The Year of the Karlsson: Norris for a Novice

By Moundd

By now you should be more than familiar with the Ottawa Senators’ Erik Karlsson. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five months you know all about the smooth-skating, Swedish defenseman who has taken the NHL by storm with his unexpected bonanza of goals and assists. As of Tuesday evening, Karlsson sat 6th overall in points (66), 2nd overall in assists (51), and 1st overall among blue liners with 15 goals and 209 shots. What makes these numbers even more remarkable is that Karlsson currently holds a 23-point advantage on the next highest scoring defenseman (Brian Campbell) after notching 18 points (7 goals) on a current eight-game point streak.  The sky appears to be the limit for Karlsson, who is now considered one of the NHL’s ‘elite’ defensemen, and many have begun to wonder if the young defender deserves consideration for the Norris Trophy. I’m here to tell you that he deserves consideration, and then some.

The biggest factor working in Karlsson’s favor is his current dominance over all other NHL defensemen when it comes to point production. With the exception of Dustin Byfuglien(.86 ppg), Karlsson (1.03 ppg) is the only other defenseman with 15+ games played and greater than .8 points-per-game average. Karlsson is on pace to become the first defenseman since Mike Green in 2009-10 to score at a point-per-game pace, and it doesn’t look like anyone is going to threaten his perch atop the list of defensive scoring leaders. Admittedly, Mike Green never won the Norris Trophy for his balls to the wall offensive abilities, but Karlsson has a much more complete game than Mike Green in the “barnburner” years with the Washington Capitals.

Erik Karlsson isn’t just an offensive workhorse, surprisingly he’s one of the better – and most improved – defenders in his own zone. His speed, vision, and incredible skating ability allow Karlsson to maintain good gap and position himself to attack the play. His tenacity on the puck is yet another strength to his game – Karlsson currently leads all NHL defensemen with 53 takeaways, 10 more than the closest competition. The improvements to his defensive game are reflected on the stat-sheet, as well. Last season Erik Karlsson finished the campaign with an awful -30 rating, but through 64 games in 2011-12 Karlsson boasts a +15 rating, all the while looking confident and comfortable in his defensive zone. With a much-improved defensive game at his disposal, Karlsson’s case for the Norris becomes a bit more convincing.

The totality of these statistics seem to indicate that Erik Karlsson should not only be a candidate for the Norris Trophy, but he should probably be the ‘favorite.’ When you combine his thorough domination on the offensive side of the puck with his surprisingly developed acumen on the defensive side of the puck, Karlsson looks to be just a cut above the rest. To get some perspective on Karlsson’s exemplary season, let’s take a look at “the competition.”

Shea Weber (40 points, +18), Zdeno Chara (35 points, +22), and Nicklas Lidstrom (31 points, +25) represent the greatest obstacles to Karlsson’s (66 points, +15) champagne wishes and caviar dreams, but just a quick glance at the numbers indicates his dominance over the supposed ‘frontrunners’ for the Norris. If this is a numbers game, then Karlsson is clearly the most deserving selection for the award.

Everyone with their ear to the ground in the hockey world knows that the Norris Trophy is perhaps the most “reputation-based” NHL-award around. With names like Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara, and obviously Nicklas Lidstrom knocking on the door, Karlsson will have to contend with some of the most well respected and revered defensemen in the NHL. But if reputation is cast aside, and the voters choose the most deserving candidate – with their minds and not their hearts – then Erik Karlsson will be the 2011-12 Norris Trophy winner.

Reputation be damned. This is the year of the Karlsson.

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