The Norris Trophy race has changed a lot this season. In the early stages it was Cale Makar vs. Adam Fox again. As 2022 came around the Rangers continued to get shelled in expected goals for% and corsi for% and Fox’s offense slowed down, taking him effectively out of the race. All season there has been some mentions of Victor Hedman’s name in the conversation, but he’s never received any real consideration. Now it has come down to the two best defensemen in the Central Division, Cale Makar (still) and Roman Josi.
As it currently stands Josi has 77 points in 61 games played, with 18 of those 77 being goals. Makar has 71 in 59 with 22 of them being goals. One thing that is important to note when looking at the scoring race between the two is the fact that Josi has been white hot out of late with a whopping 24 points in his past ten games played. I understand that this isn’t anything that should be held against Josi, but he was at an 83 point pace with 53 points in 51 games before his insane heater. Currently Josi is at a 101 point pace. So it’s fair to say his numbers have been inflated by this recent stretch. I want to reiterate this isn’t meant to be held against him but more as a way to temper expectations on his point scoring down the final stretch of the season. It’s hard for any player, especially a defenseman to hold a 2.4 PPG pace for more than ten games. Not only that but it would be silly to give a player an award, almost entirely because of a ten game stretch of hockey.
While Josi is looking to be the first defenseman to hit the century mark since the 1991-92 season when Brian Leetch scored 102 points in 80 games. Cale Makar is trying to make history of his own by being the first goal to hit the 30 goal mark since Mike Green in 2008-09, who is the only defenseman to reach said mark in the 21st century. Makar is currently on a 29 goal pace and is set to miss the milestone by a goal, however it can not be overstated how impressive a defenseman reaching 29 goals while missing four games is. Offensively it’s hard to separate the two with both being the best play-driving defenders in the league and both putting up similar seasons on the score sheet.
Defense is where the leader, in my eyes, separates themselves a bit.
Below is a recent tweet from Dom Luszczyszyn with his player cards for each player. According to Dom’s model, Makar has had a much more positive impact on his team defensively than Josi has (offensively too but we’ve moved on from that part.) If we look at the 5-on-5 on ice metrics they back up Dom’s card.
so... how bout that norris trophy race? pic.twitter.com/l9KdotzFe8— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) March 22, 2022
Cale Makar leads Roman Josi in every major category. Corsi for percentage, expected goals for percentage, and high danger chances for percentage all go Makar’s way by quite a bit, as you can see. Even if we switch it up and look at PK numbers Makar still dominates. Makar has played nearly twice as much time short handed (82:25 min.) than Josi has (44:28 TOI), which may be in part to Josi’s twenty eight extra minutes spent in the box. Even though Makar has a larger sample size to pull from he still beats Josi in corsi for percentage and expected goals for percentage on the penalty kill by two and seven percent respectively.
So far the offensive argument is basically a wash and the defensive game is heavily in Makar’s favor, but there is one last argument to save Josi’s Norris contention, strength of team.
Currently Roman Josi’s strongest argument for why he should win the Norris is because, plain and simple, the Nashville Predators are not as good of a team as the Colorado Avalanche. One quick look at the standings can confirm that with Colorado sitting at first place in the NHL with 95 points and a .754 points percentage, and Nashville sitting twelve spots below them at thirteenth with 78 points and a .639 points percentage. Looking at the two teams rosters will also confirm said claims, as one could say that Colorado’s entire top line is better than any of Nashville’s forwards. However, if we take a deeper dive it might not seem like the Predators are as bad as some are seeming to claim. First, the Predators are still the fifth highest team in the standings from the Western Conference, so they are hardly bad enough to seriously claim Josi is fighting through much adversity (in a decent part to Juuse Saros, but still.) Secondly, both Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg have more goals than anyone on the Avalanche, making it hard to say Josi isn’t getting much help.
I think it’s fair to say that Josi has to carry a bit more of a load than Makar, but not so much more that it is any sort of significant point of argument for his Norris case. Many people often forget that a large reason why the Avalanche are so good is because of Cale Makar and his transcendent (and apparently underrated) two hundred foot hockey ability.
One more quick stat that I found interesting. Both Josi and Makar have the exact same PDO (1.029), with Josi surprisingly having the higher on ice shooting percentage at 10.19% to Makar’s 9.95%. This essentially just means luck is favoring neither candidate in the slightest.
Personally I think Makar deserves the Norris. He has put together a more consistently elite line of work this season and has had a much better defensive season while still putting up crazy numbers offensively. Who do you think should/will win?