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LeBrun: Polling NHL coaches on who they think should win the Norris Trophy


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One of the things about NHL awards that has always seemed odd to me is that head coaches don’t vote on any of the major ones.

General managers vote on the Vezina. The NHL Broadcasters’ Association votes for the Jack Adams. GMs and a panel of leagues executives and selected media members vote on the Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award.

And selected members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (150 voters total, including me) vote on the rest of the major awards, including the Hart, Norris, Calder and Selke.

Now, I’m not suggesting taking away anyone’s vote. Of course not. But one suggestion: Maybe head coaches should join the broadcasters in a broader vote for the Jack Adams? Just a thought. I have many thoughts. Most of them get ignored.

But I digress. As I have done previously from time to time over the years, I decided this week to poll the NHL’s head coaches on the Norris Trophy race, to see how they break down a competitive field.

There’s still a month to go, but I thought it would interesting to get a feel from the guys who have a front-row ticket to watch the top blueliners in the world plying their trade on a nightly basis.

While a lot of people view the Norris Trophy race as a done deal with Erik Karlsson lapping the field offensively, our numbers guru Dom Luszczyszyn disagreed in his latest Norris breakdown, saying it’s a close race in his view.


I asked the head coaches this week for one vote only, just one name. First-place votes only, baby.

Also, coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players.

Here are the results of my polling, with 30 of the 32 head coaches taking part:

The headline here, really, is Morrissey getting so much love, with a strong second-place finish. He didn’t rate in Dom’s latest Norris piece, although Dom has had him in other Norris updates earlier this season. It’s obviously a statement when seven rival NHL coaches choose you for Norris. That’s big-time respect, and there’s no question the Jets’ No. 1 defenseman has earned it with a career season.

Some comments (all via text message, and some edited lightly for clarity) from coaches who voted for him in my poll, which was conducted anonymously to allow them to speak freely:

• “I vote for Josh Morrissey. Mostly for his emergence and impact on the Jets’ blue line. Other than (goalie Connor) Hellebuyck, he has been their most impactful player on both sides of the puck.”

• “Playing a great two-way game. Huge piece in the Jets’ defensive game and doesn’t have a lot of help in that area.”

• “Touches and is a factor in all parts of the game.”

• “Helping his team as much as anyone. Great fit for their team.”

• “He has poise. A threat with his shot and vision. He is a general out there offensively but also very competitive defensively.”

• “No one has been more important to their team on the back end. Does it at both ends of the ice.”

The second headline was just one vote going to Fox, the Norris winner from two years ago and Dom’s top performer this year. I thought he would get more.

Here’s the comment from the one coach who voted for Fox: “He plays both special teams. Plays against top lines. Hardly (ever) hurt. Counted on in every situation.”

I’m also surprised none of Brent BurnsDougie Hamilton and Roman Josi got a vote. With only one vote per coach, it certainly limits the field, though.

Also notable was the third-place showing for Makar, the reigning Norris Trophy winner who received three votes in this poll. A somewhat slow start to the season (given his lofty standards) plus missing 13 games via injury downgraded his chances of repeating. He’s going to win a bunch of Norris trophies by the time his career is over. Maybe even a Hart.

Don’t kid yourself; most everyone still views him as the best defenseman in the world, even if they didn’t vote for him. I think he’s the best by a pretty wide margin. But that’s a different argument than who should win the Norris this year.

“You can save yourself texting me for the next 10 years,” one coach responded in saying his vote will always be Makar. “Makar is on another level. He is the best defenseman in the league, period.”

I mean, again, agreed.

And let’s not overlook that Makar leads all NHL players in minutes per game. Total workhorse.

Said another coach who voted for Makar: “Plays in all situations … drives play all over the ice. Have to specifically game plan for his skill set.”

And finally, from the third coach who voted for Makar: “Controls the game. Competitive defensively, plus dominant offensively. Has maintained a high level of play through injury. Should be applauded for this, not penalized for missing a few games.”

Rasmus Dahlin got two votes. I do think there could be a Norris in his future.

Said one of the coaches who voted for Dahlin: “I know the obvious choice is Karlsson with his point totals, but I hate that this trophy is so geared toward production rather than the ‘total package’ of production and defending … so I’m saying that I would go with Dahlin. I think this kid has taken a big step on the defensive side of the puck, as well as still producing.”

Charlie McAvoy also got two votes while his Bruins teammate Hampus Lindholm got one. Both also got plenty of secondary mentions from coaches who thought they deserved mentions but voted elsewhere. They’re having awesome years, but being on the same juggernaut Bruins team will probably lead to cannibalizing any support.

Said one coach: “Charlie defends also. That used to be part of the Norris winner. Charlie M for me.”

Said another: “Lindholm. Best two-way player, all-around game.”

Jared Spurgeon got the only other vote, and while a lot of people may be surprised by that, just this past week Dom wrote about his excellent season in his 16 stats piece.

Said the head coach who voted for Spurgeon: “Plus-31 and next player on the team is plus-14! Kaprizov is a plus-6 on the same team. … Don’t know what they’d look like without him.”

But our poll winner was indeed Karlsson, who is having an amazing season at age 32, already posting career-high point totals. It’s absolutely nuts. What a joy to watch him play this season.

Some comments from the coaches who voted for Karlsson:

• “Pretty amazing the numbers he has put up on a bad team.”

• “Hard not to pick Karlsson. (Playing) 25 mins a night. Next guy is 18 pts below him. Only four of his 20 goals have come on the power play.”

• “It’s amazing the stats he has put up and how dangerous he is every time he touches the puck.”

• “Having a great year on a non-playoff team. What he has done this year has been very impressive.”

• “He drives so much offense for his team. His numbers are impressive based on where his team is at from a win-loss standpoint.”

• “(He’s) almost a one-man team when you look at it. Plus it’s the resurrection of a player to elite status. If it’s not the Norris, there should be another award for him.”

• “(He has) 85 points. In on 43 percent of San Jose goals. Only minus-11 on a team that’s minus-65. Played every game. Third most minutes played per game.”

Let’s see how the final month of the season goes, and I’ve been wrong before trying to predict how my fellow PHWA voters will go, but it certainly feels like the Norris is Karlsson’s to lose right now.

That would be Norris No. 3 for Karlsson after winning it with the Senators in 2011-12 and 2014-15.

What say you, subscribers? Give us your Norris vote in our comments section below!

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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