Early Norris Contenders (2017-18)

by Chris Liggio on December 29, 2017


Sure, it’s a bit early to be thinking about who will take home the hardware at season’s end with so many games to go. Especially regarding the Norris Trophy for the league’s top defender which Erik Karlsson is always one hot streak from running away with in a landslide victory. Alas, he’s yet not in the running and the contention pool for the Norris is larger than just him and Brent Burns (who’s also not deserving at this time). In fact, of the following names only one listed has won the award before. As we’ve seen in some recent years the trophy has seemingly gone to the defender who scores the most points, but such should not be the case in my opinion. Nonetheless the following are deserving of a nod either because of great two-way play or because of elite offensive contributions from the back end.


Drew Doughty


The muse for my proudest fantasy squad name, “Doughty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, Doughty is compiling an absolutely stupendous season thus far on a resurgent Los Angeles Kings squad. Arguably the most valuable fantasy defender in the game today, he is murdering it across the board for owners. To start he is on pace for an absurd plus-42 by the end of the year; wow. Couple that with the projected 11 goals, 46 assists, 223 shots, 134 hits, 109 blocks, 48 PIM, and we indeed have the uncontested most valuable defender on our hands. Did I mention he averages 27:03 minutes per game? A startling realization regarding his 57-point pace is that he only starts his shifts in the offensive zone 48.7% of the time. For any player, let alone a defenseman, to be able to put up that type of offense when you are primarily deployed to protect your own end speaks to why Doughty went second overall in 2008. If a guy named Steven Stamkos wasn’t in his draft class, he would’ve went first overall no question.


Doughty is currently holding down the highest PDO of his career at 1020 with a healthy 52.83 CF%. In a nutshell, things are more than likely going his and the Kings’ way when he is on the ice, which is quite often. He is a candidate for a bump in goal scoring production as his overall shooting percentage is only 4.9%, 0.6% lower than the average over the past five seasons including this one. Although it is not a tremendous variance it’s one that could translate potentially to 15 goals by the end of the campaign if statistical correction ensues. Not to beat a dead horse but you really cannot find anything in Doughty’s stat line that comes up as a red flag. If he continues to be the defensive stalwart we’ve all been accustomed to and posts a 50-point season he should be unanimously voted to take home the hardware at the awards ceremony.


Alex Pietrangelo


Does everyone still want to hype up Colton Parayko or are all finally on board the correct defenseman train? Pietrangelo has crossed the 45-point threshold three times in the four seasons prior to 2017-18 and I still feel he is grossly undervalued. The overhype on the uber young was never more apparent than the past couple of seasons when Parayko was being talked up beyond belief after Kevin Shattenkirk’s departure from St. Louis. To the point where Pietrangelo almost seemed like an outcast, he must’ve been insulted as he went on to open the season with four goals and eight assists in the first ten games played. There is no question in the Mike Yeo era that this is Pietrangelo’s blueline. Currently on pace for a 16-goal, 56-point season, he’s bringing real value to fantasy owners and has put his name in the hat for Norris contention.


If you are not able to watch the Blues often you probably are not aware of just how much this guy does for his team at both ends of the ice. Not once has his CF% dropped below 50% in his career speaking to his ability to help drive play when he is on the ice and one aspect to take notice of under Yeo is that his offensive zone starting percentage has bumped up by eight percent from 2016-17. Though he’ll never attain Karlsson level offense because of all he is entrusted with defensively, Pietrangelo is a basic lock for 45-points every season while in his prime. Those of you who invested in him in drafts sure are wise and can just set and forget him each and every night he is in play. Although his offense and the team’s in general has dried up as of late, when it comes to Norris talk he must be in the mix because of the complete package he brings to the table.


Tyson Barrie


Tyson Barrie serves as the ultimate example of a player to target in a draft following a down year. Like many players I have covered in recent weeks it would seem that one lowly season is enough to discount a player so far down the board that it's arguably criminal. Though his chances at claiming a Norris trophy are essentially null and void at this point due to his broken hand I am still giving him his due as this article is based off performances to this point in time and Barrie was an absolute force prior to going down. On pace for 64 points in 80 games played prior to this unfortunate injury leading the league in offensive production from the blue line, nobody was talking about him seemingly at all. A lot of people might look at the minus four he currently holds but that’s a plus-30 improvement from the minus-34 he finished last season at. Let the record show that by no means is Barrie a defensive stalworth but at day’s end what you have is an elite puck mover, elite point producer, and an average defender. All in all that is quite the package that no coach would ever gripe about.


