I’m sure by now, you’re probably sick of hearing about these two. I know I am. Unlike most however, I’m not content in saying that either one or the other is the best defenseman on the planet. In fact, I have two very different opinions on the players. I firmly believe that Erik Karlsson is the best player in the world. That’s right, better than your Sidney Crosby’s, Patrick Kane’s and Alex Ovechkin’s. Now that I have either made your day or enraged you, let me explain why.
No single player has as large of an impact on an impact on an NHL team as Erik Karlsson. Corsi for percentage is the best predictor of success, so consider this: when Karlsson is on the ice, the Senators are a 55.88% CF team. That is almost a full percentage point better than the best possession team in hockey, the LA Kings who have won two Stanley Cups since 2012. As soon as Karlsson steps off the ice, the Senators drop to 41.09%, which makes them over 4% worse then the next worst team. This basically means that for 28 minutes a night, he transforms the Senators from the worst team in the NHL into the best team. That’s pretty impressive.
To call Karlsson weak defensively is to misunderstand what it means to defend. Maybe Karlsson doesn’t fit the traditional mold of what people believe a defensemen should be. Sure, he’s not 6’4”, mean and extremely physical, but none of those things correlate to team success, so what difference does it make? Karlsson performs the two most important duties of a defensemen. He limits shot against, and he pushes the puck forward. Do I care if he does so without big, open ice body checks? Not really, if he’s still getting the job done.
Here is Erik Karlsson compared to your prototypical elite defensemen. According to the eye test, Weber may look like the better defensemen, but when you look at the actual on ice results, Weber is pretty brutal.
So what’s the problem with Karlsson’s defence? Well that’s simple: perception. Karlsson is perceived as a one dimensional defensemen. He scores a lot so he can’t be good defensively, right? Obviously this isn’t true. The biggest problem with using the eye test to analyze and evaluate players is that the human brain is riddled with bias. Erik Karlsson plays a risk-reward game. He makes the difficult play that most other players cannot. It doesn’t always work. Just like PK Subban, sometimes he will get burned. Someone watching the game might see Erik give the puck away and come to the conclusion “he gave away the puck, so he’s bad defensively” and from that point on, perhaps subconsciously, they will be looking for reasons to support their statement. It’s how the brain works. This person might not take note of the 10 or 15 successful plays Karlsson made that game which lead to a scoring chance, or a zone exit, simply the few times it didn’t work. Yes, Karlsson is a tremendous, dynamic offensive players, but even if he only totalled half the points that he did, he’d still be a tremendous candidate for the Norris trophy.
Despite what some think, saying nice things about Karlsson doesn’t take away anything from Drew Doughty. Don’t get me wrong, Doughty had an excellent season. By all accounts he is a great NHL player. But as some have pointed out, having a great season is different from having the best season. Drew Doughty is consistently one of the best defensemen in the NHL. However he has not had any single season which has warranted a Norris win. Frankly, he isn’t even a top 5 defensemen this year.
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Again, Doughty had a great season, but he was by no means the best NHL defencemen. These are a few examples of player who shoud’ve won the Norris ahead of Doughty. Other contenders include Brent Burns, Kris Letang and even teammate Jake Muzzin.
That’s right, Doughty wasn’t even the best defensemen on his team this season. Muzzin was better offensively and defensively then Doughty. The common sentiment however is that because Doughty has been so good for such an extended period of time he deserves to win the Norris this year as a sort of career achievement award. To those people I’d say: don’t fret, he’s only 26 years old. Niklas Lidstrom didn’t win his first Norris till he was 31.
One of the main arguments I’ve seen for reasons why Erik shouldn’t win is because his team didn’t make the playoffs. It is not fair to judge a player because he plays for a crap team. As I mentioned earlier, the Senators are the best team in the NHL when he is playing, he shouldn’t be penalized for what happens while he is on the bench. How important is it that Doughty played 5 more games then Karlsson and lost 4 of them? I’d say not very.
To sum it all up, Erik Karlsson is the best player in the NHL, and deserves not only the Norris, but also the Hart and the Ted Lindsay. 82 points by any player is a great achievement, but by a defensemen it is unreal. Nobody has done that since the 90’s, when scoring rates were much higher than they are now, and it was easier for the top players to rack up more points. The fact that a defensemen in the new dead puck era was able to do this, while also being the best NHL player defensively is mind-blowingly amazing. Drew Doughty is also a tremendous NHL player, though not the best defensemen in the NHL. At least not this season.
If anybody has any legitimate, fact based arguments as to why Doughty, or anyone else for that matter, should’ve won the Norris, I’d be more than happy to hear them. (I can be found on Twitter @ChrisThomas233).