We’re about two weeks out from the NHL returning to play. It’s weird to not see the Winter Classic being played on January 1, but perhaps in 2022, we can return to the tradition of an outdoor game on New Year’s Day.
Continuing with the Knup Sports NHL Awards Prediction Series, this piece will take a look at our Norris Trophy prediction, given to the league’s top defenseman. I previously covered the Hart Trophy prediction (read about it here), and my pick for the Vezina Trophy winner will be coming soon.
Knup Sports NHL Awards Prediction Series – Norris Trophy Prediction: A Look at the Favorites
Defending Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators has the second-best betting odds to win again this year at +600. The only defenseman ahead of him is Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman (+400), who was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Sitting in third is Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton (+650). Hamilton played just 47 games last season before suffering a broken left fibula. He was able to return for the playoffs, scoring one goal and one assist in five games.
While these three will all likely end up in the upper echelon of Norris vote-getters, I’m going a little more off-the-board with my pick.
Knup Sports NHL Awards Prediction Series – Norris Trophy Prediction: Cale Makar
Colorado’s Cale Makar was named to the 2020 NHL All-Rookie Team and was awarded the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. Makar scored 12 goals and 38 assists in 57 regular-season games. He also added four goals and 11 assists in 15 Avalanche playoff games.
One of my biggest frustrations as a hockey fan is that the Norris Trophy frequently goes to whichever defenseman scores the most points. While Makar can certainly light up the scoreboard, his defensive game is already looking strong.
One example comes from his strong puck possession metrics. Makar’s Corsi For % (59.0) and Fenwick For % (58.6) show how often the Avalanche control the puck in all situations when Makar is on the ice.
His controlled exits/60 ranked at the 98th percentile last season.
Table Courtesy of Christopher Turtoro
Makar also led the Avalanche in takeaways/60 last season and finished third on the team in time-on-ice per game. He will likely lead the Avs in both categories again this year.
Logging big minutes at even strength and on the power play will help Makar’s case, but we will need to see more time on the penalty kill. He saw less than six minutes total on the PK the entire season, and with Nikita Zadorov being traded to Chicago, the opportunity is there to grab that ice time.
Knup Sports NHL Awards Prediction Series – Norris Trophy Prediction: What Could Work Against Him
If the 22-year-old Makar were to win the Norris this year, he would be the second-youngest winner in the past 45 years. Erik Karlsson won as a 21-year-old in 2011-12. Before that, you would need to go back to Denis Potvin of the 1975-76 New York Islanders to find the last 22-year-old to win. Defensemen tend to take longer to develop than forwards, and it’s uncommon for defensemen younger than 25 to win the award.
Beyond that, Makar will be part of a dynamic Avalanche system. The Avalanche are one of the most balanced teams in the league, and with a stacked roster of players competing for power play time, it could be tough for Makar to separate from the pack.
Expectations are high for Makar and the Avalanche this year, following the Calder campaign and after Makar was named the No. 6 defensemen in NHL Network’s Top 20 Defenseman offseason rankings.
If there’s another sleeper to keep an eye on, watch out for Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin. Slavin finished fifth in Norris voting a year ago and led all Norris vote-getters in defensive point shares. Currently listed as +9000 on DraftKings, there’s incredible value in picking Slavin to win for betting purposes.