The Norris Debate

My (biased) opinion about who the Norris winner should be this season.

Erik Karlsson. That’s my answer. Oh, you want stats and facts? Well, alright.

Brent Burns is having himself a career year with the San Jose Sharks. The 32 year old defenceman is on pace to set a career high in both goals and points this season. Through 66 games, Burns has 27 goals and 43 assists for a total of 70 points. Those numbers are very good. In fact, they’re Norris Trophy good.

The only problem is that Erik Karlsson put up almost identical point totals last season, scoring 82 points in 82 games, good enough for 4th overall amongst all skaters…and lost the Norris.

Erik Karlsson’s career season last year should have made him a shoe-in for his third Norris Trophy. Instead, the prestigious award went to Drew Doughty, who scored 51 points that season, a whopping 31 less than Karlsson. The mainstream media pumped up Doughty’s stats all season long, seemingly awarding him the lifetime achievement award far from season’s end. He wasn’t the highest scoring defenceman (in fact, he was only 9th in the league), but Drew was due. He was praised for his defensive awareness and willingness to block shots, something that Karlsson, or even Burns, didn’t do.

Fast forward to 2017. Erik Karlsson leads the league in blocked shots (178). Brent Burns is all the way done the list at 39th (112). Erik Karlsson is 4th in the league in takeaways (48), Burns is a close 6th (44). Burns has the most giveaways in the league (126), Karlsson is a fair distance behind him, still with the 2nd most (91). Burns has 70 points in 66 games, Karlsson has 61 in the same timespan. Karlsson currently 4 game-winning goals, compared to Burns’ 5, but a higher percentage of Karlsson’s goals are game-winners for Ottawa. Karlsson also has a slight lead in power-play points (22) compared to Burns (21).

If we’re using last year’s voting qualifications as a measuring stick, Karlsson should be winning his third Norris trophy. Karlsson has completely transformed his game under new head coach, Guy Boucher, focusing on defensive details while at the same time performing at close to a point per game pace. His goal production has suffered as a result, but he has evolved into a more complete player. He doesn’t make the defensive gaffes he used to by being caught up the ice or trying to generate offence by sacrificing defence. While Burns clearly has the lead in goals (27 compared to Karlsson’s 13), every defensive statistic that Doughty won with last year is in Karlsson’s favour this year.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m clearly an Ottawa Senators fan, but I am by no means a Senators’ homer, or even a Karlsson homer for that matter. I fully appreciate the talent of Brent Burns and what he brings to the league; in fact, I’ve watched many San Jose games this year simply because of his allure. He’s a tremendous force on the blue-line and a key part of San Jose’s offence. Not many players can go toe-to-toe with him in the corner (sorry Shea Weber) and his sheer size, strength, and shot velocity makes him one of the most feared opponents in the NHL. And if I’m being perfectly honest, Burns probably wins the Norris this year, simply because San Jose is a better team overall, and because the NHL is consistently inconsistent. From player suspensions to on-ice officiating to award voting, the NHL knows how to take what should be a series of simple decisions, throw them in a blender, and force feed them to paying fans. Burns is the favourite to win for all the reasons Karlsson lost last year. If Karlsson had won the Norris last year, I would 100% have no issue with Burns winning it this year, as his offensive numbers no doubt make him as deserving of the award as Karlsson’s numbers made him last year. But that’s not case.

Karlsson is doing everything this year that the critics told him he wasn’t doing last year. Karlsson is having the defensive season that Doughty had last year, plus he’s scoring at close to a point-per-game pace. He kills penalties, he blocks shots, and he plays on the power-play. Call it the Ottawa bias, or whatever else you want, but it seems that Karlsson is going to have to elevate his play to even more of an unprecedented level in order to win another Norris Trophy in his career, if he ever does.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Exhibit C:

 

Who do you think will win the Norris Trophy this season? Let us know in the comments below.

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