To mark the completion of the first quarter of the 2018-19 regular season, NHL.com is running its second installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Norris Trophy.
Morgan Rielly is looking to make history for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rielly, who is second among NHL defensemen with 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists), is looking to become the first Toronto player to win the Norris Trophy voted as the League's top defenseman in the award's 65-season history. Thomas Chabot of the Ottawa Senators leads defensemen with 27 points (six goals, 21 assists).
History would be nothing new for Rielly, who began the season with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in his first five games. It was the most by an NHL defenseman in his team's first five games in 100 years. Bobby Orr had 11 points (two goals, nine assists) for the Boston Bruins in 1973-74. Harry Cameron had 15 points (nine goals, six assists) for the Toronto Arenas in 1917-18.
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"You kind of take it with a grain of salt," Rielly said Oct. 11. "You want to keep rolling. You want to play well. But I don't think it's sustainable. We'll see. ... It's pretty cool. A lot of luck involved whenever that stuff happens. So I think it's important to keep working hard."
Selected to win the Norris Trophy after the first quarter of the season by a panel of 17 NHL.com writers, Rielly received 55 points and five first-place votes. John Carlson of the Washington Capitals was second with 37 points (two first-place votes), and Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames was third with 34 points (two first-place votes).
"It usually takes guys a long time and then when you get to just relax and come and play, your skill set comes out," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "He's still learning. Playing defense is a lot harder than playing wing in the National League, takes more time. Just the idea of boxing out and facing the puck and knowing when to go and when to stay home. He's done a real good job and obviously he's an elite player for us."
Babcock said Rielly compliments forwards Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitchell Marner, as part of the Toronto offense.
"We've got good offensive players up front, and Morgan can pass and really skate," Babcock said. "[Rielly] has got confidence. No one gives it to you. You've got to earn it. And I think he earned a lot last year and he's really come on again this year. He feels like every night he goes out there he can do something."
Video: TOR@PIT: Rielly scores PPG for second of the game
Rielly was minus-4 last season and minus-13 or worse in each of his previous four seasons. This season, he's plus-7. He is also tied for first in game-winning goals (two) and first in overtime goals (two) among defensemen.
"Things have changed, players have changed and the way we play as a team is different, and that tends to impact guys in positive ways when the team is better and you feel comfortable with the group and the coaching staff," Rielly said. "That can really have a positive influence on guys."
Rielly, who averages 22:10 of ice time per game, leads the Maple Leafs in total ice time (509:43) and power-play ice time among defensemen (2:41 per game) this season. He also often gets matched up against the best players on the opposing team.
"He's coming, obviously, he keeps getting better, he's still a kid," Babcock said. "It's hard to be real consistent and real good defensively and offensively every night in the National Hockey League when you're a kid on the backend."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Morgan Rielly, Maple Leafs, 55 points (five first-place votes); John Carlson, Capitals, 37 points (two first-place votes); Mark Giordano, Flames, 34 points (two first-place votes); Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks, 29 votes (two first-place votes); Roman Josi, Nashville Predators, 21 points (three first-place votes); Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets, 19 points (two first-place votes); Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild, 16 points; Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators, 16 points; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 points; Ryan McDonagh, Tampa Bay Lightning, 5 points (one first-place vote); Victor Hedman, Lightning, 4 points; Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche, 4 points; P.K. Subban, Predators, 2 points; John Klingberg, Dallas Stars, 2 points; Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings, 1 point; Erik Karlsson, Sharks, 1 point; Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets, 1 point; Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers, 1 point.
NHL.com correspondent Dave McCarthy contributed to this report