Chelios, Lidstrom lead list of worthy defensemen

ESPN.com's columnists weigh in with their picks for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the defenseman who "demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position" by vote of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

The trophy was presented to the NHL in 1953 by the four children of the late James Norris in memory of the former owner-president of the Detroit Red Wings.

Terry Frei, Denver Post

Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings: The Wings' Chris Chelios is the favorite because his strong season at age 40 brings back memories of his prime. Yes, he's been excellent and crucial to Detroit's success, and even a tribute to Ponce de Leon. But it would be a reach -- a fashionable one, but a reach nonetheless -- to award him the Norris for the fourth time.

Lidstrom, who finally broke through for his first Norris last season, and Colorado's Rob Blake are more worthy choices. Lidstrom has been more error-prone this season, but he is as integral in the Wings' success as ever, at both ends of the ice. Especially when Adam Foote was injured early in the season, Blake and Patrick Roy kept the defending champions from completely falling apart. This is a tough call, but the choice is Lidstrom, with Blake a close second and Chelios third.

Mike Heika, Dallas Morning News
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings: You can argue a case for Washington's Sergei Gonchar and toss in Colorado's Rob Blake if you like, but this contest seems to come down to a couple of teammates. Detroit's Nick Lidstrom and Chris Chelios each has been important in his own way this season. The question is: Who has been more important?

Those who watch the Red Wings on a regular basis give that title to Lidstrom. He quietly handles the puck each game and keeps the Wings out of trouble. Remember, the Wings are a puck possession team and love to simply control the game by never letting you touch the puck. Chelios is brave and physical and gives Detroit and edge, but Lidstrom does more on a daily basis.

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell, Boston Globe
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings: There have been too many years when this award went to the blueliner with the most points. That's not how it was meant. It's supposed to go to the defenseman who has performed the best "all around" at the position. Lidstrom's victory last year was long overdue. Lidstrom, who averages 29 minutes a game and is the highest-scoring defenseman in team history, may face the most competition from his own teammate. It's impossible to NOT notice the year that 40-year-old Chris Chelios is having. After playing only 24 games last year, Chelios is having his best offensive season since joining the Red Wings and hasn't sacrificed play in his own end. In 74 games, he had 37 points and was a plus-41, best in the league. Washington's Sergei Gonchar, despite the Capitals' struggles, has had a stellar year. Like the Hart, you could make an argument for many.

George Johnson, Calgary Herald
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings: Choices, choices ... Defending Norris winner Nicklas Lidstrom of the Wings is back atop the defensemen scoring list, and averaging nearly 29 minutes of ice time a game. Washington's Sergei Gonchar, arguably the league's most overlooked star at the position, has scored 23 goals. Lidstrom's Detroit sidekick, the 40-year-old Chris Chelios, has been a marvel, averaging over 25 minutes a night and hovering at or over the plus-40 mark. Then there's a customarily excellent season from Colorado's Rob Blake.

There are as many viable candidates here as in any of the categories. Chelios, the aging warrior, will get a lot of nostalgia votes, and Gonchar has carried the Caps' defence corps in the absence of Calle Johansson. Lidstrom has been durable, performing in all 75 Red Wings' games. He isn't as physically punishing as Blake, but excels in all other aspects of the position. Detroit is going to be a runaway winner of the President's Trophy and that has to count for something at the awards table. No one has enjoyed a better season than the quiet Swede, and, like they say, you've gotta knock out the champ to take his title.

Rob Parent, Delaware County Times
Chris Chelios, Detroit Red Wings: The best two-way defenseman in the game today plays for the Detroit Red Wings. So does the deserved winner of this season's Norris Trophy for "greatest all-around ability" in the defenseman position. Offering evidence that the two definitions can be mutually exclusive is Chris Chelios. Is he as nimble with the puck as fellow Detroit defender and 2001 Norris winner Nicklas Lidstrom? Of course not. But Chelios can still flatten people as effectively as he did 10 or 15 years ago, and does everything else well enough to be called the best.

Bowing to the effects of an early-season knee injury, Chelios was thought to be all but done a year ago. But even while turning 40 on Jan. 25, he has put together a remarkable season for a Detroit team that was said to have a creaky weakness on defense. Heading into a game Monday night against Toronto, Chelios (6 goals, 37 points in 74 games played) had posted his best offensive numbers since coming to Detroit from his native Chicago. His typical 100-plus penalty minute total was intact, and best of all, Chelios' plus-41 was the NHL's best rating.