Erik Karlsson is a six-foot, 180 pound 21-year old from Sweden. Erik Karlsson plays for the Ottawa Senators. Erik Karlsson might be the NHL favourite to win the Norris Trophy.

Before you get all up in arms, let’s talk. Or rather, let’s listen to someone else together.

Earlier today Ian Mendes of Sportsnet wrote a story simply titled “Karlsson a Norris Candidate” that outlined some interesting tidbits about how his season stacks up against past winners.

Of note: Karlsson is now 17 points ahead of the next highest scoring d-man in the NHL, Brian Campbell. That’s first in D points (57), first in D assists (45, 3rd most overall), and 2nd in D goals (12, one behind Jason Garrison).

If he pots a couple more on the way to the finish line, he could finish 1, 1, 1. That ain’t too bad, last I checked.

Mendes takes a look at how defencemen who’ve led every category have fared over the past 30 years in Norris voting:

There were only two occasions when a player led all defencemen in goals, assists and points and was NOT a finalist for the Norris Trophy: Brian Leetch in 2000-01 and Paul Coffey in 1988-89. But upon further inspection, Leetch was sporting a -18 that season, while Coffey was worse with a -25 rating. Karlsson should be immune to being lumped into that group, considering he currently has a +14 rating.

Aww, plus/minus.

But seriously, if this kid, with his Hockey Hair Extrordinaire finishes tops in every category, you can’t keep him out of the final three. That shouldn’t be much of a debate, assuming he’s not eeking out the categories by a couple points, which doesn’t look like it’ll be the case.

Mendes notes that last year’s points leader, Lubomir Visnovsky, finished with similar numbers to where Karlsson is headed (he had 18 and 50 for 68), but he was a mere six points up on second place Nick Lidstrom after 82 games. Karlsson is going Tiger-Woods-US-Open-at-Pebble-Beach-in-2000 on the field (Woods won by 15 strokes).

Here’s more from Mendes:

During this same time span (last 30 years), there have been only five occasions where a defenceman finished a full season with at least a 15-point advantage in the scoring race over the next leading blueliner. And in every case, the defenceman was at least a finalist in the Norris voting.

And of those five, Paul Coffey won two and finished second twice, while Brian Leetch won his. Sooo, your odds of contending are pretty good.

In the past four games, Karlsson has racked up nine points, playing over 20 minutes easily in every game, including a 27+ minute outing and one of 25+.

He’s one of the major reasons the Senators, the team I tossed aside as the worst team in the East with such condescension during preseason, are sitting inside the playoff bubble, a whopping two points out of a home ice spot.

I still think the Senators will miss the playoffs (sorry), and if that happens you can disregard this article. But in the event that I’m wrong and they do hold on (and he keeps up his pace), it’ll be awfully hard to ignore him.

Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber have a side to their respective games that he doesn’t – they’re physical beasts. But Karlsson obviously has something they lack too. As I mentioned, he’d have to run away with the scoring lead for his “something” to mean more than physical play, but it’s looking like a very real possibility.

Oh, and don’t look now, but he’s damn near about to lap the venerable Nick Lidstrom in the scoring race. The kid’s on quite a tear.

If the season ended today, I’d give it to him. Would you?


(Update: After posting, I feared there’d be some advanced stat-folk who may bring me some shocking news of some glaring deficiency. Nope. He checks out just fine. PDO of 1.017, good Corsi.)

Comments (8)

  1. I would give it to him (that’s what she said), but I’m biased… :)

    my real question is: you still don’t think the Sens will make the playoffs now? my only question to that is, who else is there that is going to make it instead of them?

    If Toronto wins their games in hand, they are still back 2 points. Washington is in the same situation but back an additional point. Winnipeg is 6 points back with no games in hand. Two of these teams need to overtake the Sens, and they need to win their games in hand. MAYBE you could throw Tampa in there. Which two of those teams will top the Sens?

