One More Thought on Karlsson’s Norris Candidacy

Earlier today I had some conversations with Scott about the Norris Trophy debate and how it is an exercise in futility trying to convince people in outside markets who don’t have the luxury of being able to watch Erik Karlsson on a game-by-game basis that despite his offense overshadowing whatever defensive capabilities on the ice, he is far removed from being a defensive liability.

At one point in our discussions, the topic of the Selke Trophy came up and we drew the parallel that the annual award that recognizes the league’s best defensive forward rarely goes to a player who lacks offensive ability.

Since the NHL started awarding the Selke at the end of the 1977/78 season, only seven times in its thirty-three year history has it been given to a player who had less than 40 points in the regular season. The last to do it was John Madden during the 2000-01 season when he had 38 points.

Gone are the days when modest contributors like Bob Gainey, Craig Ramsay, Guy Carbonneau or Rick Meagher would win. Ever since the conclusion of the 2004/05 lockout, no one with less than 70 points has won the award.

It reminded Scott of a point that Elliotte Friedman made in a Q&A blog post by Thomas Drance for Oilers Nation.

Here is an excerpt from that post (that should be read in its entirety):

Thomas Drance: Lots of stat geeks looked at this years Selke nominations and were shocked. Toews and Kesler, for example, were not even the “elite defensive centers” on their own teams. Do you think we’ll reach a point where the PHWA is prioritizing zone-starts and events against, so that hockey can have a Frans Nielsen, “Felix Hernandez” type Selke winner?

Elliotte Friedman: Yeah I think absolutely it will get there. I tell you, when I was voting last year (and I think I voted for Kesler) I remember I was being lobbied for Frans Nielsen. I had a few people that said to me well look at Frans Nielsen. I did. It’s not like I didn’t consider him. But one of the reasons I voted for Kesler over Malhotra myself, is that I think being a defensive player isn’t only about being a defensive player. I think if you’re a two-way player, and an offensive threat – to me you’re automatically a better defensive player.

Everybody knows what a great defensive player Pavel Datsyuk is – but why is that? It’s not only because he back-checks, it’s because he’s always got the frigging puck. You can’t take it off him, no matter where you are on the ice. So if he’s playing against your best players, and you can’t get the puck, he nullifies your guy. I think a guy like Kesler is not in Datsyuk’s class – but I think about it that way. If this is a guy who is a 40 goal threat, and is a threat to score more than Malhotra is, does that not make him automatically, if they’re both really good defensive players, doesn’t that make Kesler better?

To get back to Nielsen – last year, there were a few people, and Islanders fans saying, “look at him.” I think you’re silly if you don’t listen, and people were constructing some reasonably good arguments, so I watched a few more games in depth, and he looks like he could be a really good player.

I think sometimes people take it as an insult “oh my guy didn’t win – these reporters are morons and they don’t know anything.” I understand sometimes that people look at us reporters and say “they’re not into statistical analysis” and I would probably agree to that to some extent. When you’re a man or woman who covers a team everyday – you’re probably going more by feel than you would be stats, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I do find that I read more people who use some of these statistical arguments, and make sense with them. And I think there are some reporters who are more open-minded. But it’s hard to be when you’re following a team around every day, and you watch 80, or 100, or however many games it is, and you’ve got somebody telling you “no, you’re an idiot! You should be watching Frans Nielsen, instead of somebody else” – I understand how people would say, “well I’m not listening to that jerk.”

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