Last week we talked about how close the Hart Trophy race will be, but it's got nothing on this year's Norris Trophy showdown.
Not only are there four or five very worthy top candidates for the award, it's also one of the most contentious award decisions for voters. There's a heated debate about scoring totals vs. defensive play, or being on a winning team vs. a losing team. You can't ignore advanced stats either.
So let's sort it out right now and decide who should win this year's Norris Trophy.
It's a very tough call, but my vote goes to Erik Karlsson. Some detractors will argue Karlsson is not strong enough defensively to deserve the award a third time. Poppycock. For one, the award goes to the defenseman who demonstrates "the greatest all-around ability in the position." Nowhere does the fine print say the player must be impregnable on 'D.' Karlsson is more than good enough in that regard, largely because his influence on possession is so strong. Call it defense by offense if you want, but the Ottawa Senators are a significantly worse possession team without Karlsson on the ice, and the underlying stats suggest he absolutely carries whichever partner gets paired with him. Unlike some of his rival Norris hopefuls, such as Drew Doughty or Brent Burns, Karlsson has a mediocre supporting cast around him. All that, and I haven't even highlighted his insane offensive prowess. Karlsson finished as a top-10 scorer in the league for the second time in his career, and he's the only defenseman to do it even once since Brian Leetch in 1991-92. Karlsson is also the only D-man ever to finish top-10 in scoring more than once aside from, drumroll, Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey and Denis Potvin. Karlsson has become a generational talent at his position. He's the best offensive defenseman of the past 20 years, and he's a plenty capable defensive defenseman. Add those together and you get the best "all-around" blueliner out there. (Matt Larkin)
I'm taking Drew Doughty on this. The guidelines for the Norris are as follows: "to the defense player who throughout the season demonstrates the greatest all-round ability at the position." I'm not going to denigrate any other players here, but that's Doughty - he does it all for the Kings and does so at the highest level. Too often this award has gone to the best offensive defenseman in the league and that's not what the parameters state. Twist the semantics all you want, but Doughty should win it. (Ryan Kennedy)
There are those who will argue Karlsson doesn’t deserve the Norris Trophy be it because the Senators didn’t make the post-season or that he’s prone to errors in his own end. But the Norris is given to the defenseman who “demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in his position,” and it’s hard to argue that’s not Karlsson, especially as he continues to mature defensively.
Offensively, Karlsson had one of the greatest seasons by a blueliner in the modern era and that was the driving force for any and all of the success the Senators had this season. He drove play better than every Senators player save Mark Stone, and Karlsson skated nearly half of every single game for Ottawa this season. If the Senators made the post-season, Karlsson wouldn’t have just been the best bet for Norris, he would have been a serious contender for the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player. (Jared Clinton)