Until very recently the question used to be: “Is Erik Karlsson a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate?”
It is now: “How can he not be considered the frontrunner?”
With his recent offensive surge, Karlsson built a 20-point lead in the race for the defenceman’s scoring title. Seven weeks from the end of the schedule, he has hit the 60-point mark and was plus-15 heading into Saturday’s game. He led all defenceman in shots on goal, with 201, while averaging 25:10 of ice time.
Last season’s recipient of the best defenceman award was once again Nicklas Lidstrom. He finished with 62 points and a minus-2 mark.
Karlsson’s not only become one the league’s top scorers, at any position, but his quickness and speed, plus his first-pass skills, have turned him into a good defensive player.
Unless there’s a serious reversal of trends — or voters go strong on reputation from past seasons and years of service — Karlsson should be named the next Norris winner.
Why? Read on.
The second highest-scoring blueliner in the league, and Karlsson’s biggest challenge in the race for the top, is Florida’s Brian Campbell.
He had 41 points and a minus-9 rating entering Saturday’s games. Based on numbers, Vancouver’s Alex Edler should also earn some Norris votes if he keeps in line with the 40 points and plus-6 mark he carries now.
Shea Weber (38 points, plus-18), Duncan Keith (34 points, plus-13), Zdeno Chara (32 points, plus-21) and Nicklas Lidstrom (31 points, plus-26) are the top candidates to claim the Norris if Karlsson doesn’t. Ryan Suter? Kris Letang? Good candidates also, but not the best. By the numbers, none are as worthy as Karlsson.
The Senators were 24-11-4 in games which Karlsson picks up at least a point.
He had 12 points in the team’s previous five games, leading it to a 4-0-1 record. He was held off the scoresheet the night the Senators turned their fortunes with a 5-0-1 stretch.
“Karl has just been real good,” said coach Paul MacLean.
“He’s active and he’s shooting the puck. It seems like he’s focusing more on getting the puck on net, instead of just hammering away at it and the puck is finding its way in the net.
“He’s active obviously on the rush, does a good job on the power play and it’s good to see him putting it in the net.”
DEFENDING THE DEFENCE
The Senators have the most dangerous back line in hockey. Their defence is the motor for what has driven this team into an offensive force.
The presence of Karlsson in their lineup — with his speed and hockey sense as well as surprisingly hard shot — forces opponents to re-write their game plan.
“I think every team is aware of him,” Washington coach Dale Hunter said as the Capitals were in town for a game Wednesday. “He’s having a great season, he’s a great player. Great players, you’ve got to be aware of all the time. He’s the second wave coming in.”
MAGNITUDE OF THE MATTER
The Team 1200’s Steve Lloyd brings to our attention the fact that, if Karlsson maintains a 20-point lead on the runner-up in the defencemen scoring race, he will join some very exclusive company.
For one thing, it will be the first time since Paul Coffey had that type of victory margin since the 1988-89 season. Coffey wound up winning by at least 20 five times. Bobby Orr did it six times and Denis Potvin once. Nobody else. That type of accomplishment needs to be recognized.
RIGHT THING TO DO
There seems to be a theory that the Norris should go to a player who has been knocking on the door for years. But was Keith that guy two springs ago?
Besides, this is the 2011-12 trophy we’re talking about. If that theory turns into reality, there’s something wrong with the system.
The Norris should go to a guy who has done the most to deserve it from last October until April — and to a player who has helped his team to a good season.
The NHL should applaud the Senators for being the surprise team of this campaign. For giving hope to all teams “rebuilding” the way it should be done. And it will do so by It giving the Norris to Karlsson.