The Vegas Golden Knights have two of the top-15 betting favorites for the Norris Trophy in 2021, according to sportsbettingdime.com. Alex Pietrangelo is sixth on the list at +1400 and Shea Theodore is tied for 14th (with Ryan Suter) at +2500. But the second (and younger) of those two may be the better bet.
First, some math: If you bet $20 at +2500, you’re cashing out at $520, so thank me later.
This postseason, Theodore was the fourth defenseman to lead his team in points at least to the Conference Final (within the last decade). That’s a list that also includes Erik Karlsson (multiple Norris winner), P.K. Subban (Norris winner), Ryan McDonagh and Miro Heiskanen.
Leading a team like Theodore did can benefit a defenseman the following season. The season after he led the Rangers in postseason points, McDonagh was 11th in Norris voting despite being just 45th in scoring among defensemen (just 33 points). With Theodore already being sixth in the 2019-20 season, that bump could push him to finalist territory.
That’s assuming, however, that Theodore remains healthy and continues to play at a similar level. Those seem like safe assumptions, however, as Theodore has missed just three games due to injury as a Golden Knight. He’s also been fairly consistent in Vegas, scoring 12 goals in the 2018-19 season and 13 in 2019-20 with the exact same shooting percentage (5.94).
However that consistency could also be a draw back. After all, among the top eight finishers for the Norris this season, Theodore’s shooting percentage was second-lowest (ahead of just Jaccob Slavin’s 4.14 percent) and Theodore had the lowest PDO (.989) and on-ice shooting percentage (oiS%) (6.78 percent) of those eight at 5-on-5. Yet those stats are also somewhat consistent, with his 2018-19 numbers being 6 percent oiS% and .979 PDO.
In other words, Theodore is consistently unlucky enough that his numbers should be much better. In fairness they are in a specific situation: the postseason. Theodore consistently becomes a better producer in the playoffs and that’s due to a change in luck.
During the postseason, Theodore’s shooting percentage became 7.41 percent. If he shot at that rate during the regular season, he scores 16 goals instead of 10. His PDO became 1.036 in the postseason versus that .989. His oiS% was 9.75 percent, a 1.3 bump from 8.45 in the regular season. Factoring in IPP (or the percentage of goals a player factors in on while on the ice), Theodore scores 53 points, tied for fourth among defensemen, instead of 10th.
Vegas had one of the most unlucky seasons out of any team in the NHL last season. Their PDO across all strengths, .991, was bottom 10 in the NHL, down near New Jersey and Ottawa. Part of that will be addressed by the full-time addition of Robin Lehner (they had a .900 save percentage) but their team shooting percentage (9.14 percent) was 21st in the NHL.
Those points would only add to an already strong candidacy in the 2019-20 season. Theodore had 15.7 expected goals above replacement (xGAR) offensively, 22nd in the league (including forwards). He was second among defensemen behind Tony DeAngelo of the Rangers. That contributed to Theodore being tied for 16th in xGAR with 18.1. He was fifth among defensemen in that category.
A simple change in luck could mean the difference between sixth place and a finalist position for Theodore. While Pietrangelo could prove an obstacle, there have been multiple defensemen on the same team, even the same pairing, to get votes. Both Seth Jones and Zach Werenski in Columbus got votes last season.
Theodore is unlikely to lose his power-play quarterback role. He saw an uptick in defensive usage under Pete DeBoer (going from 59.85 offensive zone start percentage under Gerard Gallant to 62.39 percent under DeBoer) and that coincided with an uptick in points per 60 (going from 1.57 across all strengths to 2.11).
In other words, the addition of DeBoer could be just what Theodore needs. After all, it was under DeBoer’s watch that Brent Burns won his Norris. While Theodore is a better all-around defenseman than Burns, his production has trailed San Jose’s power-play quarterback. That could change this season.
Even better news: the Golden Knights’ PDO under Gallant was .989, 24th in the league while he was coaching. That number changed to .995 under DeBoer, 15th-best in the time he coached. Theodore’s own luck may just change.