It was announced on Monday that Erik Karlsson is a finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, given to the defenseman who demonstrates the best all-around ability at the position. Karlsson has already won the trophy once in 2011-12.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Norris Finalists: Doughty, Karlsson, Subban.</p>— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) <a href="https://twitter.com/FriedgeHNIC/status/592821691639791616">April 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Karlsson finished the regular season first among defensemen with 66 points, six points ahead of Brent Burns and P.K. Subban. He finished with 21 goals, beating his own record for Senators defensemen, and second among defensemen league-wide only to Oliver Ekman-Larsson's 23. Karlsson's 27:15 time-on-ice per game was third among defensemen, behind only Ryan Suter and Drew Doughty. From an advanced stats perspective, Karlsson finished with a Corsi-for percentage (or shot attempt percentage) of 52.75%. This was good for a 4.47% Corsi-for relative (i.e. better than the team on the whole), thirteenth among defensemen who played at least 1000 minutes. Cody Ceci was the only player whose even-strength share of shot attempts dropped when he was a way from Karlsson, and the two only played 35 minutes together all season. Marc Methot was injured for the first half of the season, forcing Karlsson to be paired with Chris Phillips and Mark Borowiecki to start the year, making his season totals all the more impressive.
Many knock Karlsson for his perceived lack of ability to play defense, but anyone who's watched him play much knows this isn't true. Karlsson's ability to strip players of the puck, box them out, and to quickly transition the puck out of his own zone is top-notch defense. Additionally, Karlsson can lay the body when necessary, despite being only 180 lbs. The biggest knock against Karlsson is his lack of shorthanded time-on-ice. His 33 seconds per game was 227th out of 307 defensemen who played at least one NHL game this year. However, as many Sens fans will tell you, most NHL defensemen are capable of killing penalties. The goal is to block shots, get in passing lanes, and ice the puck. For a player as dominant at even strength and on the powerplay as Karlsson, wasting his minutes on the PK doesn't make sense. Karlsson does kill penalties when one of Ottawa's regular penalty-killing defensemen is in the box, but he isn't a regular because it's not the best use of his skill-set.
The other nominees are P.K. Subban of the Canadiens and Drew Doughty of the Kings. Subban finished the season with 60 points, tied for second among defensemen. He also won the award once before, in 2012-13. Doughty finished with 46 points, and demolished his previous season-high, playing 28:59 per game. He has never won the Norris, though he was a finalist in 2009-10.
The biggest snub is Mark Giordano, who had a stellar start to the year but missed the last 20 games of the season due to torn biceps. Shea Weber and Roman Josi both earned consideration, but were less deserving in my opinion, and likely split votes since they both played for the Predators.
All the award winners will be announced at the NHL Awards ceremony in Las Vegas on June 25.