The Washington Post

Statistical analysis: Is there a Norris Trophy in John Carlson’s future?

The James Norris Memorial Trophy is an NHL annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position. That means being able to score when in the offensive zone and play responsibly when defending your own end. A true two-way player.

Carlson led all NHL rookies in ice time and was credited with the most blocked shots, plus he was fourth among rookie blueliners in points, fourth in goals, third in assists and third in plus/minus. He also proved to be an essential part of Washington’s ability to shut down the opposition’s top talent. The only full-time skater on the team who played against a higher quality of competition during even-strength was his frequent partner on the blueline, Karl Alzner.

There is little doubt Carlson can contribute at both ends of the ice, but when can we expect a Norris-caliber performance, if at all?

Using Carlson’s NHL stats (both fancy and conventional) to match him with players who had comparable production at the same age with the same time in the league, we can then use the development of those peers to generate a projection for the next five years. Stats are normalized to the 2010-11 season, so they can be compared on a level playing field despite being in different eras.

Carlson’s statistical peer group includes Rob Blake, Tomas Kaberle and even Shea Weber, among others. As you will see, the group is a decent match for Carlson’s rookie season despite only one full year of performance.

Of particular note: The peer group lines up almost exactly for Puck Prospectus’ goals versus threshold metric. GVT combines all of a player’s statistics and calculates his contribution on both offense and defense. It is measured in goals beyond what a marginal player would have contributed. The higher the value, the more that player contributed. For reference, a typical Norris winning season generates a GVT in excess of 20.

Age GP G A Pts TOI GVT 5v5 GA/60 4v5 GA/60
Carlson 21 82 7 30 37 1847.0 11.9 1.93 4.72
Similar players 21 74 9 28 37 1646.4 11.0 2.54 6.68
2011-12 proj 22 70 6 23 29 1322.9 7.4 2.59 5.47
2012-13 proj 23 82 13 34 47 1793.7 15.1 2.55 3.73
2013-14 proj 24 75 10 31 41 1757.1 12.0 2.63 8.03
2014-15 proj 25 79 11 32 43 2090.3 13.1 2.34 4.29
2015-16 proj 26 71 8 26 34 2164.0 10.5 2.69 4.55

Based on similar players, it looks like Carlson might take a step back this season, which makes sense because he played against the toughest competition the team faced at even strength and dominated despite being a rookie. Performances like that are usually subject to some regression.

The 2012-13 season, however, could be one of Carlson’s best in the next five years, and perhaps, Norris worthy.

As a group these players take a big step forward at age 23, putting up five-year highs in points and GVT plus keeping goals against per 60 minutes to a minimum at both even strength (5v5 GA/60) and on the penalty kill (4v5 GA/60).

Presuming Nicklas Lidstrom, the gold standard for the Norris Trophy, retires by then, I think we start to see a changing of the guard to younger defensemen. Just in time for Carlson to put himself into the conversation.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.


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