After losing a number of key defensemen last summer through various avenues, the pressure was on the Capitals’ top defensemen in Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, and John Carlson to elevate their play in 2017-18 to compensate for the notable losses of Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt. Carlson, in particular was expected to rebound from a couple of injury-affected seasons. Through 64 games, Carlson’s performance deserves some high recognition.
Through the aforementioned 64 games (of which he’s played in all of them), Carlson has recorded 50 points (11 goals, 39 assists), and is just five points away from passing his career-high of 55, which came three seasons ago in 2014-15 when he scored a career-high 12 goals and added a career-high 42 assists. With 18 games left to play in the 2017-18 regular season, it’s not implausible to think Carlson will surpass those numbers. And considering the season he has had, it deserves some Norris Trophy recognition.
The Norris Trophy is an award given annually to the NHL’s best defenseman. Only one defenseman in Capitals’ history has ever taken home the award: franchise icon Rod Langway in 1983 and 1984. The closest any defenseman since Langway has come to winning is when longtime blueliner Mike Green finished second in voting in 2009 and 2010. After his 55-point season in 2014-15, Carlson finished 10th in Norris Trophy voting, and given that he is likely surpass those numbers this season, his performance deserves some Norris nods. Carlson currently ranks third (although he is tied with Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere with 50, he has the advantage as he has one more goal than Gostisbehere) in scoring amongst defensemen, seventh in goals, and fourth in assists. What should give Carlson a good chance to at least finish in the Top 3 in voting, is that he plays a strong, two-way game. As good as he is offensively, Carlson’s defensive game is just as strong, which makes him arguably, the Capitals’ top defenseman.
While his statistics and all-around play make him a household name in the DMV, Carlson has never received the national attention that other high-scoring blueliners such as P.K. Subban and Erik Karlsson get, which could provide a challenge to a first-place finish. Nevertheless, it would be hard-pressed to find anyone who could argue that Carlson’s season has not been impressive, especially considering the workload that he has had to carry (he averages 25:14 of ice time and 27.1 shifts per game this season). While it may be premature to be discussing awards, there’s no denying that, were it not for Carlson’s strong play this season, the Caps’ defensive unit would be in a less ideal position than it currently is in.
By Michael Fleetwood