2022-23 Norris Trophy Tracker – End-of-Season Update

Welcome to THW’s 2022-23 Norris Trophy tracker. Using a mix of traditional analysis and more modern tools for analysis, this list will serve as a ranking of the NHL’s top defensemen over the regular season. To get out ahead of the crowd, here’s an explanation for why points aren’t everything when it comes to these rankings, in case some players aren’t rated as high as you might expect.

2022-23 Norris Trophy Tracker Cale Makar, Adam Fox, and Erik Karlsson
Cale Makar, Adam Fox, and Erik Karlsson (The Hockey Writers)

A defenseman must have appeared in at least 65 games to qualify for the top 5 of these rankings. Although there are no minutes played thresholds in place, a player is able to accumulate more value added to their team by playing more often, making it much less likely that defenders given second-pair deployment with little to no usage on special teams will be included.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the five defensemen (and five additional honourable mentions) headlining the final edition of the 2022-23 Norris Trophy rankings.

March Rankings: 5. Josh Morrissey (Winnipeg Jets); 4. Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche) 3. Rasmus Dahlin (Buffalo Sabres); 2. Adam Fox (New York Rangers); 1. Erik Karlsson (San Jose Sharks)

5. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

2022-23 Stats: 79 Games Played (GP) – 11 Goals (G) – 62 Assists (A) – 73 Points (PTS) – 25:29 Average Time On Ice (ATOI)

Surging into the final Norris Trophy rankings of the season is 23-year-old Miro Heiskanen of the Dallas Stars, who saw his offensive production explode in his fifth NHL campaign.

Related: 2022-23 Hart Trophy Tracker

The Finnish rearguard set new career-highs in assists and points at both even strength and on the power play, with the latter largely due to being handed the reins on the Stars’ top unit. Among all defenders, Heiskanen finished 21st in goals, third in assists, and sixth in points, while tying for the league lead in power play points (34).

Heiskanen has also helped the Stars regularly control play while seeing heavy usage in all situations. He finished sixth in all-situations ice time per game and eighth at even-strength while also seeing regular deployment on special teams, including nearly a minute-and-a-half per game while shorthanded.

In terms of his possession numbers, the Stars accounted for 52.6% of all shots (SF) and 56.9% of all scoring chances (SCF) when Heiskanen hit the ice at 5-on-5. Whether it’s carrying out offensive or defensive duties, Heiskanen was up for the task this season and helped the Stars finish second in the Central Division as one of the NHL’s most underrated superstars.

Miro Heiskanen Dallas Stars
Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The offseason departure of John Klingberg left a hole open on the Stars’ blue line, and Heiskanen filled it admirably while finally reaching the level suggested by his third-overall draft selection in 2017.

The NHL is booming with young and dynamic puck-moving defenders who are redefining the position’s responsibilities in the modern era. Heiskanen is one of the individuals at the forefront of the movement, and it’d be a shame if he didn’t win at least one Norris before his career is up.

4. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

2022-23 Stats: 78 GP – 15 G – 58 A – 73 PTS – 25:48 ATOI

Like his Buffalo Sabres, Rasmus Dahlin took a promising step forward in developing all facets of his game and looks to have joined the NHL’s enclave of elite NHL defensemen.

In terms of offensive production, few outpaced Dahlin as the burgeoning Swede set career-highs in virtually every category. Beyond finishing ninth in goals, sixth in assists, and fifth in points, he also tallied the sixth-most points at even-strength (41).

Much of the jump in production can be attributed to increased aggressiveness with the puck. Among qualified defensemen, Dahlin also ranks 12th or better in terms of scoring chances (iSCF), expected goals (ixG) and high-danger looks (iHDCF) per-60-minutes at 5-on-5. He also generated one of the highest rates of zone entries and exits in the league, showing increased poise and confidence with the puck.

Despite being given the fifth-most average 5-on-5 ice time in the NHL this season (19:36 minutes per game), Dahlin has been a positive when it comes to dictating the run of play at 5-on-5. With him on the ice, the Sabres have accounted for 53.5% of SF, 52% of SCF, and 53.3% of expected goals (xGF), all close to the best marks belonging to defenders with his level of usage.

Rasmus Dahlin Buffalo Sabres
Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For all the good his newfound aggressiveness has brought, Dahlin struggled with toeing the line on more than one occasion. Although he drew 20 minor penalties this season (tied for third among all defenders), he also took 41, nine more than Radko Gudas who finished second with 32.

Unsurpsingly, Dahlin posted the second-worst penalty differential (minus-21) in the NHL, suggesting improving his discipline should be a point of emphasis ahead of next season.

This suggests that he struggles to defend 1-on-1 and can be a bit of a turnstile when it comes to protecting his blueline, both of which are borne out in Corey Sznajder’s tracking data. That’s not to say he can’t or won’t improve in this regard – he only just turned 23 after all – but those are clear strikes against him in the Norris discussion.

3. Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils

2022-23 Stats: 82 GP – 22 G – 52 A – 74 PTS – 21:46 ATOI

The New Jersey Devils set new franchise records for wins (52) and points (112) in a season with their efforts in 2022-23, and Dougie Hamilton can claim a great deal of responsibility for their NHL record 49-point improvement in the standings from 2021-22.

Related: 2022-23 Vezina Trophy Tracker

The 29-year-old Hamilton blasted past his previous career benchmarks in every major offensive category, finishing second in goals and fourth in points among all defensemen. The Devils emphasized a gameplan predicated on rush offence and quick puck movement, unleashing Hamilton by playing to his strengths.

