The nominees for the Norris Trophy, given annually to the league's best defenceman as determined by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and Erik Karlsson was among the three finalists. This is Karlsson's third nomination, having won the trophy twice previously. The nomination was hardly a surprise, given that Karlsson played the best season of his career this year. The other two finalists were Drew Doughty of the Kings and Brent Burns of the Sharks.
It's not too strong to say that Karlsson had a generational season. There's really not much more that can be said about this year. His 82 points were the most by a defenceman since Brian Leetch in 1995-96. He finished top-five in league scoring, the first time a defenceman has done this since Paul Coffey in 1985-86. His 66 assists led the league, the first time a defenceman led the league in assists since Bobby Orr in 1974-75. He has now led the Senators in points in three consecutive seasons; the only player to do that was Denis Potvin (who actually did it four years in a row). Karlsson also had a 21-point lead over second place on the Sens, Mark Stone. Keep in mind that in those historic seasons, Leetch came second on his team to Mark Messier, Coffey came second to Wayne Gretzky by a longshot, Orr only beat Phil Esposito by eight points, and Potvin never led his team by more than 14 points. Karlsson did what he did playing with a relatively low-scoring roster.
If you want to talk about defence, Karlsson came third among defencemen behind Brendan Smith and Hampus Lindholm for relative Corsi percentage at 5v5 (via Corsica.Hockey) with 7.38%. Basically, no team saw the jump in possessing the puck that Karlsson gave the Sens. Keeping in mind that he also led the league in time on ice per game (and was second in even-strength), this was very impressive. Not to mention that Karlsson had more blocked shots than Doughty, even though Doughty played double the shorthanded time, and that Doughty had more giveaways than Karlsson even though Karlsson has the puck a lot more. If Karlsson plays more of a high-risk, high-reward type game, why does Doughty give the puck up more?
Some people ask the question of who you'd rather have out up by a goal late in a game, but Karlsson is the kind of player you put out late in a one-goal game because he can either set up a goal or keep the puck out of his own end. To me that fits the criteria of all-around defenceman.
That being said, I wouldn't be surprised to see Drew Doughty win it. The voting factions seem to be getting together to make sure Karlsson doesn't win this year. Doughty had a great year, but Karlsson had the best offensive season by a defenceman in a generation. It makes me wish Karlsson hadn't won last year, so the whole league could appreciate this season just how special Karlsson's season has been. Instead we've had to settle for people reminding us that Doughty has two gold medals, two Stanley Cups, and has never won the Norris so he should this year, as if somehow those things matter. They don't.
I guess Doughty's team did make the playoffs, and that generated some buzz for Karlsson last year. Of course, Doughty's team won one game in the first round and he looked overmatched most nights, but voting happens before the playoffs start so that won't make a difference. It's pretty much the one thing you can point to from this season that shows Doughty had a better year than Karlsson.
Anyway, this was just supposed to be an announcement piece. Karlsson is a Norris finalist, along with Doughty and Burns. Karlsson should win but he probably won't.