Up next in our NHL Awards series is the James Norris Memorial Trophy. Awarded to the league’s top defenseman by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, last season’s recipient was Mark Giordano.
In its history, the award has never gone to five first-time winners in a row, but seems primed to do so in 2020. All three of our finalists have yet to win the honor.
Our nine person Broad Street Hockey panel again consisted of Kelly, Ryan Q., Jason, Kyle, Drew, Mike, Maddie, Kurt, and Brad. Seven defensemen were given at least one vote, with our finalists being John Carlson, Alex Pietrangelo, and Roman Josi.
With six first place votes, our pick for the Norris Trophy is Roman Josi.
Ryan: Make no mistake, the season Carlson put together was incredible. It’s rare to see a defenseman average over a point per game, and had the regular season not been cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Carlson likely would have collected the most points by any defenseman in a single season since the turn of the century.
However, Nashville’s Josi is far more deserving of the Norris this year. While Carlson’s scoring numbers were outstanding, Josi’s overall 2019-20 campaign proved that he’s as important to his team as any defenseman in hockey. Josi not only led the Predators in points (65) and assists (49) during the regular season, but he also put together the best offensive season by a defenseman in franchise history. In over 1,300 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, Josi logged a solid Expected Goals For percentage of 54.50 and ranked ninth out of all NHL defensemen (minimum 300 minutes) with a 62.18 Goals For percentage. Hilariously, Robert Hagg somehow ranked eighth in the league in that department.
Nashville is one of the weaker teams to be taking part in the 24-team postseason tournament, and had it not been for Josi, it’s possible that the Preds wouldn’t have made the tournament at all. He was the Predators this season, and his absence would have totally crushed Nashville’s playoff hopes. Though Carlson also played a massive role for his team, the Capitals are still one of the most complete teams in the NHL. Without him, one could argue that Washington would still be one of the league’s better clubs. But without Josi, the Predators likely would have flamed out completely.
Carlson, our runner-up, led the NHL in points scored by a defenseman with 75 in 69 games — a remarkable figure that has him in the conversation, and at the top of the list for many. His case for winning is quite easy and checks off boxes; points, playoff team, being his team’s top defenseman, all-situations player. So what puts him below Josi for us? The biggest difference between the two is their defensive impact at even strength. Turns out when everyone would talk about how (Erik) Karlsson couldn’t play defense, they were just spelling the name wrong. At five-on-five the Capitals allowed shots against, expected goals against, and actual goals against at a higher rate with Carlson on the ice than any other regular defender. And while he did play tough minutes, Josi faced a similar, if not equal challenge, and posted much stronger results on both sides of the puck. An elite offensive producer deserving of being in the conversation, just not our winner.
Pietrangelo, an upcoming unrestricted free agent, finishes in third. An extremely well-rounded defender, Pietrangelo didn’t skip a beat coming off his and the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup victory. Let’s keep it short and sweet: he put up 52 points in 70 games, had great shot impacts at five-on-five, and led the reigning champs to a first place finish in the Western Conference. He had an all-around great season, it just boils down to it not being as impressive as Josi’s.
Along with our three finalists, Victor Hedman, Dougie Hamilton (who could have very well been our winner pick had he not been injured), Ivan Provorov, and Cale Makar also received votes.
Data via Evolving-Hockey
Previously in BSH NHL Awards: