On Monday, the NHL released the names of the three finalists for the James Norris Memorial Trophy for the league's best defenseman in the 2019-20 season. Washington's John Carlson, Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman, and Nashville's Roman Josi will hear one of their names called during the conference finals of this year's playoffs, which will occur roughly in mid-September.
Subjectively speaking, the race is a dead tie between Carlson and Josi. Both recorded the best seasons of their careers in 2019-20, leading their respective teams in scoring and total point shares. Carlson and Josi have been Norris Trophy contenders at least three other times in their careers, while Hedman is the only one of the group to have won it previously in 2017-18. Carlson, with 75 points, is ahead of Josi by 10 points and Hedman by 20.
However, too often are today's Norris finalists judged solely by their offensive point production rather than their comprehensive defensive production. The whole idea behind the Norris Trophy is to declare a defenseman who "demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position." With this in mind, it is Roman Josi who is most deserving of the 2019-20 Norris Trophy title.
There are several grounds on which this stance is based. If you are to determine the Norris winner on points alone, Carlson is your clear-cut choice. In almost every other statistical category, though, Josi trumped Carlson and Hedman by decent margins. In addition, Josi's role in this 2019-20 Predators team is a noticeably different one than the roles Carlson and Hedman play for their teams. Let's examine- metric by metric- the reasons why Josi should be the 2019-20 Norris Trophy winner.
GOALS & SHOTS
Josi, along with St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo, ranked second among the NHL's defensive corps in goals with 16 on the year. It set a new career high for Josi and, as of the season pause on Mar. 12, pulled him ahead of Carlson by a single goal. Josi finished the 2019-20 season leading all NHL defensemen in shots with a whopping total of 260. He outshot the likes of high-octane forwards including Taylor Hall, Jack Eichel, Connor McDavid, and Nikita Kucherov. The next highest-ranked D-man in shots was San Jose's Brent Burns, who recorded 35 fewer shots than Josi. Even the rest of Josi's team couldn't keep up with his blistering shot pace; the second-highest ranked Pred in shots was FIlip Forsberg, who fired the puck 62 fewer times than the team captain.
ON-ICE RATING (PLUS/MINUS)
Josi didn't actually rank in the NHL's top five highest-rated defensemen in 2019-20 (he finished eighth, with a +22). Plus/minus is also the only metric in which Hedman, with a +27, performed better than Josi and Carlson. Josi did, however, outrank Carlson, who finished the year with a +12. On-ice ratings are typically tilted in the favor of defensemen; they have a higher probability of being on the ice during goals because they skate the most minutes on the team. Josi's exception in this metric is that he accounted for more point shares (10.9) than the seven higher-ranked D-men in the league. This means Josi not only prevented a significant amount of goals from one end, but actively contributed to most of the Preds' offense on the other.
By the end of the 2019-20 regular season, Josi lead all NHL defensemen in total point shares with a whopping 10.9 on the season. Point shares- a metric created by Hockey Reference's Justin Kubatko- account for the number of points a single player contributed to his team's final season point count (offense and defense combined). In the Preds' case, Josi accumulated almost 14 percent of the team's 78 points this season. Carlson immediately follows Josi in the D-man PS rankings with 10.7, but with the Capitals' 90 points on the season, Carlson accounts for about 12 percent of them. Hedman's 92-point Lightning team gives his 9.5 PS just 10.3 percent of the credit. Josi's 2019-20 PS total outranks those of Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane, Brad Marchand, and Hart Trophy nominee Nathan MacKinnon.
Josi's 12-game point streak that lasted from Dec. 16 to Jan. 9 of this season ranks as the second-longest among active NHL defensemen (Philadelphia's Shayne Gostisbehere had a 15-game point streak in 2015-16). All-time, Josi's 2019-20 streak is tied with seven other former players for the league's ninth-longest point streak by a defenseman. During his point streak, Josi put together a five-game goal streak that also ranks as the second-longest goal streak among active defensemen (Edmonton's Mike Green had an eight-game goal streak in 2008-09 with Washington that still stands as the longest all-time goal streak by NHL defensemen). Interestingly, Josi and Green's goal streaks account for the only 5+ game goal streaks by defensemen in the 21st century.
CARRYING THE TEAM
Above all else, Roman Josi's incredible 2019-20 season was done without a whole lot of support from his teammates. This year's Preds team will go down as a forgettable one, but the sheer fact that Josi was able to do what he did in a mediocre, truncated season is jaw-dropping. While Carlson and Hedman played for teams who finished at or near the top of their divisions, Josi's Preds finished fifth in the Central and just barely eked out a spot in the original 16-team playoff format. Carlson tallied the most individual points on the Capitals, but Alex Ovechkin trailed him by just eight points. Hedman, on the other hand, had three Tampa Bay forwards ahead of him in points. Josi out-tallied all Nashville players by at least 17 points; the second highest-scoring Predator this season was Forsberg, who accounted for 48 points compared to Josi's 65. Josi's success this season almost directly correlated with the team's success as a whole; during his 12-game point streak, the Preds went 6-4-2. At some point during the 2019-20 season, it's hard to imagine that Josi's back didn't break from having to carry the team. He averaged the highest per-game ice time of any Preds player and the third-highest ice time of all active NHL players this season (shown above), skating around 25 minutes and 47 seconds on a nightly basis. The Swiss Workhorse also now holds the franchise record for ATOI, skating an average of 24:49 per game in his nine years as a Pred. And, not that it should count any more in his credit, but Josi is the captain of his team whereas Carlson and Hedman serve as their teams' associate/alternate captains.
It's not a radical claim to say that Josi- above Carlson and Hedman- absolutely and unequivocally demonstrated throughout the 2019-20 season the greatest all-round ability in the defenseman position. Come September, there should be no shadow of a doubt in the minds of the Players Association
If Josi is to win the Norris Trophy, he would become the franchise's first skater to win an NHL Award. Pekka Rinne won the Vezina Trophy for the league's best regular season goalie in 2017-18, so there would also be two active crowned Preds in next year's lineup if Josi wins.