After a brilliant 2019-20 season, John Carlson has been named a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman, the NHL announced on Monday. This is the first time Carlson has been named a finalist. The other two finalists are Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
While the Capitals have struggled defensively this season, Carlson has been one of the few bright spots on the blue line. Carlson led the league in points for defensemen with 75, 10 clear of Josi who was second and 20 more than Hedman who was third with 55. Though 75 points doesn't jump off the page historically, Carlson managed that many points in only 69 games as the season was shortened due to the coronavirus. With 1.09 points per game, that ranks as the best offensive season by a defenseman since 1993-94. He was on pace for 89 points, a mark reached by only nine defensemen in history. He played in every game, ranked seventh in the league in ice time and averaged the longest shift per game for all defensemen with 0:58. He also ranked third in blocked shots. His strong season earned him a spot in the All-Star Game in St. Louis.
If Carlson wins the award, he will be only the second Capitals player to do so. Rod Langway won it in both in 1983 and1984.
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To do so, however, he will have to beat Josi. With all due respect to Hedman who had a fine season, this is a two-horse race between Carlson and Josi.
Josi ranked second in points among all defensemen behind only Carlson. He may not have led the league, but he did actually lead his team in points. Carlson led the Caps, but Josi did not have the benefit of also having a player like Alex Ovechkin so a case could be made that Josi's offensive contributions were actually more important to his team than Carlson's. Josi played at least 25 minutes in 41 of the 69 games he played while Carlson did so only 31 times. Nashville's website also lays out a strong analytical case saying Josi led all defensemen in zone exits per game, zone entries per game and offensive zone puck possession time.
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Overall, did Josi have a better defensive season than Carlson? Yes, that seems pretty clear. Carlson's case for the Norris is in the history of what he was accomplishing this season.
So who should win the Norris? Will it be Josi who was better defensively or Carlson who was producing at a pace on offense we have not seen in nearly 30 years? That's a really tough choice.
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