SUN Hockey Pool

Nod for the Norris

ERIC FRANCIS, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

Ninety minutes after his stirring introduction and brilliant assessment of today's NHL game brought the Saddledome crowd to its feet, Jean Beliveau shared a quiet moment with Dion Phaneuf.

Impressed by the 20-year-old's poise and confidence during Friday's 6-3 win over Colorado, the former Montreal Canadiens great had post-game words for the Flames future great.

"You're so young and you're already a general out there," said Beliveau as he shook Phaneuf's hand outside the Flames dressing room.

Indeed Phaneuf's maturity has impressed everyone around the hockey world but not to the point he'll get a sniff at the Calder Trophy as top rookie.

Alex Ovechkin has already sewn up that honour while Sidney Crosby and Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist are now the obvious Calder finalists.

Truth is, Phaneuf is probably better positioned for consideration for a trophy he'll undoubtedly own down the road -- the Norris.

Nicklas Lidstrom's toughest challenger this year will be Scott Niedermayer who has helped lift Anaheim into a playoff spot on one leg. Others worthy of consideration are Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden, who will both be hurt by the number of games missed, Sergei Zubov is perennially overlooked and Chris Pronger has been outclassed by Phaneuf every time they've met.

Despite playing on the lowest-scoring team in the NHL, Phaneuf is ranked 16th in defencemen scoring and first with 15 powerplay goals. He's also tied with Bryan McCabe for most game-winning goals by a blueliner (six). What has garnered him league-wide attention is his highlight-reel hits, which have many labeling him a Scott Stevens with more offensive upside.

That said, an argument could be made Phaneuf is not even Calgary's best defenceman, handing that honour to rock-steady Robyn Regehr -- a nice debate for Flames fans. Thing is, Norris winners need to put up points, while also leading with standout play.

Phaneuf fits the bill on all accounts and it's only a matter of time before he's recognized for doing it better than anyone else.

Now, more notes, quotes and anecdotes from a sports world shuddering to think of what Randy Johnson's love-child looks like:

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AROUND THE HORN: More on the best rookie crew the NHL has ever seen -- Rangers sniper Petr Prucha leads the league in shooting percentage, Andrej Meszaros leads the loop in plus minus (+38), Marek Svatos leads the league in game-winning goals (9) and Jussi Jokinen leads in shootout goals (9). Yet, none of them have a hope at official Calder recognition as one of three finalists ... Jean Beliveau punctuated his introduction to the crowd Friday by eloquently explaining he loved the "new NHL" because: "A hockey stick wasn't made to crosscheck, hook or hold -- a hockey stick was made to make plays" ... It's been five seasons since Danny McManus threw more touchdowns than picks, reinforcing the fact the extremely likeable (an immobile) 40-year-old should have been brought to Calgary as a coach, not a backup ... Trading McManus to Calgary for a third-round draft pick underlines once again how fraudulent the Jason Maas deal was that brought McManus (and previously Troy Davis) to Edmonton from Hamilton ... Pick up this month's FHM with Orioles pitcher Kris Benson's wife, Anna, on the cover for your white-trash athlete-of-the-year interview.


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