Having been robbed of a Hart Trophy nomination, Erik Karlsson's only chance for a major award this season will be the Norris Trophy, awarded to the NHL's "top defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest
similarity to Erik Karlsson all-round ability in the position".
For the third consecutive season he was healthy in, Karlsson led all NHL defencemen in points with 66. He was second in goals (21), second in assists (45), first in shots on goal (292), first in 5-on-5 points (32), first in power play points (30), first in 5-on-5 goals (14) and was near the top in a host of other offensive categories. There is no doubt that he is the best offensive defenceman in the NHL and it isn't close.
The last time a defenceman that wasn't first or second in points won the Norris Trophy was back in 2008-2009 when Zdeno Chara won after finishing 12th in points with 58. The last time a defenceman with fewer than 50 points won the Norris Trophy was Rod Langway in 1983-1984. P.K. Subban was second among defencemen with 60 points and Drew Doughty was 14th with 46 points. With the Kings also missing the playoffs, it would be a real outlier if Doughty were to win it. I am going to ignore Doughty from here on.
What about Subban then? Karlsson had 66 points, Subban had 60. Karlsson had 21 goals, Subban had 15. Both players had 45 assists. Karlsson had an incredible 654 shot attempts compared with 413 for Subban. Using WAR On Ice's scoring chances approximation, Karlsson had 186 individual scoring chances, while Subban was well down the list (and behind teammate Andrei Markov) with 75. To anyone that watches the Ottawa Senators regularly this isn't surprising. Karlsson can frequently skate the puck out of the zone and create chances simply on his own.
What about defensively then? During 5-on-5 play, the Senators allowed 53.94 shot attempts per 60 minutes of Karlsson's ice time, while the Canadiens allowed 56.16 per 60 minutes of Subban. The Senators allowed 56.07shot attempts per 60 minutes with Karlsson off the ice and the Canadiens allowed 58.25 with Subban off the ice. So both players roughly had the same impact in reducing shot attempts.
The big thing working against Karlsson among voters is that he does not play regularly on the penalty kill. He had only 44:45 of 4-on-5 ice time while Subban had 170:04. It should be noted that the Senators allowed 75.08 attempts per 60 minutes of Karlsson's 4-on-5 time which was the sixth lowest among defencemen in the league, Subban was 24th. Although given that Karlsson didn't even have 60 minutes of ice time, it is a rather small sample from which not much can be concluded except that he wasn't exactly getting killed on the penalty kill.
As much as I hate P.K. Subban, he would be a worthy winner and it wouldn't be an outrage. Karlsson was a little bit better but wasn't as dominant as he has been in previous years. Although, a big reason for that is playing with partners that either should not be any where near the league (Chris Phillips) or alternating between the bottom pairing and healthy scratches (Mark Borowiecki and Jared Cowen). Once Marc Methot returned from injury, Karlsson was near the top of the league in points among all players, not just defencemen. This is not so much that Karlsson needs Methot (he was even better with Patrick Wiercioch) specifically, he simply needs someone that is not Phillips, Borowiecki or Cowen.
Whether Erik wins the Norris or not, he will always be #1 in our hearts.
Disclaimer: I think Erik Karlsson is the greatest hockey player of all time. Some things mentioned above may not have been objective.
All stats are from NHL.com, War-on-Ice.com and stats.hockeyanalysis.com