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Trophy Watch: Making the Case for Each Norris Candidate

Take a look at how the top defensemen in the NHL are shaking out this year and a case for why any of them can take home the coveted defensive hardware.
Cale Makar

Fun fact: Before becoming the remarkably mediocre sportswriter I am now, I was intent on becoming a lawyer.

I have a political science degree and barely-opened LSAT study books to prove it.

Obviously, that did not happen. But one of the main reasons that placed me hot on the path to law school is that my parents always told me, through gritted teeth, that I was very good at arguing.

So, that's what I'm going to do today.

With you lovely readers as the jury, I'm going to select the four leading candidates for the Norris Trophy this season and present a case -- pro bono, of course -- for why each should take home the hardware.

Let's do this, shall we? Court is now in session. 

Cale Makar - Colorado Avalanche 

Stat line: 66 GP, 24 goals, 51 assists, 75 points, 25:39 TOI

Cale Makar is so good, man. Just, so good. Makar is the prototypical modern defenseman; a puck-moving machine with incredible hockey sense, a highlight reel skill set, and the lateral movement to tear opposing ankles to shreds. 

Digging into Makar's impact is a multi-layered exercise. The counting stats are one thing -- the guy is scoring at a 92-point pace as a 23-year-old defenseman, for Pete's sake -- but it's the underlying numbers where Makar's dominance and ability to elevate his team really shine. 

When Makar is on the ice at even-strength, the Avalanche out-score and out-chance their opponents by a wide margin, generating 57 percent of both the expected goals and scoring chances, respectively. That's especially good and notable when factoring in how Makar averages nearly 26 minutes per game against top competition.

So, thanks to Makar, the Avalanche are the best team on the ice by a sizeable margin for nearly half of each game. What more can you ask for from a single player? 

The best part of it all is that Makar will only get better as the years go on -- particularly in the defensive end, where he's already above average just three seasons into his NHL career. But this season is pretty spectacular, too. And when accounting for everything, he's probably my Norris favourite if you so rudely put a gun to my head. 

Roman Josi - Nashville Predators

Stat line: 67 GP, 19 goals, 65 assists, 84 points, 25:17 TOI

What Roman Josi is doing offensively this season is just downright absurd. 

How many teams spend entire organizational eras searching for a forward capable of scoring at a 103-point pace? Josi is doing in 2021-22 that as a defenseman, one who logs over 25 minutes per night against the best his opponents have to offer all while helping drag the Predators to their current spot atop the Western Conference's wild card race. 

Josi's fancy stats aren't quite as sparkling as Makar's -- that's a pretty high bar, to be fair -- but the 31-year-old still tilts the ice in Nashville's favour when it comes to expected goals and scoring chances at even strength, driving offense from the back-end better than anyone else in the entire league. 

We truly are in a golden era of offensive defensemen, with Josi is leading the way. The Preds' captain is on a tear, reaching new heights at age 31 and making Father Time look like a gosh darn coward. 

His tilted deployment, highlighted by a 61 percent share of offensive zone starts, might hamper Josi's Norris case a bit to the defensive traditionalists out there. But to that I say: The future is now, old man. Embrace the new era of offensive blueliner brilliance. 

And given how the Norris usually just goes to the highet-scoring defender anyway, which means Josi has this in the bag.  

Victor Hedman - Tampa Bay Lightning

Stat line: 70 GP, 19 goals, 48 assists, 67 points, 25:20 TOI

Talking about Victor Hedman as a Norris candidate is a lot like being a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise.

It's awesome, and I'll jump at the chance to heap on praise whenever it arises. But we've been doing this same song and dance for over a decade now, and I don't know what else there is to say. 

Hedman is one of the best defensemen in the league. You know that. I know that. Your dog knows that. But after an uncharacteristically mediocre 2021, where he still garnered a Norris nomination, the big Swede is back with a vengeance, scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace while generating the best expected goals and scoring chance numbers of his entire career, and driving play at an insane clip, to boot. 

Based purely on reputation alone, the deck is stacked in Hedman's favour when it comes to voters casting their final ballots. The 31-year-old has finished top-three in Norris voting for the past five years, after all, even sprinkling in his first-ever win back in 2018. 

Last season's nomination might have been a tad undeserving, but Hedman has quieted the doubters in 2021-22. And if Tampa can right the ship down the season's final stretch, the narrative will almost certainly give him a sizeable bump. 

Adam Fox - New York Rangers 

Stat line: 68 GP, 10 goals, 57 assist, 67 points, 24:02 TOI

The NHL hasn't crowned a back-to-back Norris winner in 15 years, with Niklas Lindstrom being the last defender to earn consecutive honors with three straight wins from 2005-2008, meaning that Adam Fox doesn't exactly have history on his side when it comes to defending his title. 

I wouldn't count the 24-year-old out, though. 

Fox's fancy stats have dipped from his absurd sophomore season. But the Rangers blueliner has cranked things up considerably on the offensive side, scoring at a point-per-game pace while logging heavy minutes thanks to some expanded responsibilities. 

Perhaps the biggest drawback on the Rangers' roster heading into the season was a lack of secondary scoring. Fox went out and gave it to them himself, adding a legitimate weapon to New York's back-end that can also be trusted in his own zone and can transition the puck up the ice with the best of them. 

That's pretty darn impressive. And in the eyes of Norris voters, it might just be enough. 

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