The Capitals finishing first in the Metropolitan Division was something fairly unexpected for most of the NHL. They rode some key figures through the season, all of which had crucial roles in the team’s success. One figure who throughout the league, and even within the Capitals’ fanbase, hasn’t gotten enough love is John Carlson. Carlson, 28 and a free agent this coming summer, has had a monster year, and ensured himself a pretty hefty raise, and for good reason. This season marked a new level in the Carlson’s play, as he had career highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68), power play points (32), and shots on net (237). Though some of these stats were surpassed by a handful of defensemen in the league, Carlson truly has an argument for the best defenseman this year, even when faced against the three Norris Trophy finalists.
First thing first, let’s define the award. The Norris Trophy is awarded every season to the NHL’s “top defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position.” With this in mind, the debate can begin. For those who don’t already know, the three finalists for the Norris Trophy this year were P.K. Subban, Victor Hedman, and Drew Doughty. The three finalists had 59, 63, and 60 points, respectively. All are strong totals, but none surpass Carlson’s 68 points. This is where the “all-around ability” piece comes into play. Carlson was undoubtedly the Capitals’ most impressive defenseman, playing in just about every role imaginable. This is where I think he deserved to beat out one of the three finalists for the Norris, that being P.K. Subban. Subban had the lowest point totals of the three defenseman, nine fewer than Carlson had. He also had by far the most penalty minutes of the three finalists (82), while Carlson had exactly 50 fewer minutes in the box. This stat rarely gets brought up in awards discussion, but that’s because there is rarely a gap this large. Subban left his team shorthanded 25 more times than Carlson did, meaning that he could not have played in as many shorthanded situations as Carlson, which is just as important as the point scoring totals, where, again, Carlson easily has Subban beat. Lastly, Subban has a much better defensive group around him than Carlson. Subban did not even lead his own team in ice time among defenseman – that award belongs to Roman Josi, who also had only six fewer points than Subban, while Carlson led all Caps defenders in both ice time (by an average of 1:29) and in points (by 37).
With all this said, this is not meant to bash any of the three Norris finalists. I think that John Carlson was deserving of a nomination, yes, but even in a career year, I don’t think that he would win this trophy. In my eyes, Victor Hedman seems to be the most deserving. He is a workhorse, averaging almost 26 minutes per game, and is easily a top-three defenseman, both in his own zone and the offensive zone. There always seems to be at least one person who is deserving of an award but simply doesn’t get the recognition they deserve, and unfortunately for Carlson, he appears to be on the short end of the stick.
Photo: (AP Photo/Nick Wass)