In the NHL, the Norris Trophy is one of the most prestigious awards to be presented at the end of the year, and Cale Makar might find it in his hands come this summer.
The accolade is given to the best defenseman that season as voted upon by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Since 1953-54, the first year the Norris Trophy has been in circulation, only one non-active defenseman has won the award and gone on to not make the Hall of Fame.
This year, the Colorado Avalanche have a player who should be considered as the Norris Trophy frontrunner in Makar. The Calgary native is one point shy of scoring at a point-per-game pace while averaging a career-high of 24:28 minutes of ice time.
It was expected for the 22-year-old to make a considerable leap this season, but it wasn’t anticipated for him to improve to this extent. Makar is a bonafide star, and the way he impacts the Avalanche is unforeseen.
The Ability to Drive Play
The one thing that stands out about last year’s Calder Trophy winner’s game is his ability to dictate the flow of the game while playing against top units. Whenever he steps out onto the ice, he simply becomes a difference-maker.
Makar’s skating ability and his agility are two things that make him such a dynamic player. He can take the puck from his own end, burst by opponents in the neutral zone, and make a great play to lead to a scoring chance.
Through 15 games, Makar has a Corsi for percentage of 65.8, which is tops among defensemen and second in the league only behind teammate Mikko Rantanen. This stat analyzes the percentage of the time Colorado has possession of the puck when he is out on the ice. He is also third among defensemen in Game Score Value Added (GSVA) who play top-pairing minutes and are not sheltered. GSVA is an advanced stat based upon the Game Score metric, which measures a player’s productivity in one game, and shows how much extra worth a player provides to his team.
These two metrics show that Makar is driving play in the offensive zone and is having a massive impact this season. No other defenseman in the NHL has done this as well as the former World Junior gold medalist. This is a large reason why he should be atop across all Norris Trophy rankings so far.
Defensive Efficiency Against Top-Lines
Makar is not excelling against any slouches either. As being on the top-pair for the Avalanche, he is being deployed against opposing top-lines and is suppressing shots at a high rate. Due to how dynamic he is offensively, people tend to ignore his defensive capability.
Among top-pairing defensemen who have above average usage Makar ranks second-best in expected goals against. This signals that the former Brooks Bandit is doing an excellent job at containing high-danger scoring chances in his own zone.
It’s clear that the West Division isn’t the strongest in the NHL, however, it does include some perennial powerhouses. Those include the Vegas Golden Knights, who recently have finished a four-game set against Colorado. In those games, the Golden Knights’ top line had a combined three points scored while primarily facing Makar’s pair.
The Canadian’s defensive efficiency can not be underestimated. For all the deserved attention he attracts for his highlight-reel plays, he also does the little things in his own end to neutralize opposing threats.
Colorado’s Regular Season Success
One of the largest factors in any NHL award is the team’s success. In the 66 years that the Norris Trophy has been handed out, no defenseman has won the award after missing the playoffs.
Through a quarter into this shortened season, the Avalanche look poised to make the playoffs. However, Makar hasn’t played so well to the point where he deserves the award even if Colorado simply squeaks into a spot. Right now, that does not seem like the case. Times are bright in the Mile High City, as it looks like Colorado is a serious contender this season.
If the Avalanche have one of the better-records by the season’s end, then Makar will definitely be in the conversation. With how great they are playing currently, this is a highly likely possibility.
In essence, Makar has spearheaded the transition of the new-age defenseman in today’s game. The dynamic offensive capability he possesses, his defensive efficiency, and the performance of the Avalanche this season, have transcended him to Norris Trophy consideration. With how talented he is, it seems as if he will make this tier of defenseman his home for a very long time.
My name is Ilyas, I’m 18-years-old, I was raised in Toronto, and currently enrolled in the Ryerson School of Journalism. I cover the Colorado Avalanche here at The Hockey Writers.