After coming off a career-defining year, winning his first Stanley Cup, and signing a new contract with the Washington Capitals that’s both lengthy and lucrative, the Caps’ top blueliner has another Stanley Cup Championship on his mind. But he’s also set a goal for himself that’s a little more personal.
It came as a surprise to many Capitals fans that John Carlson was not selected to compete in the 2018 NHL All Star Game back in January; but this was a disappointment Carlson was able to shake off. However, Carlson couldn’t help but feel that something was missing when we looked at all the Capitals hardware from the 2017-18 season.
The Stanley Cup was there, front and center. The Prince of Wales Trophy was alongside it; no Eastern Conference team can have Lord Stanley without first welcoming the Prince of Wales. Ovechkin’s Rocket Richard and Conn Smythe Trophies were on display, too. But what was missing? In the eyes of John Carlson, the top prize that every defenseman longs to be awarded was missing from the lot: the Norris Trophy.
While Carlson himself is quick to be humble, his fellow teammates are even quicker to talk him up.
Capsitals players and head coach Todd Reirden spoke about Carlson’s quest for the Norris Trophy with Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post (here).
“Definitely getting that top-three (finish) for the Norris (Trophy) is something that he and I have had some plans for over the years in terms of the expectations for him“, said Capitals Head Coach Todd Reirden, “He flies under the radar a little bit just with our overall team success sometimes. In the past when we’ve worked together (as Carlson’s position coach), we’ve used that as incentive and a chance to motivate and continue to push forward to get to where his ultimate goal is: to be at the top“.
Last year, during the voting process to select the nominees for the defensive-based award, Carlson placed 5th in the rankings. He and the 4th place finalist, Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets, missed their nominations by a small margin. Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning would go on to win the Norris Trophy for the 2017-18 season, beating the other two finalists, Drew Doughty and P.K. Subban of the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators, respectively.
“Last year, he got robbed for the Norris, I think. If you look around the league and look at all the defensemen, I mean, John Carlson is the guy that I would pick first. The work he does on a nightly basis, no one else does“, said Capitals Alternate Captain Nicklas Backstrom in defense of his teammate.
In the 2017-18 season, #74 in Red lead the NHL in defensemen scoring, and finished the season with a handsome 68 points. This year, the defenseman continues to impress, earning himself 6 tallies in the assists column, and lighting the lamp for himself 3 times, including a beautiful, fast shot off the faceoff last night against the New York Rangers. By that math, Carlson is averaging 1.5 points per game.
When the 2017-18 season began, the Capitals’ defense was the subject of a lot of speculation. Washington, having lost Karl Alzer and Kevin Shattenkirk in the offseason, was relying heavily on their remaining blueliners to take things up a notch, as they called up Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey from the Hershey Bears in an attempt to fill the void the summer’s departures.
Take nothing away from how the rookies did, nor from what Niskanen, Orlov, or Orpik did, but Carlson was the defender who stepped it up the most when the team needed him. Thankfully, the Caps acquired another diamond in the rough from the Chicago Blackhawks just before the trade deadline in Michal Kempny, and Carlson was relieved of the some of the pressure he’d been carrying since October.
Despite all this, Carlson remains calm, cool and collected when thinking about the future and what it holds for him and for the team. He understands that nothing in the NHL is handed out, and that he has to continue to earn everything he has, from his contract, to his first defensive pairing spot, to the possibility of taking home the Norris.
“If I score 150 goals this season, you can’t redo it. Realistically, you’ve already earned what you’ve gotten. Then it comes down to just pride in yourself to want to be the best version of me“.
And when asked directly about being in contention for the James Norris Trophy, Carlson remained as humble as he had ever been, “I don’t know. At the end of the day, I got what I wanted, (the Stanley Cup) That’s all that matters. . . . Things have been going pretty well so far, but it’s not about that for me. I just want to play good hockey and put people in position to succeed. I feel confident in my game, I know what I’m capable of, and I want to be the best that I can be“.
By: Chris Laroche