Makar’s Norris Case Clear in Avalanche Win Over Blackhawks

For what seems to be the umpteenth time this season, Cale Makar dazzled the collective NHL audience in the Colorado Avalanche’s come-from-behind 4-3 win over the hapless Chicago Blackhawks. His mesmerizing display of talent is worthy of being named a Norris Trophy favorite, an honor he looks set to cling to for much of the 2021-22 campaign. Let’s dig into why Tuesday night’s performance further separates Makar from the rest of the league’s blueline pack.

Makar is Bednar’s Go-to Workhorse in Crunch Time

After the Avalanche staked an early 2-0 lead midway through the first period, the Blackhawks wrenched back the lead with three consecutive goals before the three-minute mark of the final frame. With vital points in the standings at stake, head coach Jared Bednar turned to his trusted blueline wizard to turn the tide against a heartened Chicago squad hoping to manufacture some pride in an otherwise bleak campaign.

Cale Makar Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

At night’s end, Makar paced the Avalanche in ice-time, his 28:31 of play barely eking out Devon Toews (28:04) for the team lead. The 11:14 of ice-time across the third-period and overtime for which Bednar called upon Makar was the most among Avalanche skaters, demonstrating the coach’s faith in the young defenseman’s capabilities when the pressure is at its highest. The Avalanche significantly out-shot (63.4% Corsi for) and out-chanced (55.7% expected goals for) the Blackhawks with Makar on the ice at five-on-five, even as Chicago trotted out its strongest defenders to contain Colorado’s vaunted attack.

Related: Avalanche’s Cale Makar Is the NHL’s Best Defenseman

Before scoring the overtime winner, Makar played 1:35 of the 2:30 duration of the additional frame, leading the Avalanche. It’s fair to present a rebuttal stating that the Blackhawks aren’t exactly the most formidable opponent, but there are no easy games in the NHL; just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Makar Challenging NHL’s All-Time Record for Goals by a Defenseman

With the tie-breaking marker, Makar scored his 14th goal of the year, the most among all defensemen this season. Notably, he’s accomplished the feat in at least three fewer games than the other blueliners rounding out the top five, only suiting up in 24 games in 2021-22 thus far. Further, he leads all NHL defenders (minimum 100 minutes played) with 1.38 goals per-60-minutes in all situations, beating out Adam Boqvist (1.22) and Roman Josi (0.84) for the distinction.

Owing to his blistering goal-scoring rate and astronomical shooting percentage (19.7 SH%), Makar is set to legitimately challenge the NHL record for goals in a season by a defenseman. The benchmark of 48 goals, set by the Edmonton Oilers’ Paul Coffey in 1985-86, has stood for nearly 40 years, with Mike Green of the Washington Capitals coming the closest to eclipsing the historic tally in recent memory (31 in 2008-09).

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Makar’s per-game pace (0.56) adds approximately 30 additional goals to his current total (assuming he plays in Colorado’s remaining 53 games), giving him 41 on the year, which is enough to rank third all-time. Former Avalanche blueliner Sandis Ozolinsh holds the record for the highest single-season SH% for defensemen at 16.6% (minimum 20 goals in a season). It’s unlikely that Makar maintains his prolific streak over an entire campaign, so that mark should be taken as a measured prediction for the rest of his season.

Using that baseline, if Makar continues to launch shots at his current rate (2.84 shots per game), he could add 25 goals on 150 shots, bringing him to 39 total goals and into a tie with Doug Wilson for fourth all-time. Unfortunately, historical precedent suggests that Coffey’s record is out of reach, even while accounting for Makar’s scorching shooting display this season. Regardless, Makar should exceed Green’s count without too much difficulty, giving him the 20th-century record with a reasonable expectation of anywhere between 30-40 goals when all is said and done.

Even while coming up short, flirting with 40 goals as a defenseman is an extraordinary feat in today’s NHL landscape. It’s important to note that Coffey benefitted from the explosion of offense witnessed during the 1980’s. The league’s current focus on defensive responsibility hampers the record-setting ambitions of modern defensemen. The typical game in 2021-22 (5.9 goals per game) sees a reduction of about a quarter of its scoring tally compared to the average matchup in 1985-86 (7.9). By era-adjusting his scoring total, Makar could surpass Coffey’s record, a testament to his unparalleled excellence. Now, enough with the fantasies, back to the game.

Makar Embarasses Dach for Overtime Winner

If you’ve scrolled this far, you’re almost certainly hoping to catch a glimpse of the goal which set the hockey world ablaze last night. Scroll no further, for we’ve got Makar’s undressing of an unfortunate Kirby Dach on tap. The third-year defenseman stuttered before quickly shifting direction, shaking off his pursuer before roofing home the game-winning goal with a slick backhand tally.

The additional space granted by the NHL’s three-on-three overtime format works to Makar’s advantage in this situation, as he recognizes that Dach is stranded and breaks his ankles in isolation. Hey, I thought that the Denver Nuggets didn’t play tonight? While Dach is likely embarrassed by having been etched into countless highlight reels for the foreseeable future, it’s difficult to see what he could have done differently beyond better anticipating Makar’s abrupt reversal. If it’s any consolation, Dach isn’t the first and shouldn’t be the last to hopelessly writhe within Makar’s torture chamber. In this case, the young Blackhawks forward appears to be an unfortunate victim of circumstance. C’est la vie.

What Can Norris Trophy Favourite Makar Do for an Encore?

In the grand scheme of things, the impressive display against the Blackhawks is but a single outing in a lengthy 82-game season. If Makar hopes to claim the first Norris Trophy of what promises to be a storied Hall-of-Fame career, he must demonstrate consistency night in and night out against the NHL’s most distinguished competitors. For Makar, it’s only a matter of when, not if he manufactures another show-stopping moment to add to his rapidly expanding collection. In a league stuffed with daring on-ice artists, Makar stands tall above the rest – at least for one night.

Data courtesy of Hockey Reference, MoneyPuck, Natural Stat Trick, the NHL, and QuantHockey.

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