Cale Makar, last year’s Norris Trophy winner, was the betting favorite to win the National Hockey League’s (NHL) award for the best defenseman once again this season, and with good reason. The 24-year-old blueliner recorded 86 points in 77 games last season and was even better in the playoffs.
Makar opened at +200 to win the Norris Trophy, while the next four betting favorites included Roman Josi (+600), Victor Hedman (+700), Charlie McAvoy (+800), and Adam Fox (+800). These are all decent value as either player could legitimately contend for the award.
The best value for the award at the start of the season, however, has been Erik Karlsson (+7500). Surely, few people would have placed that bet, but you could now argue that Erik Karlsson is the front-runner as he leads all defensemen with 22 points (10 goals and 12 assists) in just 17 games.
Erik Karlsson is Turning Back the Clock
Erik Karlsson won the Norris Trophy in 2012 and 2015. He had 71 points in 2016-17 and 18 points in 19 playoff games, leading the Senators to the Eastern Conference Finals. Many analysts at this point considered him one of the best players in the world.
After a strong first season in San Jose, Erik Karlsson didn’t quite look like himself in the following three seasons. Injuries and aging have played a role in his decline. Erik Karlsson had just 22 points in 55 games in 2020-21 and 35 in 50 games last season.
His 10 goals through 17 games this season match his total in 50 games last year. He’s also already 11 goals away from tying his career high. Karlsson was a point-per-game defenseman in 2016 and is on pace to exceed that mark this season.
Doesn’t Have the Same Offensive Support as Others
What’s more impressive about Karlsson’s offensive performance this season is that he’s doing it on a relatively weak Sharks team. San Jose is 27th in the NHL standings with a 5-9-3 record and is expected to be in the running for the first overall pick. Outside of Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier, the team doesn’t have much offensive firepower.
Other Norris contenders, like Makar, Fox, and McAvoy, are playing on contenders with deep rosters. What Karlsson is doing in San Jose at 32 years old and after three disappointing seasons is impressive and deserving of Norris hype.
Defense Has Been Solid
Plus/minus is an outdated measure of tracking defense performance, but it’s nonetheless worth noting that Karlsson is a plus-1 through 17 games this season. He’s one of the only players on the team with a positive rating. Matt Benning and Mario Ferraro rank second and third in defense scoring for the Sharks. They each have only four points and are -8 and -10, respectively.
Karlsson also has a CF% of 56.7, the best mark he has had since his first season in San Jose. He’s averaging 25:30 ice time per game, which is his highest since his last season in Ottawa in 2017-18.
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