To continue previewing the 2017/2018 NHL regular season, I will give in-depth predictions for the major awards. Over the next week, I will look at the Vezina, Hart, Norris, Maurice Richard, and Art Ross trophies. The season starts halfway through the predictions, but the results this week won’t influence the predictions.
The debate over who’s the best defenceman in the NHL almost always ends in an argument. Is it the best offensive player? The best overall defenceman? The last two seasons have not helped that debate one bit. Two seasons ago, Drew Doughty beat out Erik Karlsson for the trophy based on his better overall performance. Karlsson spent the next season honing his defensive craft and showed the league that he’s the best all-around defenceman. His reward? Losing to Brent Burns after Burns had his best offensive season. Erik Karlsson still doesn’t get his due, but that’s about to change this season.
- Erik Karlsson
Let’s get this straight; Erik Karlsson deserved the Norris last year AND the previous year. He is the best defenceman in the world hands down. It’s not even close. His transition game and offence are matched by his extremely underrated defence. If you haven’t already, check out the rankings of the top defencemen on Sportsnet.ca. Through analytics, you can see that he’s the best player in the world at suppressing shots through blocks, checks, positioning and the fact that he almost always has puck on his stick. Karlsson is the best defenceman since Nik Lindstrom, and just like his fellow Swede, he will run away with the trophy.
2016 / 2017 Stats: GP: 77, Points: 71
Predicted 2017 / 2018 Stats: GP: 75, Points: 75
- Victor Hedman
Everyone knew that Victor Hedman was a great defenceman, but last year he showed that he’s elite. Hedman is equally adept at breaking up plays in the defensive zone as he is scoring goals in the offensive one. He was 14th in the league in scoring with 72 points and 49th in the league in blocked shots with 132. The commitment to both ends of the ice is obviously evident. His enormous size makes him impossible to move, and his effortless skating makes him virtually unguardable. Although his impact may lessen with the return of Steven Stamkos, with Tampa’s defence being thin, his workload should remain high.
2016 / 2017 Stats: GP: 79, Points: 72
Predicted 2017 / 2018 Stats: GP: 82, Points: 69
- P.K. Subban
The amount of unwarranted criticism P.K. Subban receives is baffling. He plays the game of hockey with poise, energy and passion, and he does so without giving up much the other way. Last year Subban posted his best possession metrics since his Norris Trophy-winning season, and he did so with the lowest PDO of his career. For those who don’t know what PDO is, here is a short article from SB Nation that explains it. In Subban’s unluckiest season, he controlled the game more than he ever had before. With Ryan Ellis injured for the first half of the regular season, Subban will be relied upon to carry the Predator’s offence from the back-end.
2016 / 2017 Stats: GP: 66, Points: 40
Predicted 2017 / 2018 Stats: GP: 82, Points: 63
- Brent Burns
Last year’s winner drops quite a bit in the rankings. Brent Burns is a fantastic offensive defencemen, but defensively, he leaves you wanting. He takes many risks in the offensive zone. Most of them pay off, but many of them don’t. This risk-taking is exactly what makes Burns so lethal offensively, but it takes away from his overall game. He is the beneficiary of being on the same team as defensive stud, Marc-Edouard Vlasic. This allows Burns to play against lower-quality opposition and gives him the chance to take offensive risks. Burns will be in the top three for scoring by a defenceman, but unless he takes huge strides defensively, he won’t win the Norris Trophy again.
2016 / 2017 Stats: GP: 82, Points: 76
Predicted 2017 / 2018 Stats: GP: 82, Points: 71
- Drew Doughty
Drew Doughty and his L.A. Kings keep regressing towards mediocrity. They were at a time, one of the model franchises in the NHL, but no more. Despite his team’s performance, Doughty still remains one of the best defencemen in the world. His defence and transition game are both elite, while offensively, he’s above average. Doughty could win his second Norris Trophy if new coach John Stevens opens up the way the Kings play. If Doughty can take a more offensive role and come anywhere close to his 59 points from his rookie season, then he has a chance to supplant Erik Karlsson at the top of the rankings.
2016 / 2017 Stats: GP: 82, Points: 44
Predicted 2017 / 2018 Stats: GP: 82, Points: 53
Outside looking in: Duncan Keith, Dustin Byfuglien, Seth Jones, Justin Faulk and Dougie Hamilton
The Norris Trophy race is extremely top-heavy. Despite the gap, there are still some underdog contenders for the trophy. Seth Jones and Justin Faulk both have a chance to lead their teams to big seasons, which should help their campaign for the Norris. They play for strong defensive teams and have the offensive skills to lead a powerplay. Although the top three should remain the same, the top five could be cracked by any one of these players.