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Norris Trophy Watch: A number of blueliners due hefty raises as free agents

With 55 points, Nicklas Lidstrom is third in NHL defensemen scoring. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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With 55 points, Nicklas Lidstrom is third in NHL defensemen scoring. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With the season winding down, let’s examine which defensemen can expect a rise in pay this summer when the UFA market opens.

The No. 1 guy on our Norris Watch list is, technically, eligible to sign wherever he wants this summer, but if Nicklas Lidstrom leaves the Detroit Red Wings it will be for a sweet retirement property in Sweden, not another NHL club.

A pair of longtime Northeast puck-movers could be available to the highest bidder this summer though, in Bruin Tomas Kaberle and Montreal’s Andrei Markov. The latter has some serious question marks surrounding his health following two major knee surgeries in a span of six months, but if Markov, 32, can return to full health, he’s a 55-point guy who can run the power play and turn in a reliable defensive game.

Kaberle just turned 33 and he’s the perfect complement to a true No. 1, which is why you have to believe Boston will try to keep him on the same blueline as Zdeno Chara.

Another intriguing Hab is James Wisniewski. Acquired from the Islanders just after Christmas, ‘The Wiz’ has been wicked in Montreal, driving the power play with his rocket shot and providing a little jam to a team that always seems to be in need of it.

Montreal’s blueline could be in for a massive makeover because the only guys under contract for next year are rookie P.K. Subban and veteran Jaroslav Spacek.

Vancouver has a pair of important rearguards with UFA status in sight, one of whom was expected to be gone by last summer. Kevin Bieksa’s name was aligned with a lot of trade rumors before the season, but injury troubles on the back end caused the Canucks to hang on to him and he rewarded them with very strong two-way play before being shelved himself with a foot injury. Bieksa will turn 30 in June and, because of the position he plays, it could be argued his best years will be the three or four directly ahead of him.

Christian Ehrhoff, acquired from San Jose in the summer of 2009, just keeps getting better in Vancouver and the 28-year-old could be one of the most sought after D-men around when July 1 hits.

Other guys who can still bolster a blueline for the right amount of bucks are Ranger Bryan McCabe, Joni Pitkanen of Carolina and, if his concussion troubles subside, veteran Coyote Ed Jovanovski. 
 
GAME OF THE MONTH: After missing eight contests with a back injury, Brian Rafalski returned to the Red Wings lineup on Wednesday night and recorded three assists in a 3-2 Detroit victory over Washington. The 37-year-old is easy to overlook, but his 0.77 points-per-game is tied for fourth among D-men (along with Lidstrom and the injured Ryan Whitney). The Wings are a much more threatening team with him in the lineup.

(Honorable mention to Andrej Sekera for his game(s) of the month; the Sabres defenseman put together five consecutive two-point contests from Feb. 26 to March. 6, upping his season total from 12 to 22 points.)

RISING: Ehrhoff’s value is definitely spiking. He’s tied for sixth in D-man scoring with 46 points in 69 games, thanks in part to seven points in his past five games. Getting him (with since-departed Brad Lukowich) for Patrick White and Daniel Rahimi from the Sharks was an absolute coup. But can the Canucks hang on to him?

FALLING:
OK, when we said Kaberle was a perfect No. 2 a few paragraphs back, we meant before he moved to Boston in mid-February. The smooth Czech has just three assists in 12 games with the B’s, but we still endorse the deal.

THE HOCKEY NEWS NORRIS TROPHY WATCH
RK.
TEAM
PLAYER
MAKING THE CASE

1

Detroit Red Wings

Nicklas Lidstrom

His 28 road points are the best in the league among D-men

2

Phoenix Coyotes

Keith Yandle

His 46 helpers top all rearguards and did we mention he leads his team in scoring?

3

Anaheim Ducks

Lubomir Visnovsky

Tied with Yandle for most points among defensemen with 57. Yes, really

4

Nashville Predators

Shea Weber

Three goals in past five games as Preds make the playoff push

5

Atlanta Thrashers

Tobias Enstrom

Just one of those guys who, if you don’t see him much, you don’t know how good he really is

6

Boston Bruins

Zdeno Chara

Plus-23 mark is the best of anybody on this list

7

Pittsburgh Penguins

Kris Letang

Points have fallen off, but he’s about more than numbers

8

Atlanta Thrashers

Dustin Byfuglien

Second half certainly hasn’t been like the first, but he’s still going to hit 20 goals

9

San Jose Sharks

Dan Boyle

Always cracks this list because he plays big minutes on what is becoming a scary team

10

Minnesota Wild

Brent Burns

Definitely feels like he’s going to be a legit Norris nominee within the next couple seasons

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Alex Goligoski isn’t in with the big boys yet, but he’s been great in Dallas with eight points in 12 games. He also leads all Stars with an average of 25:48 of ice time per game.

Other notables: Duncan Keith, Jack Johnson, Jordan Leopold

THN.com's Norris Trophy Watch will appear monthly throughout the season and don't miss out as we'll also track the Hart, Vezina and Jack Adams.

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