Erik Karlsson should win the Norris trophy hands down this season beating out his closest rivals Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators. Not the typical size for a defenseman; Karlsson is 6’0″ 180 pounds, he is small when you compare him to Chara’s 6’9″ 255 pound frame and Weber’s 6’4″ 232 size. In fact, it’s easy for voters to look at Karlsson as being too small and not the prototypical big size that’s needed to win the Norris Trophy. Add to that the fact that both Chara and Weber blasted slap shots over 100mph during the skills competition, wooing the crowd and its easy to see how voters can be tricked into over looking Karlsson, however they would be wrong.
The James Norris Trophy is awarded to the National Hockey League’s top ”defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position”.
Erik Karlsson has been by far the best offensive defenseman in the NHL. On the season Karlsson has 19 goals and 59 assists for 78 points in 81 games. Offensively, there is no comparison to Karlsson. Karlsson is like a man playing with boys. He’s a full 25 points ahead of both Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers and Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets. To compare this to recent years, not since the 1988-1999 season when Paul Coffey of the Edmonton Oilers won the scoring race, has a defenseman dominated the scoring race by more than 25 points.
If you want to compare it to recent years, over the last 10 years only Nicklas Lidstrom has amassed more points as a defenseman than Karlsson did this season and Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy that year, 2005-06 hands down.
The question then becomes, “Can a defenseman who dominates the scoring race without the defensive game still win the Norris Trophy”? Let’s take a look and compare the stats.
Most hockey experts agree that it’s come down to a race between the Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara, the Nashville Predators Shea Weber and Karlsson. Offensively Karlsson finished 26 points a head of Chara and 29 points a head of Weber. So offensively there is no comparison.
Defensively, the most telling stat that can be used is a player’s plus/minus rating. However, we need to take a closer look at this stat and also take a look at the average ice time a player has. Player’s who play top minutes are normally matched up against the opponent’s best player’s which can hurt their rating. Also, we need to take a look at the players surrounding that player to see if his rating is inflated because he plays with a more defensive minded team or players.
Only 11 defencemen in the NHL averaged over 25 minutes in a game. A close examination of these 11 shows that Erik Karlsson is third in the NHL in plus/minus rating with a +16 which is behind only Zdeno Chara (+33) and Shea Weber (+21), his closest competitors for the Norris Trophy.
A closer look at the plus/minus leaders in the NHL shows us that the Boston Bruins have the top five plus/minus leaders in the NHL and 6 of the top 10. Chara’s numbers then are partially the product of the team that he plays on. In fact, the Bruins have the largest goal differential in the NHL with a +67 when comparing goals for and goals against. Of course Chara is a huge contributor to those stats, however his plus/minus stats are a bi-product of the team that he plays on.
Now if you compare this to the Senators, Ottawa was a +9 on the season, making Karlsson’s +16 a staggering total. Also, both Ottawa and Nashville have only one player in the top 30 in plus/minus. The Predators collectively are a +27 on the season.
Karlsson is the only one of the three defencemen to have a plus/minus better than the collective total of his team. Statistically, Ottawa is the worst defensive team to make the playoffs this season. Put Karlsson on a defensive minded team like Boston and who knows how high his plus/minus could be.
If you want to take a look at the intangibles, the Senators were chosen to finish 15th in the conference and dead last in the NHL. Instead they are the NHL’s surprise team, making the playoffs as the number 8 seed. Where would the Senators be without Karlsson, no one can tell? But I bet the Bruins without Chara and the Predators without Weber would still be a playoff team.
Erik Karlsson is the true Norris Trophy winner. Not only is he statistically miles ahead of both Chara and Weber offensively, but defensively his plus/minus rating is excellent considering how poorly his team has been in the defensive end.