With strong seasons from Washington Capitals defender John Carlson and Nashville Predators defender Roman Josi, only one can win the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman.
Carlson and Josi are both deserving of the trophy, but who will walk away as the winner? Today we will go over the two candidates and explain why Josi should be awarded it.
Candidate 1: Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Although the 2019-20 regular season was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Josi’s performance was well above average. He set a few notable franchise records, leading the Preds in scoring and recording one of the best defensive metrics seasons in his career. The Predators captain also kept his team in games late and was a crucial piece in their success. Josi was also a big reason why the Predators are in the qualifying round.
This season, the 30-year old ranked second among NHL defensemen in assists and points. Josi’s 65 points also rank him first in Nashville Predators franchise history, for most points as a defender in a single season. Josi also tied for second in goals and first in shots with 260. He recorded four two-goal games this season, the most by any NHL defender.
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The Switzerland native also put together an impressive streak. From Dec. 16 through Jan. 9, Josi recorded seven goals and 20 points in just 12 games. The Predators blue-liner eventually turned his point streak into a franchise record with points as a defender and the second-longest overall point streak in Predators’ history.
Like Carlson, Josi’s scoring took a dip towards the NHL Pause. He had a 0.97 points-per-game average (PPG) at the stoppage. In January, his PPG was at an impressive 1.05.
Candidate 2: John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Carlson has been the front-runner for the Norris for most of the season. Two weeks before the league went on hiatus, he ranked first in NHL.com’s Norris Trophy tracker, and here’s why.
The Massachusetts native finished the 2019-2020 regular season with 15 goals and 60 assists in 69 games. Carlson recorded an average of 24 minutes a night on a team loaded with offensive talent. For more than half the season, the Capitals’ blueliner was on pace for 100 points. He slowed down a little bit before the pause but was still on pace for an astonishing 89 points.
The last time we saw a defender record 90 points was in 1993 when the Boston Bruins’ Ray Bourque recorded 94. If the NHL season had played out, Carlson might have joined elite company, as the ninth defender in NHL history to tally 90 points in a regular season. An impressive feat nonetheless.
It helps that Carlson plays on a strong Capitals team, that had three players on pace for 30 goals. Not to mention, having Alex Ovechkin, the league-leader in goals scored, on your team also may boost your offensive stats. Carlson also played on a very successful power play. He averaged four minutes a night on the man advantage, ranking him first in the NHL for the most minutes on the power play as a defender.
Carlson put together a strong 2019-2020 regular season, but was it enough for him to be rewarded for his efforts?
Let’s Get Analytical
In 2019-2020, no NHL defender was as dominant as Josi at possessing the puck. The Point Hockey‘s graphs further indicate that no NHL defender was as good as Josi at zone entries, zone exits, and offensive-zone puck possession. Among all NHL skaters, he ranks second in puck possession per game with 2:32. He is also fifth in the NHL in end-to-end rushes with 149.
If we take a look at this graphic from Micah Blake McCurdy, at HockeyViz, it shows us that when Josi is on the ice, the Preds are generating about 20% more than the league-average in scoring chances. When Josi is not on the ice, the percentage drops to about 1% below the league-average scoring chances.
Now, taking a look at Carlson’s impact, you can see that the Capitals have about a 3% increased chance at scoring when Carlson is on the ice compared to when he is not. The Caps still have a 5% scoring chance above average without Carlson on the ice.
In no means does this say Carlson’s offensive impact is poor, it just means if you remove Josi and Carlson from their team, the Predators would be hurt a lot more. This shows us that Josi has a bigger impact on his team’s success then Carlson.
What About Defense?
You certainly can’t win the league’s trophy as the best defender without having a little defensive impact, right?
Taking a look at Evolving-Hockey’s RAPM tool, we can see that Josi is a better “replacement level” player than Carlson. Looking at Carlson and Josi’s numbers, we can conclude that Carlson is a below-average player in the defensive category and Josi is a little more than average defensively.
What Does This Mean?
In my mind, the Norris Trophy is not a scoring race. The trophy should be awarded to the defender who is the most valuable to his team in both offensive and defensive metrics. That being said, Josi should win it over Carlson.
Josi’s defensive metrics are far superior to Carlson’s and, quite frankly, blow Carlson’s out of the water. Sure, you could argue that Carlson finished with more overall points than Josi, but Josi played a better overall game. Also, Josi’s impact on his team is much greater then Carlson’s impact on his team.
I’ll give Carlson credit though, his 75 points in 69 games this season is impressive. As a matter of fact, left-winger Paul Kariya is the only player in Nashville Predators’ history to record 75 or more points in a single season. Kariya did it twice, the last time was in the 2006-2007 season with 76 points in 82 games.
So the question is, will voters give Josi the edge because he plays a better overall game or will voters give Carlson the edge because he ended up the defender with the most points? If it was up to me, I’d give the Norris to Roman Josi, no doubt.