The San Jose Sharks knew they were acquiring a player who will go down as an all-time great when they traded for Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators half a decade ago. However, he never played at the level expected of him for the Sharks, despite performing very well for the most part. Injuries kept him back from being a superstar. Now, they are finally seeing the Karlsson they traded for, arguably the best defenseman in the NHL and undoubtedly the best offensive defenseman in the league.
Karlsson has won the James Norris Memorial Trophy twice in his career, both times while he was a member of the Senators during the 2011-12 and 2014-15 seasons. It has also been nearly a decade since a player has won it multiple times; since he won it in 2014-15, there has been a new winner every season. This season, however, he’s in the running to win the third of his career and break that streak.
Karlsson’s Season So Far
Karlsson has been off to the best start of his career, and assuming he’s able to stay healthy and consistent, he’ll also have the best season of his career. At the time of writing, he has 32 points through 26 games, tied for fifth in the NHL in points – and a distant first among defensemen. In even-strength points alone, he’s almost at a point-per-game pace with 24 points. He has failed to put up a point in the Sharks’ last two games, although he’s still been impressive in those contests.
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Interestingly, playing in his own zone has never been the strongest part of Karlsson’s game. This season, however, despite some mistakes, he’s been solid defensively. Considering Norris Trophy voting is often based on offensive production than anything else, Karlsson seems to be well in the lead for the award early on. There’s still a lot of time for things to change, and some players will bring the competition as the season progresses.
Karlsson’s Norris Competition
The biggest competition will almost always be those who have won the award most recently; Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche) and Adam Fox (New York Rangers) are the last two winners of the Norris and are both off to great starts as well. Fox, in particular, has earned heavy praise from the analytics community as the current favorite to win the Norris (from “Luszczyszyn: NHL awards watch: Jason Robertson, Connor McDavid, Adam Fox and Ilya Sorokin lead the way,” The Athletic, 2022). At this point, though, it would take a miracle for voters not to side with Karlsson, simply based on the voting precedent and his outstanding play right now. But if his two-game point drought continues, that might change very quickly.
Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres might also provide some Norris competition. The former first-overall pick is playing the best hockey of his NHL career to date, and he’ll be in the Norris conversation for many years to come, although it’s unlikely he will win it this season.
The NHL is always unpredictable, as shown by the fact that Karlsson is even in this conversation this season. Many thought his best was behind him, but we may not have seen everything yet, at 32 years of age. Even if he falls short of the Norris this season, he’s had the most impressive resurgence of the 2022-23 campaign so far, and if he continues at his current pace, he’ll undoubtedly end the season as a three-time winner.
William Espy is a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus. He has been writing about hockey since 2016 on various platforms. He currently covers the Columbus Blue Jackets but had a previous stint covering the Calgary Flames.