The NHL has developed a recent tradition of crowning the Norris Trophy winner (for best defenceman) before the season starts. This happened arguably as a result of Erik Karlsson’s Norris win in 2014-15. Drew Doughty actually received more first-place votes but didn’t win, and hockey media seemed to vow Doughty would get his due. They spent the 2015-16 hockey year talking about his two Stanley Cups and two gold medals (none of which came in that year), and how he deserved to be called the best defenceman alive. Sure enough, he won that year, despite Karlsson having a historic season.
In the summer of 2016, the media anointed Shea Weber the upcoming winner. After the online world had a field day, saying that the Canadiens had been royally fleeced in the P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade, the media seemed determined to prove the haters wrong by making Weber the Norris winner. He opened the season strong with 10 points in his first nine games, but then fell off the pace. Thankfully for the media, Brent Burns emerged as a dominant point-getter, and despite a six-points-in-sixteen-games stretch to finish the season, he still won handily.
However, an interesting thing happened in the 2016-17 playoffs. Karlsson had a playoffs for the ages, being on the ice for every Sens game winner, and leading his team to double-OT of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Sens were the team that came the closest to denying the Penguins as repeat champions. He did everything on an ankle that needed to have some bone removed and replaced by cadaver tendons over the summer. Tim and Sid said he may have been the playoff MVP, even without making the Stanley Cup Finals. He even received a Conn Smythe third-place vote. Suddenly the hockey world realized that Karlsson is great at hockey. He finally got recognized as the best defenceman in the league by EA Sports, and was seen as the third-best player in the league (behind Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby) on both TSN’s and the NHL’s offseason player rankings.
I held off on this article until we knew when Karlsson would be back, but I think missing five games isn’t enough to damage his season. Karlsson is entering this season as the consensus best defenceman in the world, and he’ll be expected to win another Norris unless something drastic happens.
Of course, not everyone has him winning it. A few have listed Victor Hedman as their pre-season Norris pick. I’ve seen some more predicting a Brent Burns repeat. But I’d say for now, Karlsson will be viewed as the best d-man in the league until someone proves otherwise. As his season begins tonight, the Norris is his to lose.