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Can Cale Makar really contend for the Norris Trophy this season?

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Despite missing a bunch of time due to injury, Cale Makar has been one of then best defensemen in the NHL this season

Vegas Golden Knights v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

It does not seem to be the Colorado Avalanche’s year for award contention despite sitting at the top of the league’s standings. Part of the reason is a committee approach to team success with good depth and a variety of top contributors in key roles.

While Mikko Rantanen is currently second in goals both he and Nathan MacKinnon would have to put together quite a finish to qualify for any of the scoring titles. The Lady Byng might be out of the question after MacKinnon’s unsportsmanlike conduct fine and there hasn’t been enough production from any of the rookies for the Calder. Philipp Grubauer might get some Vezina consideration but how much he’ll be in net down the stretch before the playoffs is in question. Therefore award attention might focus on Cale Makar and if he can really push to get into the Norris Trophy conversation in just his second season in the NHL.

The Norris is considered a reputation award given to a player when he’s earned his dues and been a finalist for several years. The last several winners in order have been Roman Josi, Mark Giordano, Victor Hedman, Brent Burns, and Drew Doughty and each for the first time in their careers. There’s a certain feeling of awarding a player when “he’s due” as sort of a career achievement. And although Makar finished ninth on the ballot with a couple fourth place votes in just his rookie season he may not have the long standing reputation to get such recognition at 22 years of age.

What may work in Makar’s favor is a changing of the guard type movement that is beginning to shake attitudes and perceptions on who and what type comprise the best defensemen in the league. That thinking is reflected in another new movement, the sports betting craze, which shows that not only Makar but fellow second-year defenseman Adam Fox as well as another young rearguard in Charlie McAvoy are among the current favorites for the Norris.

Makar along with his teammates are tops in any on-ice analytic statistic including Corsi for, expected goals and scoring chance for percentages. The fact that the Avalanche in general and teammates such as Sam Girard in particular almost work against Makar because they’ve all had great seasons collectively even though their analytics are so impressive.

The reality is that counting stats still carry a lot of weight to PHWA voters and a very strong argument will lean towards the player who has the most points at the end of the season. Makar missed 12 games earlier in the year which put him at a production disadvantage compared to his peers. The one mark that Makar has been able to obtain is that he is the only defenseman who has scored at a point-per-game pace this season with currently 31 points in 31 games.

As much as the plus/minus stat is maligned it is another traditional statistic that carries weight with voters and Makar holds up a nice +19 in that category. With a strong finish to the season and the way the Avalanche are playing it’s conceivable that Makar could finish at the top of the plus/minus mountain when it’s all said and done. Or for the fancier version of the measure, Makar’s 5v5 goal differential holds up well too at 67.86% and he’s only been on the ice for 18 goals against which is tops among the Norris candidates.

While it feels like Makar’s time to win a Norris will inevitably come at some point in his career, there are legitimate arguments to indicate that he won’t have to wait for the award as a career achievement accolade like so many of the top defenseman in the league have. Makar will have his work cut out for him to make up the 11 points he trails John Carlson by the end of the season however but knowing what the bright young Avalanche defenseman is capable of it is not out of reach and neither is the Norris Trophy.