It was just a small nugget in one of 82 pre-game shows on TSN 1200 this year, but Dean Brown dropped a bomb on the weekend. The meat comes just after the 1hr17min mark. Essentially his claim was this: last season, Drew Doughty’s agents (Newport, who have about 130 NHL clients) told some national broadcasters that if they didn’t vote Doughty for the Norris, they might lose some of their inside information. Many national broadcasters depend on insider information to keep their audience, so this would be a real threat if true.
The question is - is it true? It mostly seems like an exaggerated problem. After all, Erik Karlsson is also represented by Newport Sports Management. Why would they want one of their star clients to earn votes over another? Maybe you could argue that it’s in their best interest to have as many clients as possible with Norris trophies. Maybe you could argue that they like Doughty more, but that seems a little far-fetched to me.
I think there could be some truth here. Agents could make this claim when a rival’s client is involved. GMs could make the same threat to the insiders. The big thing is that every agency and GM could (and probably do) make this threat. So in theory, manipulating the media would have very little effect.
Last season, I think Erik Karlsson should have won the Norris Trophy. I wrote about how Drew Doughty had a great year, but Karlsson had the best season by a defenceman in over 20 years. I’d love for there to be some sinister reason behind Karlsson losing, but I can’t believe it’s actually true. Dean Brown is a biased Ottawa homer, and there’s probably some exaggeration (probably not on purpose) in his claims. I think the easiest explanation is the one I keep giving - mainstream media is still pretty old-school and isn’t a fan of Karlsson-type players. They were frustrated Karlsson won in 2015 (despite fewer first-place votes than Doughty), and vowed to rectify it the next year. It was a lifetime achievement award for a Canadian darling on a two-time Cup winner. So yes, the voting process is flawed, but I don’t know how you fix that. Everyone comes in with their own biases. GMs wouldn’t do a great job, since many don’t know how to evaluate all defencemen, as evidenced by contracts to Andrew MacDonald or Luca Sbisa or Dan Girardi in recent years. The media obviously isn’t doing well. Coaches also make weird decisions. Players would be biased to current or former teammates. If I got a vote, I’d probably give it to a Sens player in every justifiable case (Hart - Karlsson, Selke - Stone, Vezina - Anderson...). We just have to accept the award voting is fundamentally flawed, but there’s really no objective way around it.
So no, Norris Trophy voting isn’t rigged. Even if it would make me feel better, I can’t believe the winner is the one whose agent has the deepest pockets. The voting process just suffers from a lot of human error.