In Twitter parlance, we got ratioed.
On Tuesday, we sent out an outline of updated Norris Trophy odds, and it was meant to spark some debate. Instead, what it did was infuriate two fan bases.
In one corner was Leafs Nation, out in full force in defense of blueliner Morgan Rielly, asking how we could possibly be so stupid as to leave the Toronto Maple Leafs rearguard off the list. (Here’s the part where I should note that the odds were provided by online sportsbook Bodog, not cooked up by The Hockey News staff. But I digress.) And that wasn’t an argument at all without merit. Rielly has been spectacular this season, with offensive numbers that would more than support his candidacy and among the best 5-on-5 on-ice goals for percentages of any top defender in the league. How he was left off the list remains a mystery.
But the other outspoken group were Ottawas Senators fans, incensed that one of the lone bright lights in a season that has had far too few, Thomas Chabot, wasn’t included in the sixteen-blueliner rundown that included the likes of Alex Pietrangelo, Dougie Hamilton and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. And as with Rielly, it wasn’t all that difficult to see the Senators faithful’s argument.
Almost from the outset of the season, Chabot has been the talk of the town in Ottawa and he’s garnered some serious attention throughout the league. Granted, it’s difficult not to grab some headlines when you’re playing the way he has.
Through 28 games, the 21-year-old rearguard has skated monster minutes, upwards of 24 per game, and he’s been an offensive force the likes of which the Senators haven’t seen since… well, let’s not get into that whole thing. With 31 points, Chabot has already surpassed his point total from last season — and significantly, it’s worth adding, as he scored 25 in his rookie campaign — and his seven goals put him two shy of matching the nine he scored in his debut season. Not only does Chabot’s offensive output put him tops in the league among all defensemen, it has put him on pace to net 21 goals and 91 points should he play all 82 games. That would make him the first 90-point rearguard the NHL has seen in more than two decades, the last being Ray Bourque in 1993-94.
In recent years, too, offensive output has become an undeniably important factor in determining Norris Trophy winners. All but twice in the past 13 seasons — Zdeno Chara in 2008-09 and Drew Doughty in 2015-16 — has the Norris winner come from outside the top-five in scoring by defensemen, and it’s been a regular occurrence that the top few scorers find their way into the top-five of Norris voting along with a pair of interlopers. It would stand to reason then that Chabot, at the very least, is going to be a candidate for the award.
And that’s true. Chabot will be a candidate. He might even finish top-five in voting. But actually winning the darn thing? Chabot has next to no chance. And while that sentiment is surely going to draw the ire of Senators fans, it’s based not on speculation as much as it is precedent and fact.
The first indication that Chabot’s candidacy, let alone ability to stand on stage in front of his peers in Las Vegas as the winner of the award, is in peril comes by flipping through the history of the award. Since the Norris’ introduction in 1953-54, offensive blueliners, stay-at-home defensemen, rugged rearguards and everything in between have captured the honor. But you know who hasn’t? Defensemen on non-playoff teams. Not once in the 64-year history of the trophy has the winning blueliner played for a team that didn’t see at least one playoff contest, which is a fact that doesn’t even hold true for the Hart Trophy or Vezina Trophy, which have both been handed out at least once to players on non-playoff clubs.
It’s probably safe to say Chabot’s Senators are going to fall into the non-playoff category, too. Despite a hot start and middling success through the first quarter of the campaign, Ottawa has started to fall back of the pack. They’ve lost five of their past eight, sit third from the bottom of the Eastern Conference and four points separate the Senators from the second wild-card spot with a whopping 11 points — a veritable chasm given one-third of the campaign is in the books — between Ottawa and a divisional playoff spot. Pre-season prognostications pegged the Senators as a basement team, and it seems more likely with each passing game that that will indeed be the case.
And while the relationship between the playoffs and the Norris trophy is ominous enough for Chabot’s candidacy, it’s worth making an additional note about point production. Based on team success and league-leading offensive output alone, one might have assumed John Carlson, defenseman for the Metropolitan Division-winning Washington Capitals, was a shoo-in to win the award last season. He did not, finishing and earning only three first-place and six second-place votes. And it seems that was for a couple of reasons.
First, Carlson was likely viewed by some as a power play specialist and not much more, and it is true that nearly half of his output — 32 of his 68 points — came on the man advantage. For what it’s worth, Chabot’s only eight of Chabot’s 31 points, or slightly more than one-quarter, have come on the power play.
But the other, inarguably more important reason is that in the age of advanced statistics, which affords voters the opportunity for more in-depth analysis than the eye-test and pure point totals can offer, Carlson was found lacking in a few areas. For instance, among 1,000-minute defensemen at 5-on-5, he ranked 86th in on-ice Corsi percentage, 108th in shots percentage, 69th in scoring chance percentage and 46th in goals percentage. That’s out of 133 rearguards. Compared to defensemen who have skated at least 300 minutes at 5-on-5 through one-third of the season, of which there are 155, Chabot ranks 116th in Corsi percentage, 122nd in shots percentage, 81st in scoring chance percentage and 59th in goals percentage. By comparison, those numbers are awfully similar.
None of this is to say it’s impossible for Chabot to win the Norris. It’s not. However, in order to do so, he would likely have to flirt with the 90-point plateau, lead all defensemen in scoring, boost his underlying numbers significantly and help propel the Senators to the playoffs. That’s a big ask, and one that likely means Chabot doesn’t have much more than an outside shot at winning the award no matter how exceptional he is the rest of the way.