Among defensemen to have played at least 1000 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Hamilton led the pack in terms of shots, scoring chances, and shots off of the rush, while also ranking third in high-danger chances and expected goals per-60. The Devils did much of their scoring in transition, and Hamilton’s poise with the puck was a big reason for their success.

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Elsewhere, Hamilton barely saw any shorthanded usage but still played 21:46 minutes per game in all situations (53rd among all defensemen) and helped the Devils dictate play at 5-on-5.

When Hamilton played, the Devils accounted for 56.4% of xGF (14th among qualifed defenders), 57.9% of SCF, and 57.8% of HDCF (both marks rank ninth). His relative numbers (when he plays versus when he doesn’t) aren’t amazing given the team’s depth and star power, but they still grade out as positive and he plays a pivotal role in terms of scoring and in transition.

Dougie Hamilton New Jersey Devils
Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Some may discount Hamilton’s performance due to the talent of those around him, but I’d argue that he was just as important a factor in the Devils’ success as any other given player. He’s an elite offensive generator and is responsible enough defensively that he provides enormous cumulative value all over the ice.

Hamilton’s lack of time on the penalty kill and lower overall usage relative to his peers means he doesn’t have as strong of a Norris case as others, but he was undoubtedly one of the most impactful blueliners in the league this season. That should mean something to the voters.

2. Adam Fox, New York Rangers

2022-23 Stats: 82 GP – 12 G – 60 A – 72 PTS – 24:23 ATOI

In any other year, the New York Rangers’ Adam Fox would likely win the Norris. Beyond his playmaking and puck-moving ability in all three zones, the 25-year-old rearguard possesses an incredible sense of timing and hockey sense which lend themselves to his sparkling defensive metrics.

Related: 2022-23 Calder Trophy Tracker

Those traits translate to Fox’s effect on the Rangers’ share of chances and chance quality at 5-on-5. Going by relative impact, the American ranks fourth or higher by relative impact in all three of xGF%, SCF%, and HDCF%. Although he posted generally high shares of shots and chances to begin with, it’s the major swing in results that truly demonstrates how integral he is to the Rangers’ on-ice fortunes.

Despite his difficult on-ice deployment, Fox sits within the top-25 of all qualified defenders in 5-on-5 penalty differential (plus-two) and completed the second-highest rate of takeaways per-60-minutes. He may not be the most physical of defenders, but his awareness and timing allow him to make his stick and positioning do the work.

Adam Fox New York Rangers
Adam Fox, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Even by traditional metrics, Fox stands above (most of) the Norris field. He ranks fourth in assists and eighth by overall and even-strength (40) points. He’s not just benefitting from playing a lot of minutes with New York’s skilled forwards, he leads all NHL defenders in primary shot assists (the final pass before a shot is taken) which gives those same forwards the puck in dangerous scoring areas.

Despite Fox’s all-around excellence, one defenseman reigns above all, and has done so from essentially opening night of the campaign. Fox may, and very likely will, add to his 2020-21 Norris win later in his career, but 2022-23 belongs to one man and one man only.

1. Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks

2022-23 Stats: 82 GP – 25 G – 76 A – 101 PTS – 25:37 ATOI

When a defenseman eclipses 100 points in a single season like Erik Karlsson did for a San Jose Sharks team more interested in Connor Bedard than the playoffs this season, it’s difficult to argue in favour of any other Norris contender.

Related: 2022-23 Selke Trophy Tracker

There have only been 15 individual seasons where a blueliner finished with 100 points or more, with Karlsson only the sixth different defenseman to accomplish the feat. The last defender to pass the century mark was Brian Leetch during the 1991-92 season, putting the Swedish rearguard in rare company.

Karlsson scored 74 even-strength points in total, 25 more than the Seattle Kraken’s Vince Dunn who finished second with 49, while also finishing 25 points clear of Quinn Hughes in all situations. At this point, it’s not just that he’s scored a ton, but that he’s so far clear of the pack in every statistical category that warrants additional praise.

Erik Karlsson San Jose Sharks
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Karlsson’s supposed defensive deficiencies both this year and throughout his storied career have often been a point of contention with the voters and the general public. Critics claim his offensive exploits aren’t enough to overcome that particular weakness, but his numbers aren’t as bad as the discourse would have you believe.

Using the same minutes played threshold, Karlsson finished 26th by SCF% (54.6%), 27th by HDCF% (55.3%), and 38th by xGF% (53.5%). He significantly tilted the ice in the Sharks’ favour despite the incredibly thin roster around him and his strong relative metrics also grade out in his favour.

Even if Karlsson is the heavy favourite for the award, voters can still point to a few holes in his case if they are so inclined.

Karlsson saw almost no usage on the penalty kill and continues to struggle to stop puck-carriers at his own blueline, but no other defender has taken on as much individual responsibility for their team’s offensive output and transition strategy. That should be enough to win over the voters come awards time and earn the future Hall-of-Fame member the third Norris of his career.

2022-23 Norris Trophy Honourable Mentions

In a crowded Norris field this season, here are five additional honourable mentions to round out the top 10, presented in no particular order: ; Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins); Josh Morrissey (Winnipeg Jets); Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche); Hampus Lindholm (Boston Bruins); and Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks).

Data courtesy of AllThreeZones, Evolving HockeyHockey ReferenceMoneyPuck, and Natural Stat Trick.