It’s been a two-horse race for the Norris Trophy all season long but in the final weeks before the shutdown, some challengers had emerged.
While John Carlson is still a favourite to win, this year has seen plenty of other defencemen put up strong performances, making his lock on the award not as sure now as it was earlier in the campaign.
With the season stopped and no return in sight, here is where things stand in the race to be the NHL’s top defenceman.
With just over 10 games to go for most teams, Carlson and Josi have separated themselves as co-favourites for the Norris.
Carlson grabbed the lead in this race with a historic 23 points in his team’s 15 October games. He hasn’t relinquished the defence scoring lead since, currently leading all others by 10 with 75 points, and before the shutdown had an outside chance at hitting 90 points, which hasn’t been done by a blueliner since Ray Bourque in 1993-94. Of course, this award is about more than just points — Carlson led blueliners in scoring in 2017-18 but finished fifth in Norris voting that year — but his possession stats show Carlson has positive impacts for the Capitals in all three zones. He’s also a regular penalty killer for the Capitals and leads the team in ice time by almost two minutes a game.
Josi’s season has evolved like Carlson’s in a lot of ways. On a Nashville team that struggles on offence Josi excels, leading the team in scoring by 17 points. Josi also leads the Predators in expected goals and scoring chances (according to Natural Stat Trick), and is third among all defencemen with 25:47 of ice time per game.
Had A Chance
Victor Hedman, Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Alex Pietrangelo
The Norris gets three finalists and the runner-up to Carlson and Josi will likely come from this group.
Hedman got off to a strong start this season but quieted down in the second half. He’s only posted 18 points since the calendar flipped to 2020 but still averages over 24 minutes of ice time, plays in all situations and is among the league leaders with a plus-27 rating.
Hughes is a favourite to win rookie of the year but could also be considered among the best defencemen. Still only 20, Hughes is one of seven defencemen to crack 50 points so far and is third among blueliners with 45 assists. With quick skating and patient play, Hughes has given the Canucks a star on the blue line to replace the ageing Alex Edler. And he’s just getting started.
Makar and Hughes have been battling for rookie of the year but injuries have seen the Avalanche blueliner fall slightly behind his Vancouver counterpart in that race. But despite missing 13 Avalanche games, Makar is still among the league-leaders in defence scoring with 50 points (in only 57 games), has a plus-12 rating and positive possession numbers. His 0.88 points per game is third behind only Carlson and Josi among defencemen.
Pietrangelo, the captain of the reigning Stanley Cup champions, was in the midst of another impressive season. He crossed the 50-point mark for the fourth-straight season, was on pace to set a new career-high in goals and carries a 53 per cent Corsi rate. The 30-year-old is a pending unrestricted free agent and can expect a big pay raise from the Blues or elsewhere this off-season.
The Long Shots
Ivan Provorov, Shea Theodore, Shea Weber, Zachary Werenski
This last group of players have all had great seasons but now that we’re in a pause, they are long shots to challenge for the Norris.
Provorov has been the best defenceman on one of the NHL’s biggest surprise teams and is having a big bounceback season after a disappointing contract year. The Flyers are a Cup contender in part because Provorov has been among the league leaders in ice time (24:50), goals (13) and Corsi For percentage (51.79). Still only 23, Provorov will only get better and the Flyers’ window to win is opening because of it.
Theodore’s season has been extra special when you factor in he spent the off-season recovering from testicular cancer. Despite that, he hasn’t missed a game and has been one of the most productive defencemen in the league. The 24-year-old has set career-highs with 13 goals and 46 points, and has seen his average ice time increase to over 22 minutes a night. On top of that, he leads all defencemen (minimum 1,000 minutes, according to Natural Stat Trick) in plenty of advanced stats, including Corsi For (58.50), Fenwick For (57.86) and on-ice shooting percentage (58.36). The Golden Knights have been looking for an elite defenceman for basically their entire team history and in Theodore they may have found it.
Weber has incredibly never won this award but has finished top four in voting five times. After injuries limited him to only 84 games over the past two seasons, the 34-year-old bounced back in a big way this year with 15 goals, more than 24 minutes of ice time and an overall return to his dominant play from his prime with the Nashville Predators. Even his recovery from an ankle injury — which only took six games — shows Weber has found the fountain of youth this season.
Werenski doesn’t make the same headlines his teammate Seth Jones does but he’s had a very productive season for the surprising Blue Jackets. Werenski is the only defenceman who’s scored 20 goals this season, but he’s also seen his role on the team grow, with a career-high 1:59 on the penalty kill and his overall ice time rise to 23:59 a game. In the 14 games since Jones had ankle surgery in early February, Werenski has risen as a leader on his team even more, skating nearly 25 minutes a game and potting eight points, tied for the team lead.