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Erik Karlsson Really Should Have Won the Norris Trophy

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Not to beat a dead horse, but...

2016 NHL Awards - Press Room
Less skilled and less photogenic
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Last night, Drew Doughty won the Norris Trophy. It came as no surprise to anyone who had been listening to hockey media over the last year. Basically since last awards show, when Erik Karlsson won despite having fewer first-place votes, all hockey media have done is talk about how criminal it is that Drew Doughty had never won, despite finishing top-five in Norris voting twice in his career. He’d already won it in their minds without having played a single game of the 2015-16 NHL season.

Most of the accolades people have used to give Doughty the award? His two Stanley Cups (2012 and 2014), his two Olympic gold medals (2010 and 2014). Neither of which have anything to do with this past season. Also, that he plays defence the right way, that he doesn’t score a lot of points so obviously he cares more about defending, that he isn’t the defensive liability Karlsson was in his rookie season (because that’s the last time hockey media watched him play). It’s infuriating. I am loathe to quote Greg Wyshynski, but he said my thoughts so well with this statement: "We’re watching a once-in-a-generation talent, and there are voters that probably still didn’t put him over because they saw him turn the puck over in that one Ottawa game they watched on TV." Karlsson just isn’t the good Canadian boy that so many members of the media like to see.

And there are arguments for Doughty, such as his beastly 58.91% Corsi 5v5 (via Corsica.Hockey), easily tops among defencemen who played more than 150 minutes this season. Granted, he plays on a much, much better team than Karlsson, but that still demonstrates he’s one of the best at driving the play in the entire league. But you don’t hear any Doughty champions quote that stat, because, say it with me, HIS PLAY THIS SEASON DIDN’T MATTER. Even a once-in-a-generation season couldn’t sway them.

Because that’s what Karlsson did. He scored 82 points, the most by a defenceman since Brian Leetch scored 85 in 1995-96. That’s 20 years. Karlsson finished top-five in league scoring, the first time a defenceman did that since Paul Coffey finished second in 1985-86. He led the league in assists, the first time a defenceman did that since Bobby Orr in 1974-75. Karlsson has now led his team in scoring for three consecutive seasons; the only other defender to do that was Denis Potvin, who did it four times from 1973-77. Let’s keep in mind that Karlsson led the Sens by 21 points. The only other players to lead their teams by more than 20 points this year were Patrick Kane, who led his team by 29, and Vladimir Tarasenko, who led by 22. You may notice neither are defencemen. In terms of defencemen to lead their teams by at least 21 points, here’s your list: Phil Housley in 1991-92 (21 points), Ray Bourque in 1986-86 (23), Bobby Orr in 1969-70 (21). Take your pick: Leetch, Housley, Bourque, Coffey, Potvin, Orr. They’re all in the Hall of Fame, and it’s clear Karlsson will be too. (Huge shout-out to kmad on HF Boards for listing all the defencemen to ever lead their team in scoring.)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I wish Doughty had won last year’s Norris, so everyone could’ve appreciated how great Karlsson’s season was this year. It was the most impressive offensive display by a defenceman in at least 20 years, and people were too concerned about Doughty’s legacy and soft Europeans who don’t play the right way to notice. For what it’s worth, Karlsson also led the league in both average time on ice and total time on ice this season, playing other teams’ top competition. He had more blocks and fewer giveaways than Doughty. Karlsson also finished third among defenceman (minimum 100 minutes) in relative Corsi % at 5v5, showing how good Karlsson was on a team that desperately needed him. Not only did Karlsson destroy the competition offensively, he also was great defensively. Sure he has occasional lapses, but so do most players, and Karlsson has the puck a lot. The fact that he had fewer giveaways than Doughty shocks me, considering how much of the Sens’ offence went through EK.

In the end, awards voting is always going to be silly. Four people didn’t put Karlsson in their top five, but three didn’t put Doughty. To not put either among the top five defencemen in the league this season was dumb and petty, and a huge argument in favour of making ballots public. The only people who don’t want their votes to be public are those making highly biased choices they want no one to be aware of. Anyone making reasonable choices has no reason to be secretive.

Both Karlsson and Doughty are well in their primes, so I’m sure there will be many more awards showdowns in the future. Who knows? Maybe Karlsson’s offseason workout regime will bias the media back in his favour.

I can assure you though that if Karlsson does win next year, I won’t rant for nearly as long about him losing. At least not the Norris. I’ll be all over those people who didn’t vote him for the Hart.