By Brandon Murphy (@2Murphy8)
The NHL Awards took place last night in a dual-presentation that featured the reveal of the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft picks. Throughout the evening, awards were handed out to the winners and Golden Knights general manager George McPhee would announce seven expansion selections between certain trophies. While most people were probably watching just to see the expansion draft, one trophy I personally wanted to see presented was the Norris Trophy, awarded to the defenseman who “demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position.” Needless to say, the decision was not what most people thought it would be.
Before I rant, here was the ballot
Now, a lot of things come to mind when seeing this. First off, how could someone with even the smallest understanding of hockey give Torey Krug a second place vote? Second, how can Justin Schultz be top-10 in the vote when he is nothing more than average defensively?
Third (and most importantly), how did Erik Karlsson not get every single first place vote? I’ve been one of the biggest Karlsson critics in past years, saying he was too offensive-minded to win the Norris and he was mediocre defensively. But in recent seasons, Karlsson has been without a doubt the best defenseman in the NHL.
Now, not taking anything away from Brent Burns, he was a monster this season and put up numbers that defensemen, especially in this era, shouldn’t be putting up. He was a scoring threat at all times, had a career high in points and was only one goal shy of hitting the 30 mark, something only 26 players managed to do last year. Defensively, Burns can get around quick for a guy of his stature and is able to close the gap rapidly using his reach and size. That being said, Marc-Edouard Vlasic gets the biggest defensive assignments on the Sharks and Burns’ totals took a drop in the second half of the season. Burns averaged 24:51 a night and had incredible 5-on-5 numbers, but started in the offensive zone 58.5% of the time. His defensive numbers were good; 142 blocked shots, 69 hits, 153 giveaways, and 53 takeaways.
Let’s turn to Karlsson. He had equally impressive offensive numbers, especially when you take into account Burns’ hot start to the season. Karlsson was consistent at both ends of the ice, continuously going up against opposing teams’ top players and logging 26:50 a night. Karlsson also played 24 more minutes on the penalty kill than Burns this season and didn’t have the luxury of Marc-Edouard Vlasic playing against first lines and power play units. Oh, and did I mention Karlsson was second in the NHL in blocked shots? It really seems like he can’t catch a break. When he puts up a lot of points, people say he’s a defensive liability. When he proves that he can be a solid, shutdown d-man, people say the guy with the better offensive numbers deserves the Norris. Here is a look at their respective Hero Charts.
After looking at the charts, the numbers are very similar, but Karlsson still has the edge defensively and the definition states the Norris Trophy is awarded to the best all-around defenseman in the NHL throughout the season. The only area Burns really dominated was goals, but their overall point numbers are close. When you take into account everything previously mentioned for the defensive aspect, it’s difficult to say #65 didn’t deserve the Norris.
Essentially, Karlsson lost the Norris Trophy last year because he was criticized for being too offensive-minded. He had better defensive numbers than Drew Doughty, was a point-per-game player and still lost. This year, he lost because Burns was better offensively. I would like to have all the voters make their vote public so we can see some of the potential bias surrounding this. No player is more important to their team than Karlsson is to the Senators and we were all witnesses in the playoffs. Heck, he even received a vote for the Conn Smythe despite being eliminated by the Penguins.
In the end, neither player is going to lose sleep over this, but Karlsson definitely would have snagged his fourth career Norris if it wasn’t for back to back snubs.