Adam Fox was one of the NHL’s top rookies last season, ultimately snubbed with a fourth place finish in Calder Trophy voting, but this year he has turned the tables by securing a Norris Trophy nomination as one of the league’s top defenders.
Fox is the first Rangers defender to be nominated for the Norris Trophy since Brian Leetch who won the award for the second time 1996-97. Leetch finished third in voting the season prior, and also took home the award in 1991-92.
Fox had a tremendous second season, and his performance was exemplary on a team that failed to make the playoffs. The Rangers’ defender finished 2020-21 with a GF% of 58.56, an xGF% of 54.78, and a CF% of 49.8 in 55 games played. For an award that should reward exceptional defense, Fox did just that by posting a GA/60 of 1.93 at 5v5 which was better than his xGA/60 of 1.99 per Evolving Hockey.
Offensive ability also plays a role, sometimes too much to be honest, and Fox finished second in scoring among defenders with 47 points (0.86 P/GP) while averaging 24:42 a game (11th among defenders). Here’s a better overall look at his total season, and how he performed in the various categories in which players are judged.
Fox was leaned on heavily by the Rangers, and finished with a GAR of 9.6 which ranked 15th in the league on D, and that includes an even strength defense GAR of 4.5 (10th overall).
Fox was among the league leaders in many metrics for a good stretch of the season, but the last six games he was kept off the scoresheet which hurts a cumulative metric like goals above replacement. This coincides with time in which Ryan Lindgren was out of the lineup, and Fox was saddled with Libor Hajek.
Remember if Adam Fox doesn't get a Norris nod we all know what/who did it (I'm somewhat joking here...?)— Rob Luker (@RLuker12) June 9, 2021
(Also lol at Hajek 0.948 on-ice save % which dragged his GF% up to 55 - this is partially why some people think he was "better" this past year). pic.twitter.com/NAoDZQyNCs
Award voting can often be a situation of “what have you done for me lately?”, and if Fox were to fall just short of the trophy by a few votes, his “rough” end to the season could explain why. There will also be
idiots some people who hold the fact the Rangers didn’t make the playoffs against him. Fox faces stiff competition with Cale Makar having a strong season & Victor Hedman having a strong reputation, but his candidacy is strong and should be enough to be a true contender.
Among many other things it's fun to compare the power-play unit that Fox is on to the power-play unit that Fox is not on. pic.twitter.com/ouvRphaoIO— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) June 9, 2021
Here’s a quick comparison of some key stats for some context via Evolving Hockey:
GA/60: Fox - 1.93 | Makar - 2.21 | Hedman - 2.66
xGA/60: Makar - 1.81 | Fox - 1.99 | Hedman - 2.12
GAR: Makar - 16.4 | Fox - 9.6 | Hedman -9.4
OFF GAR: Makar - 11.4 | Hedman - 9.4 | Fox - 4.9
DEF GAR: Fox - 3.7 | Makar - 2.2 | Hedman - (-1.3)
Makar certainly had a very strong season in which he appeared in 44 games, and had he played a full season he’d probably have run away with the scoring race. There also should be some, key word being some since it is an individual award, consideration for workload in which Fox was the main defender leaned on, whereas Colorado had the luxury of having Sam Girard, Devon Toews, and Tampa Bay had Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev among others. This isn’t to downplay Ryan Lindgren’s play, how well K’Andre Miller looked, or Jacob Trouba’s impact but there’s clearly a difference. And like I said, it is an individual award, and individual performance is ultimately what matters.
Overall the 2020-21 season was a tremendous success for Fox, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up in final voting. Throughout the year there was skepticism of his candidacy from some voters who felt he hadn’t put in his dues yet, and there were others who clearly didn’t watch games outside of their division.
Regardless of that, congratulations to Fox on the honor, and it is quite impressive for him to finish as a finalist in just his second NHL season.