Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk caused quite a stir on Monday, when he suggested that Erik Karlsson would go down as one of the greatest defenceman in the history of the NHL.
As you might expect, Melnyk took a beating on Twitter – mostly from Maple Leafs fans who were happy for a story to distract them from the demotion of Keith Aulie to the Marlies.
But shortly after Melnyk’s comments, Karlsson went out and collected four points against the New York Islanders during a 6-0 romp. His afternoon splurge gave him 57 points on the season, putting him 17 ahead of the next closest defenceman in the scoring race.
So this begs the question: Is Karlsson’s season worthy of Norris Trophy consideration?
Karlsson is now on the verge of leading all defenseman in goals, assists and points this season. He has virtually locked up the lead in assists and points and sits only one goal behind Jason Garrison for the lead. Garrison, incidentally, is currently sidelined with an injury and hasn’t scored a goal since January 20th.
If Karlsson is able to pull off the feat of leading all defencemen in goals, assists and points, then it’s a virtual lock that he’ll be a finalist for the Norris Trophy. When looking back at the last 30 years, the following defencemen have led their counterparts in goals, assists and points in the same season:
Mike Green, 2009-10 (2nd in Norris voting)
Brian Leetch, 2000-01 (5th in Norris voting)
Nicklas Lidstrom, 1999-00 (2nd in Norris voting)
Paul Coffey, 1994-95 (1st in Norris voting)
Al MacInnis, 1990-91 (2nd in Norris voting)
Paul Coffey, 1989-90 (4th in Norris voting)
Paul Coffey, 1988-89 (2nd in Norris voting)
Raymond Bourque, 1986-87 (1st in Norris voting)
Paul Coffey, 1985-86 (1st in Norris voting)
Paul Coffey, 1984-85 (1st in Norris voting)
Paul Coffey, 1983-84 (2nd in Norris voting)
There were only two occasions when a player led all defencemen in goals, assists and points and was NOT a finalist for the Norris Trophy: Brian Leetch in 2000-01 and Paul Coffey in 1988-89. But upon further inspection, Leetch was sporting a -18 that season, while Coffey was worse with a -25 rating. Karlsson should be immune to being lumped into that group, considering he currently has a +14 rating.
Now, you might be thinking that Karlsson’s season is pretty much a comparable to the campaign put together by Anaheim’s Lubomir Visnovsky last year, when the Ducks defenceman scored 18 goals with 50 assists for 68 points. Visnovsky wasn’t even named a Norris finalist last season, as he was edged out by the same trio that Karlsson has to deal with this season: Nicklas Lidstrom, Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara. But Visnovsky only ended last season with a six-point lead over Lidstrom; his offensive dominance over the next best defenceman wasn’t that significant.
On the other hand, Karlsson has a whopping 17-point lead on the next closest defenceman in the scoring race, Florida’s Brian Campbell. During this same time span (last 30 years), there have been only five occasions where a defenceman finished a full season with at least a 15-point advantage in the scoring race over the next leading blueliner. And in every case, the defenceman was at least a finalist in the Norris voting:
Brian Leetch, 1991-92 – +16 point lead (1st in Norris voting)
Paul Coffey, 1988-89 – +38 point lead (2nd in Norris voting)
Paul Coffey, 1985-86 – +56 point lead (1st in Norris voting)
Paul Coffey, 1984-85 – +35 point lead (1st in Norris voting)
Paul Coffey, 1983-84 – +30 point lead (2nd in Norris voting)
While you might chuckle at Melnyk’s assertion of Karlsson’s status among the all-time best, he’s certainly onto something here. Erik Karlsson is having a season for the ages for a defenceman when you realize the gap that he has over the next most-productive defenceman. And yes, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, a guy like Mike Green serves as a cautionary tale in this situation. It was just two years ago that we were suggesting the sky was the limit for Green, before injuries and a team-wide malaise suffocated his numbers.
So the truth of the matter is we really don’t know where Erik Karlsson will be in five or ten years from now. My best guess is that he ends up like a Phil Housley or Brian Leetch – offensive defenceman who dominates the score sheet for an extended period of time. But that’s only a wild guess on my part.
A more educated guess says that Karlsson should be at least sitting in Las Vegas as a finalist when the Norris Trophy is handed out this June.