John Scott Adds Oilers’ Nurse to Norris Conversation: Is He Right?

Former NHL tough guy John Scott had some interesting words to say about the state of the Norris Trophy in the NHL. He said nothing but good things towards Edmonton Oilers’ number one defenceman Darnell Nurse, but also rightfully questioned what should be considered when determining who gets votes for the best defenceman in the league each season. Is it all about points and offence like recent years have proven, should it start to trend back to the time when all areas of a defenceman’s game are included, or should a new trophy be introduced for the defenders in the league?

Darnell Nurse Edmonton Oilers
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Not only will those topics be discussed and argued for both sides, we will also take a look at the work Nurse has done this year and in previous years for the Oilers and determine why he does deserve less hate than he gets in Edmonton and around the league.

Karlsson vs. Nurse Discussion & Standards of Norris

Many would say that Erik Karlsson is the leading candidate for the Norris Trophy as he has the lead amongst defencemen by three goals, four assists, 21 points, and 23 even-strength points. Though this is very significant and he is by far the best offensive defenceman in the league this season, the question of his impact defensively needs to also be brought into question. Scott spoke about the Norris Trophy and brought Karlsson and Nurse’s name into the conversation:

“Nurse could be way more valuable, and people dog on him all the time. But is he more valuable because he does more stuff? What constitutes a Norris Trophy winner? Is it just strictly points, or is it a guy you could put out in any situation? You’re up by a goal, 30 seconds left, faceoff in your own zone. Are you going to put Erik Karlsson on the ice? No you’re not. He’s going to be stapled to the bench. Darnell Nurse will be on the ice.”

John Scott, Dropping the Gloves Podcast

What you can take from this is not that Scott thinks that Nurse should rank higher than Karlsson in the Norris Trophy voting this season as stated on his Twitter, but that points have become a huge indicator as to who is going to get the most votes. It has moved away from how well a defenceman can shut down opponents, what situations are they trusted to play in, turnovers/zone exits, blocks, etc.

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

Nurse plays in all situations for the Oilers and is out there to start overtime or defend a lead late in the game in the Oilers’ end. He’s also had a couple of key goals as of late, including the overtime winner against the San Jose Sharks. He could be counted on to man the top power-play unit and has in the past, but he plays a ton of key minutes elsewhere and the Oilers have had a couple of defencemen who specialize in that area over the past few seasons.

Related: Oilers’ Nurse Isn’t Perfect, But He’s Not Going Anywhere

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No defenceman is without their flaws, and Nurse has his as well that include some turnovers and lost coverage. But if he’s ever beaten or has to catch up to a player with the puck, he gets on his horse and 9/10 times is able to negate the chance. Nurse may not be the most offensively gifted defenceman in the NHL, but overall, he isn’t paid as much as he is for no reason. There’s an argument that he is overpaid and I would agree to a certain extent, but that shouldn’t take away from what he actually provides for the Oilers. It took him scoring 16 goals and 36 points in 56 games in 2020-21 to even get recognition for the Norris (seventh in voting), proving the point that goals and points is what voters now look at much more.

How Should Trophies for Defencemen Be Given Out?

In the discussion about trophies in the NHL for defencemen, there really is only one, the Norris Trophy. Odds are that a forward is going to win the Art Ross for most points in the season and Hart Trophy for league MVP. For example, Karlsson’s two Norris Trophies came in 2011-12 and 2014-15 for the league’s best defenceman those seasons. He finished eighth and ninth in Hart Trophy voting and as defencemen are expected to play closer to their own net than the forwards and also focus on defending, the leading scorer will almost always be a forward.

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

The Norris Trophy used to encompass all the contributions of a defender, both offensive and defensive, and determine the best that season. In recent years it’s been all about scoring. Take the last four seasons for example:

  • In 2021-22, Cale Makar won the Norris with the most goals and second-most points while Roman Josi finished first among defencemen in points, second in goals, and was the runner-up.
  • In 2020-21, Adam Fox won the Norris with the second-most points with Makar as the runner-up with the highest points-per-game among defencemen.
  • In 2019-20, Josi won the Norris with the second-most points while John Carlson was the runner-up with the most points.
  • And in 2018-19, Mark Giordano won the Norris with the second-most points with Brent Burns as the runner-up with the most.

Keep in mind all of those points races were much closer than Karlsson’s lead on Josh Morrissey this season. So, there must be a discussion about trophies for defencemen in one of two ways. The first is to make two league awards for defence — one for best overall defenceman and the other for the most points, whether that changes the Art Ross to only encompass forwards or not.

The concept of two trophies for defenders is an intriguing one as the Norris was originally intended to be awarded to the best overall defenceman when players like Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara won theirs. Scott brings up a good point and brought attention to the topic. Change isn’t always good and the NHL has made changes over the past number of years that didn’t necessarily need to occur. But in my opinion, many defencemen who focus on defence first don’t get the recognition they deserve, whether it be by the media or through their salaries. This change would be welcomed.

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