In the shortened 2019-20 season, Roman Josi won the Norris Trophy, becoming the first Nashville Predators skater to take home one of the major individual awards. After long-time Predator Shea Weber failed to put it all together to win it despite being a worthy candidate in multiple seasons, this brought a bit of balance back to the hockey universe. The talent is there for the 30-year-old Predators’ captain to win the award again, but it won’t be a walk in the park.
Usually for a player to win a Norris Trophy, three main ingredients need to come together. First, the player needs to be one of the leaders in points by a defenceman. This puts enough spotlight and discussion on the player as one of the top at their position on the offensive end. That leads into the second ingredient, which is a positive narrative. The player needs to have some other positive narrative surrounding their game being repeated in the media, usually either because they are above average defensively, or the player makes up for any defensive shortcomings in other ways. The third is that the candidate’s team needs to be a playoff team. No player has ever won the Norris Trophy on a non-playoff team (61 times and counting).
The Winning Season
With the Predators slotted in as the sixth seed in the West for the play-in round, the team aspect necessary to check off the third ingredient for a player deserving to win any hardware was checked off. Josi also put up career highs in goals, assists, and points, in addition to pacing for highs in power-play points, plus-minus, and shots. The bonus factor working in his favour was the narrative that he is a better defensive player than John Carlson, who led the league in scoring by a defenceman.
Narrative plays a huge role in award voting, as a lot of the media members aren’t able to watch a lot of games outside of the division they cover (and this will be especially true with no intra-division games in the 2020-21 season). Josi had the narrative, the points, and the playoff team. The other finalists were missing something, so as soon as Carlson (narrative) and Victor Hedman (points) were announced, you knew it was Josi’s to lose.
Handicapping the Current Year
Overall, the team has been a bit of a disappointment to start the season. After rattling off a few quick wins it has been all downhill from there. The injury to Ryan Johansen doesn’t help matters, and if the Predators are going to get through a stretch without their top centre, then their best player Josi will have to step up in addition to Matt Duchene taking on a larger role.
The good news is that the Preds have yet to play the lowly Detroit Red Wings, and the first of eight games on the season for those two clubs comes on Thursday. With a good set against the Wings, Josi could bank a few points and the Predators could get back on track towards the playoff bubble. He is currently only pacing for what would amount to 45 points in a full 82-game slate, while his other counting stats (shots/hits/blocks/plus-minus) have also seen a slight decrease.
His shot share rates are higher than ever, though, meaning he is currently driving possession at a greater rate than even last season, however the results aren’t there. His teammates are currently shooting a lowly five percent while Josi is on the ice, but that coupled with a massively low individual points percentage (the number of points a player gets divided by the number of goals his team scores while he is on the ice) indicates that there will be some positive regression to the mean, at least for the scoring paces.
There is a lot of worthwhile competition this year for the Norris. Initial odds showed Victor Hedman as the favourite, and he is generally regarded as the best overall defenceman in the league. However, the race is tight, and Josi has some work to do to catch some of the others even to be one of the final three nominees. Hedman is still at the forefront of the conversation, while Cale Makar and Dougie Hamilton have jumped into the conversation as well. Hamilton could have been a finalist last year if it wasn’t for an untimely broken leg, while Makar is having a sophomore season for the ages, putting up a point per game while shining in the defensive zone and in transition.
With names like those in the running, in addition to other worthwhile mentions such as Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, Charlie McAvoy, Quinn Hughes, and Jeff Petry, it will be tough to see Josi as a finalist for the Norris this season, let alone winning it. To do so, he would need to at least match last season’s scoring pace, be the force lifting the Predators back into the playoffs, and see some drop-offs in the play of his competition. It is certainly tough to bet against the Predators’ captain, but my money would be on Makar at the moment. The 22-year-old is near the top in defenceman scoring, has exceptional defensive and transition metrics, and plays for a playoff-bound Colorado Avalanche team – the full package, just like Josi last year.