2015–2016 Award Preview: Norris Trophy Edition

A few weeks ago, I looked at the my top picks for Vezina and who I actually thought would win it. I meant to write this sooner, but life has been a little busy, so I’m getting to it now. Once again, I’ll post who I think will win, followed by who I believe should win.

Who I believe will win the 2015–16 Norris Trophy: Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa Senators. The Norris Trophy has become notorious for being awarded to the best offensive defenseman, and I don’t think this year will be any different. This is especially true due to the absolutely monstrous season that Karlsson had — finishing fifth in the league in points with 82, and the most assists in the league with 66. He’s also no slouch defensively, plays a ton of minutes, and is asked by the Senators to do everything humanly possible.

I’m a straight male, but he still makes me swoon

Who I believe should win the 2015–16 Norris Trophy: Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles Kings

Harry How / Getty Images Sport


Like the Vezina article, I want to set up some parameters. The first was covered in that previous piece, but unless otherwise noted I’m looking at even strength data. To add to that, I’ll be looking at score-adjusted data. This wasn’t necessary when looking at goalies, but for the defensemen it will be. The reason it’s important for the dmen is that the score has an affect on the way a team plays. For example, if the New York Rangers have a lead late in the game, they tend to sit back, clog the shooting lanes, and block shots. While this has helped them greatly in the regular season, this style of play negatively impacts the team’s, and the individual players’, possession stats. Score-adjusted statistics account for such score effects.

The next parameter is playing time. The way I see it, a defenseman worthy of the Norris trophy should be playing at least around 20 minutes a night. They should also have been somewhat durable during the season and played at least 70 games during the season. This makes for 1400 minutes.

Offensive Game:

As I mentioned above, the Norris Trophy has become notorious for being awarded to offensive defensemen. With that in mind, it’s important to look at who the best offensive defensemen were. There are three things I want to look at — Points per 60 (to account for playing time), CF% to look at who drives possession, and Scoring Chances For/60 to see which defensemen do the best at setting up offensive opportunities.

Data and chart courtesy of War on Ice

This chart, I felt, is the easiest way to show all of those factors. On the x-axis, we have points per 60 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Karlsson has a huge lead here at 1.56. The next closest defenseman is Brent Burns at 1.37 — a significant difference.

Looking at CF%, Drew Doughty takes the lead at a ridiculous 59.34%. The only defenseman close to him happens to be his linemate, Jake Muzzin, with 58.09%. While Jake Muzzin can certainly hold his own, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the second highest CF% goes to the guy sharing his playing time with Drew Doughty. In third place we have Alex Goligoski at 53.93%.

The colors represent Scoring Chances for per 60 minutes. The darker blue, the better. As should be clear, Alex Goligoski takes this category. That said, Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin weren’t too far behind — 29.48 and 30.96, respectively, to Alex’s 33.57.

Finally, it’s difficult to see, but the size of the bubbles corresponds to time on ice per game. The winner here, which isn’t clear but is also not surprising, is Ryan Suter. Suter has made a name for himself as a defenseman who plays a tremendous number of minutes. Suter played 21.55 minutes per game, followed by Karlsson at 21.11 and Doughty with 20.40.

One final offensive stat that I didn’t include in the above chart is Relative Corsi For Percentage (CF%Rel). What this does is compares the individual players’ possession stats to those of their team. When you think about it, a great possession team like the Kings or Blackhawks can inflate the possession stats of the players on the team. By looking at the numbers relative to the rest of the team, you can see which players truly drive the possession on their team.

In this case, our winner is Erik Karlsson with a CF%Rel of 6.70. After that, we have Dustin Byfuglien at 4.33 and Drew Doughty with 4.32. So yes, even though Doughty plays on an excellent possession team, he manages to stand out from the pack.


Now let’s look at the defensive side of the game. After all, these are defensemen we are talking about. The stats that I care about here are going to be CA/60, SCA/60, and High Danger SCA/60 both even strength and penalty kill.

Once again, let’s look at a chart:

Data and chart courtesy of War on Ice

Unlike the previous chart, the lower the numbers, the better. For the colors, the darker red corresponds to better numbers. So what are we seeing here?

The first thing that pops out at me is, once again, Drew Doughty. The guy is at the bottom of both the x (CA/60) and y (SCA/60) axes. Once again, Doughty and Muzzin make an excellent 1–2 punch. Behind them we have Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Chicago Blackhawks in CA/60. For SCA/60, we have Doughty as the best defenseman, followed by Adam Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Shea Weber.

When it comes to high-danger scoring chances against, Shea Weber comes out on top with the darkest red, corresponding to a 7.70, followed by his linemate Roman Josi at 8.59. In third is Adam Larsson with an 8.84.

That was even strength, here’s a similar chart for the penalty kill:

Data and chart courtesy of War on Ice

The penalty kill is somewhat hard to look at because I have to once again account for time on ice. In this case, I used 210 minutes, thinking about 3 minutes on the PK per game for about 70 games. This seems somewhat restrictive, but it leaves us with around the same number of eligible defensemen as the 1400 minutes used above.

Once again, there’s one name that stands out from the others. This time, however, it’s Ron Hainsey. Yes, Carolina’s Ron Hainsey. He may not be an all star defenseman, but boy can the man kill penalties. He’s dominant here in both CA/60 and SCA/60, in addition to a solid showing in High-Danger SCA/60. The High Danger SCA/60 is actually won by Nick Schultz of the Flyers at 15.68. Second place goes to Roman Polak, followed by Zbynek Michalek. Hainsey finished seventh, with Roman Josi and Shea Weber taking two spots in the top 10.

Unfortunately, Erik Karlsson doesn’t really make it onto the list as he didn’t get enough playing time on the PK. On one hand, I want to say that this is a knock on him because it could show that the coach didn’t have enough faith in Erik to put him out there on the PK. On the other, even despite not playing on the PK, Karlsson played the most all-situation minutes per game in the league and was asked to basically do everything for the Senators, so even without much PK time Karlsson has virtually no room for any more ice time. Doughty does make it on the list, but he ends up being closer to the middle of this pack than he does in other categories.


So part of the reason for my writing this is to leave it open to interpretation. In my Vezina article, I had Lundqvist winning, but with Mason being a very close second and arguable winner. Here, I’m going with Doughty. Doughty didn’t put up the lofty point totals that Karlsson did, but the man is excellent at driving possession and beats Karlsson in the defensive categories in my opinion. That said, there are certainly valid arguments for Karlsson’s amazing offensive season to win the Norris.