How many of you remember the Norris Trophy voting of 2008-09? I'm sure the people of Washington and Boston do. To refresh the rest of you, Zdeno Chara won a stunning upset over Mike Green in the Norris voting that year. In that season, Green had a higher plus minus, 23 more points (46% more), and 12 more goals (63% more) while playing in 12 less games. Will Erik Karlsson be the new Mike Green?
This year Karlsson enjoys a 27 point lead over the next closest defenceman. He has the most goals of his peers and a favorable plus minus relative to the top 20 point producing counterparts. It seems eerily similar to be sure. I've already heard the arguments about how he doesn't play much on the penalty kill, that his game is one dimensional, that he is a power play specialist, etc. Some of these arguments have some merit while others just show the ignorance of those making the argument. Let's delve into some specifics to see how Erik stacks up.
Some perspective might be in order before we do some comparisons. In the last 10 Norris awards, the award went to the defensemen with the most total points on three occasions, the person second in points received it four times, and once each for someone in third, fifth and twelfth (Chara from 2009). Based on this and the chatter I have read and seen, Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara, NIklas Lidstrom, and Alex Pietrangelo would all seem to warrant consideration.
Many voters will discount Karlsson because he doesn’t log many short-handed minutes. I’m not sure this should be held against him. Karlsson does average more total ice time than Lidstrom, Chara and Pietrangelo. How many minutes is he coach supposed to give him? Can Ottawa really afford to give him more penalty kill time, pushing his minutes even higher? Would that even be smart? Why would you risk the extra minutes when you have Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips who gobble up penalty kill minutes (and Jared Cowen to a lesser extent)? Wouldn’t I want to use his 25 to 26 minutes a game in a manner that gives my team the best chance to win? I think his lack of penalty kill time and his unbelievable point total fuel the myth that his points are a result of his power play time. Look at the numbers as they are staggering.
Karlsson has an incredible 48 even strength points, an amount that is almost double the second highest defenseman. All but 3 of his 19 goals are at even strength. His 16 even strength goals are multiples of that of Lidstrom (7), Pietrangelo (6), Weber (5) and Chara (4). His 32 even strength assist are Secretariet lengths ahead of Chara (22), Pietrangelo (18), Weber (18) and Lidstrom (10). He is dominating his peers at even strength. The numbers seem to show his offensive dominance even at even strength. How should voters look at his defensive capabilities?
Would voters like to look at takeaways as a sign of a good defender? Karlsson has 60, significantly more than Weber (49), Pietrangelo (41), Lidstrom (25) and Chara (22). Are shot blocks important to voters? Well his shot block numbers are in-line with Chara and Lidstrom and that hasn’t seemed to be an issue for them in the past. Does a Norris winner need to hit? He has more hits than Lidstrom so that wouldn’t seem to be an issue.
Perhaps the voter should look at the ever debatable +/-? At first glance, Chara and Lidstrom are way ahead of the pack at +27 but upon closer examination it should be noted that their teams have two of the three highest ratios of five on five goals for/goals against. For every even strength goal they give up, they score over 1.30 and 1.54 even strength goals, respectively. It is also interesting to note that the Blues are second in that ration at a 1.41 ratio while Ottawa and Nashville are 9th and 11th at 1.05 and 1.02, respectively. As a result, a voter would expect the plus minus of the Blues, Boston and Detroit defensemen to be a higher. Weber, Karlsson and Pietrangelo are grouped at +19, +18, and +17 respectively. If a voter normalizes the plus minuses of these defensemen based on their team ratios, Pietrangelo becomes the only outlier, all be it in a negative way.
What might be more important to a voter is how clutch a Norris winner should be? In this category, Karlsson sure seems to have a large edge. Of Karlsson’s goals, an astounding 14 have either tied the score or given his team the lead. His peers pale in comparison with Weber being the closest at 8. If a voter’s cup of tea is game winning goals, he has a very impressive 5 and while Pietrangelo has an unbelievable 6, Weber only has one while Lidstrom and Chara don’t have any.
When I go down my voter list, he has most of the boxes checked and is leaps and bounds over the other nominees in most categories. Is he clutch? Amazingly so. Is he a minute eater? You bet. Is he capable in his own end? Definitely. Is he capable in the offensive zone? More so than any of his peers.
I hope the voters give Erik the recognition he deserves for this fine season.