frankly, so have most of the 2022-23 Bruins.
As Montgomery noted on Wednesday, 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,” Boston’s coach said of Lindholm and McAvoy.
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 at someone like Karlsson when the time comes to dole out awards.
Yes, Karlsson might be an offense-first option on the back end. But he’s been the lone bright spot on a dreadful Sharks team. San Jose has just 19 wins all season long, but it somehow has managed to outscore opponents, 86-78, when Karlsson is out logging his heavy minutes.
Karlsson or even someone like Morrissey might be on an island in terms of their role on their respective D corps.
But one does have to wonder just how this Bruins team would fare if Lindholm wasn’t orchestrating this type of performance in 2022-23.
Lindholm’s 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.
Even with McAvoy ruled out for 13 games to open the season, 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 5v5 minutes).
Hampus Lindholm may not be the flashiest option on the Norris ballots this spring.
But few skaters have impacted their team quite like him all season long.
Source: Boston Globe
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