    Also, the Sens have a relatively easy schedule, both in competition and in number of games left. I’m not saying they are a lock, but if I were a betting man…


    PS. Nice Systems Analyst today. Brutal! haha

  2. I’m obviously biased as an Ottawa fan, but EK does (a lot of) things I don’t see anyone else in the NHL do. You will never see Weber/Chara/Edler catch guys on breakaways like he does or contain fast wingers as well. He makes a lot of good players look really, really foolish when he has the puck.

    His D isn’t as bad as it is made out to be. Watch tape of him one on one and see how often he comes away with the puck. He still gets beat to his right (bad footwork) sometimes but that’s about it. Obviously he’ll never be a physical force but I don’t think that’ a big deal with him and the way he plays.

    For me the only real argument you can make against him is he rarely plays the PK.

    I won’t be surprised when Weber wins it, but for me EK is pretty deserving.

  3. Great article and about time so props for Erik Karlsson.

    @Chris: regarding time on PK, Karlsson is 11th in ice-time in NHL (mainly 5-13 are separated by seconds- all 25 minute-ish). More PK time would mean less time elsewhere, because he is playing so much where would you sacrifice him to play PK? I like to think of players like chess pieces for a coach. If I’m McLean that piece is best utilized at even strength or PP. But in totality, ya I see your point.

    • Oh I fully agree — i’d much rather see Karlsson soak up the PP and ES time instead. He’s at his best when the Sens have the puck and are pushing the play (or when he’s chasing after somebody).

      From a Norris voters standpoint, I can see a lot of people making that argument though.

  4. I don’t think they’ll give the Norris to Karlsson, at least not yet. Even if you can make a case for him, he’ll get the, “Show us you can do it again next year” treatment from the voters. He’ll be nominated, but he won’t win it.

    As for the Senators making the playoffs, it would take a pretty significant collapse at this stage for them to miss. Cutoff in the East will be at 90 points, and they currently have 70. They need 20 points in their last 21 games to make it, which is why Sports Club Stats has them at 85% to make it. Their schedule tees up nicely, and it’s not like anyone else in the East is on fire. (Having said that, look out for Carolina – if any team could rise up and make an improbable run in these last 20 games, I like their chances.)

  5. Karlsson definitely deserves mention in the top 3, but I don’t think he has much of a chance to win. Defensemen of this ilk don’t do well with the voters due to their perceived failings in their own zone, at least when it comes to first place votes.

    Mike Green had a stronger case both years that he was nominated both from a scoring perspective (he was producing at more than a point per game both years, and more of those points were goals) and as a two-way defender — Green played in all situations (averaged 2+ minutes on the PK per game, in addition to 5+ minutes on the PP) — but could never quite escape the perception that his game was all offense/no defense.

    Hope you enjoy being a bridesmaid, Erik, because this award is Weber’s for the foreseeable future.

  6. Dennis said:

    “I don’t think they’ll give the Norris to Karlsson, at least not yet. Even if you can make a case for him, he’ll get the, “Show us you can do it again next year” treatment from the voters.”


    This is my biggest beef with NHL Award voters. We aren’t voting on who is the best defenseman in the NHL, nor who we would build a team around…. it is who had the best season. Karlsson has had the best season among dmen by far, the Green comparison fails in relation as Lidstrom was close in points. If Weber was neck and neck in scoring then I see the argument, but Karlsson is lapping the field.

    Also these perceived shortcomings of a dman are so absurd. Karlsson leads the NHL in takeaways. So his strategy of going 1-on-1 with and taking the puck away is somehow worse than going 1-on-1 and hitting the guy?

    Could you imagine if someone tried to make the argument that Datsyuk should not win the Selke because he doesn’t play physical enough in his own end? That being under 6’0 and 200 lbs there is a perception you can’t excel as a checking forward against the superstars of the league. That is essentially what people are saying with Karlsson.

  7. I’m a Leafs fan but even I can admit that if that guy is not in the top three at least then Senators fans should be irate.

    I agree with Dennis too. Lidstrom or Chara will win it this year partly based on name recognition but I would expect Karlsson to win one soon.

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