Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson has only twice received votes for the Norris Trophy—the NHL’s annual award for the best defenseman in the league. Last year he led all defensemen in points but still finished only fifth in Norris voting.
Carlson rode his successful 2017-18 season to an 8-year, $64 million contract extension last summer. Many speculated he wouldn’t keep up his contract year pace. But this year, Carlson has been better than ever. He’s set a new career high for points, topping last year’s total, and significantly improved his defensive play.
Full disclosure: I originally set out to compose an argument on why John Carlson deserves to win the Norris this year. Then I looked at Mark Giordano’s stats. There is no world in which Giordano does not 110% deserve the Norris. I can’t honestly argue that Carlson’s season has been better than Giordano’s. So let’s just consider this article an argument for why Carlson should finish second in Norris voting.
Carlson sits fourth among defensemen in scoring with 70 points in 80 games this season. He’s always been a great offensive contributor from the blue line, but this season and last have been a step up—even for him. His 68 points last year were then a career best by a margin of 13 points.
Perhaps more impressive than his sustained offensive production is his improved defensive play. He only lost the Norris last year because of other defensemen’s superior defensive performances. Carlson’s plus/minus has gone from even (+0) last season to +21 this season, matching his career high.
His Corsi for percentage (the percentage of shot attempts while a player was on the ice that were taken by the player’s team) last year was 49.2; to date this year it’s 51.3, and his relative CF% (CF% when the player is on the ice minus team’s CF% when the player is off the ice) is a career high of 3.5. He’s already surpassed his defensive point share (the measure of how many standings points a player’s defensive play contributes to his team) mark, with 4.5 to last year’s 3.9.
(A brief aside to marvel at Giordano: he has 74 points, is +39, has a CF% of 57.1, and has earned 5.8 DPS.)
It’s a shame Carlson is having his best season yet in a year with so much competition. Aside from Giordano, Morgan Rielly and Brent Burns, among a few others, are also deserving of Norris conversation. Burns leads all defensemen in points with 81 and Rielly has 72 points to go along with impressive defensive contributions.
John Carlson deserves to be recognized as one of the NHL’s elite defensemen. If he doesn’t win the Norris this year, he should at least be among the three finalists. Caps fans should appreciate how valuable he is to the success of our team.