The Norris Trophy is awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in that position throughout the NHL season. The Professional Hockey Writers Association will determine who takes home the hardware on June 21, and you really have to feel for them because this is truly a difficult decision. This year’s candidates are the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Victor Hedman, the Ottawa Senators’ Erik Karlsson, and the San Jose Sharks’ Brent Burns. Each one is coming off a Norris Trophy-worthy season. However there can be only one victor and each Lightning fan hope its Hedman (yes, pun intended). The big question is does he have a chance? Before we can take a look at the Big Swede, let’s talk a bit about his challengers.
The Bearded Brent Burns
If you argued that Burns is San Jose’s best defenseman of all time, but I’ll let true professionals delve into that. We’re here to look at the bearded one’s season and what a one it was. Burns snapped several San Jose team records and led all defenseman with 76 points and 29 goals. The most impressive statistic to me is his league leading 320 shots on goal. This guy plays on the backend right? His job is to prevent goals, yet he’s doing that and scoring more than a majority of NHL players. His shoot-first mentality has been a blessing to his team and a true terror to his opponents. He is a constant scoring threat while solidifying San Jose’s blue line.
The Offensive and Defensive Tactician Erik Karlsson
Karlsson would become a three-time Norris Trophy winner with a nod this year. He previously was graced with the honor both in 2012 & 2015. Where Burns provides his team with a plethora of offense, Karlsson betters Ottawa in his unmatched defensive ability. This defensive prowess is more impressive because Karlsson was previously critiqued for being too offensive-minded, which caused his defensive play to suffer. With the arrival of new head coach Guy Boucher, Karlsson has bought in to a more defensive mindset. This season Karlsson excelled in ice time, blocked shots, and takeaways. Karlsson played in 77 games this season, averaging 26:50 ice time with 201 blocked shots, and 59 takeaways. Over his career, Karlsson has only averaged 25:52 total ice time with 95.8 blocked shots and 52.3 takeaways. What makes this even more Norris Trophy-worthy is that Karlsson’s scoring has not been effected, as he finished the season with a magnificent 17 goals and 54 assists.
Does Hedman have a chance?
The Lightning’s key blue liner is enjoying his first Norris Trophy nomination after the best season of his career. Hedman scored a career high 16 goals this season and led all NHL defenseman with 56 assists. His 72 points were ranked second among all defenseman and he was a force on the power play with 33 man advantage points this season. It is a fact that the Lightning were a better team when the Big Swede was on the ice and he did this with a rotisserie of defensive partners.
What will hurt Hedman here is the fact that Burns and Karlsson are in this race. The San Jose defenseman was highly speculated to win last season and with the production he had this season, many feel that the win here is written in the cards. Ottawa’s Karlsson has played in many minds, the best all-around hockey in his career. I feel that what also hurts Hedman is the fact that both of his challengers made the playoffs, and while that isn’t an implication of the player, it more than likely will be noticed. However, there is always a chance, as Hedman has shown us over and over again this season that he deserves not to just be in the Norris trophy conversation, but that he’s on the cusp of winning one.
My Prediction: I believe the honor will go to Burns. He was able to showcase his defensive talents and prove to be a vital piece to his team’s performance. This season he had not only exceedingly fulfilled his role as a defenseman, but had taken the position to another level. Seasons like that are trophy bait.