In a few short weeks, members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association will cast their ballots for a host of league awards, including the Norris Trophy.
Last night, the top two candidates for that distinction were on the ice against each other in Erik Karlsson — the front-runner with San Jose — and his closest challenger, Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey.
By definition, the Norris is presented annually to the NHL’s top defenceman, a player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position.
But over time, that criteria has morphed into an offensive defenceman’s award, and its selection frequently going to the d-man with the most points in a season — which is certainly a major reason why Karlsson, who leads all NHL defencemen in scoring, will likely win the award.
But from this chair, Morrissey is not far behind, providing a balance in creating offence and defending that simply can’t be overlooked. He is reliable in all three zones, especially his own, and may have the upper hand on Karlsson as a player in that area already.
Even in today’s game, getting up the ice, scoring, and quarterbacking the power play are great assets for a rear-guard. But isn’t half the game still played on your side of centre? As such, the symmetry Morrissey provides his team, offensively and defensively, should place him ahead of Karlsson on many ballots.
As mentioned, Karlsson is certainly the favourite to win the Norris simply because of his offensive numbers, but there is a blind spot to his troubling plus-minus. It’s almost like the league needs two awards for defencemen now: the most offensive and the winner of the Norris.
In a few short weeks, the professional writers will vote on the league’s Norris Trophy winner, but one wonders if they’re actually casting their ballots for the NHL’s most offensive defenceman, or truly the league’s best defenceman overall.