PITTSBURGH - APRIL 14: Erik Karlsson #65 of the Ottawa Senators plays the air guitar in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Mellon Arena on April 14, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
After a historically dominant season, Erik Karlsson is the first Ottawa Senators defenceman (that I can recall, anyway) to be nominated for the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league's best defenceman. He'll be up against former Ottawa Senators blueliner Zdeno Chara and future Ottawa Senators defenceman (?) Shea Weber for the award.
So much has been written about Karlsson's incredible season in 2011-12 that I hardly feel the need to go into much detail, but I'll discuss the broad strokes: He scored 78P (19G, 59A) in 81GP, which was tenth overall in league scoring and 25P more than the next-highest-scoring blueliner--the first time a defensive scoring leader had such a lead in over 20 years. He played 25:19 TOI per game, which was ninth in the league, and was the best defender on the very surprising Senators squad. He benefited from more than his fair share of offensive zone starts, but the quality of his on-ice competition (QualComp or QoC) was high, as was his CORSI score.
Despite those positives, Karlsson's Norris campaign has been controversial from the outset, with most critics pointing to his lack of penalty-killing time and the fact that despite being a defenceman, his main job on the ice is to create offence. (Those tasks don't have to be mutually exclusive, but for some reason people think they are.) So Chara and Weber are going to give him a good run in the voting.
Chara, the only finalist who's won a Norris in the past, was once again the Bruins' defensive leader, and he helped them to another Northeast Division title this year. He scored 52P (12G, 40A) which was fourth-best among defencemen and played 25:00 TOI/GP, including 2:43 SH TOI/GP (Note: Rookie defender Jared Cowen played 3:08 SH TOI/GP). Perhaps most importantly, he's been nominated five times and won once, giving him the history that voters sometimes expect from winners. He's "paid his due," so to speak.
Weber, too, has paid his due, and this is his third time as a finalist for the award. He only had 49P (19G, 30A), and was tied (with Karlsson) for the league-lead in goal-scoring by defencemen with 19 goals. He's a physically dominant player who's not afraid to smash your head into the glass if need be (although, admittedly, voters won't have seen the full extent of Weber's "competitive spirit" since votes were cast before the playoffs). He was fifth among blue liners with a whopping 26:09 TOI/GP, including 2:16 SH TOI/GP (which was 80th among defencemen). And he's been talked about as a dominant defender in the league for years now, and momentum has been building in his favour during that hype period.
Still, I think Karlsson's got a fairly good chance overall--in fact, of all the Senators trophy finalists, I think Karlsson's got the best chance. His zone starts and lack of penalty kill time shouldn't indicate that he's incapable of defending; they simply show that his coach saw that there are more productive opportunities to use Karlsson's unique skill set. The fact that he was already ninth in the league in TOI/GP means that there was little room for him to pick up a few SH shifts in a game.
Not to take anything away from Chara, I think the voting will likely come down to Weber or Karlsson and will depend on whether the voters were more convinced by Weber's hype over the last few seasons, or Karlsson's insane amount of hype this year.
Who do you think will win the Norris Trophy?
Zdeno Chara (18 votes)
Erik Karlsson (136 votes)
Shea Weber (87 votes)
241 total votes