To mark the halfway point in the season, NHL.com is running its third installment of the Trophy Tracker series. Today, we look at the race for the Norris Trophy, the annual award given to the player selected as the top defenseman in the NHL in a Professional Hockey Writers Association poll.
John Carlson has been in a class by himself this season.
The Washington Capitals defenseman leads the position in scoring with 13 goals and 37 assists in 41 games and got his 50th point in his 40th game this season, becoming the first NHL defenseman to reach 50 points in 40 games or fewer since Paul Coffey for the Detroit Red Wings in 1994-95.
So it's no surprise Carlson was chosen by a panel of 18 NHL.com writers as the favorite to win the Norris Trophy midway through the 2019-20 season.
"I'd say he's definitely the front-runner, without a doubt," Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch said recently about Carlson. "The numbers certainly jump out at you, but you're on a good team, he plays in all situations, he's got the plus-minus (plus-14). How you can be detracting from his play right now, it's impossible to do. The second half is the second half, but I don't see why he won't continue at this pace and in this situation. So yeah, I would say he's the front-runner, for sure."
Carlson, who received 90 points (all 18 first-place votes), finished ahead of Dougie Hamilton of the Carolina Hurricanes (59 points) and Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators (53 points). Carlson leads Washington in ice time (24:57) and game-winning goals (six) and is a big reason the Capitals (27-9-5) are first in the Metropolitan Division with a plus-23 goal differential.
"The same thing we say every day: Johnny for Norris," Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said, referencing the mantra that's become a hashtag and rallying cry for Washington. "There's nothing else to truly talk about, but he's definitely one of our leaders. He really carries a lot of weight in the back end playing in all situations, playing big minutes. A lot of the talk is about his points and his goals, which is amazing right now, but also how good he is defensively. He's a solid rock back there and he gets the job done every night."
Video: BOS@WSH: Carlson one-times feed from Backstrom
Carlson, who is never one to talk about individual accolades, deflected the question when asked about the Norris Trophy.
"I think it should reward the best defenseman," he said. "It's plain and simple. Whatever that is, whatever category you want to put people in or talk about a certain player a certain way, who would you want on your team the most? That would be the award, for me."
Capitals coach Todd Reirden has seen Carlson blossom since the former joined Washington as an assistant for the 2014-15 season.
"Obviously John is having a terrific year and continues to get better and better every season," Reirden said Tuesday after Carlson was selected to play in the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game. "It's been fun to watch for the last six years. Credit to him having a good plan in place in things to continue to work and grow into, so that's been outstanding."
Carlson could become the first Capitals player to win the Norris since Rod Langway in back-to-back seasons from 1982-84. Though Carlson has developed chemistry with many of his teammates in his 11 NHL seasons, perhaps no one knows him better than his dad, Dick Carlson.
"Great start, he's playing well and the team is playing a little more aggressively in certain parts of the game, which has kind of led to a few more points here and there," Dick Carlson told the Capitals website Dec. 16. "I've gone back watching him forever, so I don't know if he's playing that much different. I've always known he's had this kind of stuff in him, but a lot of things need to go right for you to have success so far as far as points goes.
"He hasn't and neither have I put too much on the points total. It's just play the game the right way and let it all happen. This year it's working out pretty good."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1- basis): John Carlson, Capitals, 90 points (18 first-place votes); Dougie Hamilton, Hurricanes, 59; Roman Josi, Predators, 53; Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens, 21; Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues, 13; Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning, 10; Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche, 9; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins, 4; Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets, 3; Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers, 3; Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers, 1; Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators, 1
NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti contributed to this story