What’s most impressive about his production is the fact he does not line up with any fantasy relevant defenders on his own squad that you could claim he ciphers points off of. Despite the lack of elite talent at his side he still manages to manifest a pts/60 rate of 2.2 from the blue line! That would be highly impressive even for a forward in the game today. No question Barrie is an offensively oriented player starting 57.87% of his shifts in the offensive zone and even though his CF% leaves something to be desired at 47.82, he was boasting a healthy PDO of 1021 which is in line with 2014-15 when he had a 53-point season. His even strength shooting percentage is a tad high for him at 10.94% but overall shooting is only at 4.8%, meaning he could’ve stood to see an increase in goal scoring with some statistical regression towards the mean. Prior to 2016-17’s disaster, Barrie was routinely potting 12 or 13 goals per season, so this would’ve been highly plausible. Because of the duration of time he will be out with injury compiling 60 points is unforeseeable but if he can reclaim his scoring touch immediately upon return he may still cross the 45-point threshold. Someone so vital to his team generating offense was more than deserving of consideration for the Norris being that he was scoring at the rate he was as a defender.


John Klingberg


Although I am in the school of thought that the Norris should be handed to the defender who brings the best two-way approach to the game, as I stated earlier there is no hiding the fact that the voting process in recent years seems to favor the defender who generates offense like a top-six forward. Much like Barrie who nobody is going to confuse for a shutdown defender, Klingberg is producing offensively at a profound rate for the Dallas Stars. Not to say Klingberg is horrendous defensively but if you saw Dmitry Orlov savagely embarrass his life the other week you know he is not the pinnacle of shutdown capability. Only but once so far this season has Klingberg gone three games without scoring a point, four times without scoring in two games. That is some solid consistency if you ask me and speaks to him being a key cog in the offense.


Nonetheless, Klingberg has established himself as an assist factory with 178 total going back to 2014-15 including the current campaign. Sure, the fact he is setting up the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have certainly helped him achieve this gaudy assist total, but the man can put it in their wheelhouse no question. Despite him being assist heavy for points his overall shooting percentage this season is six percent lower than 2016-17 which means he could very likely see a goal scoring surge here in the coming weeks to further bolster his value. Thanks to his defensive minded partner Esa Lindell, Klingberg can always be rest assured to play his game which is offense so you as the fantasy owner most likely need not worry about serious point scoring droughts. Being on pace for a near 70-point season makes him a must for Norris consideration.


John Carlson


It only took until a contract year for 2014-15 John Carlson to reemerge but alas he’s back and better than ever. Carlson’s importance to this blue line is unquestionable for if you remove his name from the equation this is a pretty meager defensive corps nowadays in the District of Columbia. Currently on pace for a six goal, 58-point campaign, he is certainly a benefactor of feeding Alexander Ovechkin in his wheelhouse time and time again. Although goals are few and far between for Carlson with three on the season so far, it’s not because he has been afraid to shoot with 107 put on net. That translates to a 228-shot pace by the end of the campaign and with a 2.8% overall shooting percentage one has to expect that statistical regression towards the mean should occur providing him with a goal scoring bump in due time.


Carlson is averaging nearly four minutes a game on the powerplay which helps to offset the fact that he only starts shifts in the offensive zone 48.07% of the time.His pts/60 at this point is right in line with his career best 2014-15 season and he’s averaging almost four more minutes a game this year than the season prior. With the Capitals youth injection on the blue in Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, Carlson is relied upon to lead the way. As the uncontested top option on their blue line with his primary man advantage deployment, barring injury he should have no issue crossing the 50-point barrier for the second time in his career. There’s no arguing this blue line is devoid of high end talent beyond him and Dmitry Orlov. As Brooks Orpik fades ever faster out of his prime, Carlson has to carry the load big time especially since Djoos and Bowey are just getting their feet wet in their initial campaigns. Should he go down to injury the Capitals would have a serious problem on their hands replacing his contributions all around. His ability to produce all the while shouldering immense pressure in a fading contention window warrants him receiving Norris consideration.