John Carlson is probably going to win the Norris trophy as the league’s best defender, which is pretty bananas if you think about it. So let’s think about it.
|24.6||time on ice per game|
|51.4||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|51.0||5-on-5 expected goal percentage, adjusted|
|52.0||5-on-5 goal percentage, adjusted|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows lots of information for the player over the season. A short description of each chart:
First, in earnest, here is the case for John Carlson to win the Norris trophy. He racked up 75 points (15 goals, 60 assists), putting him in top-10 company in the last 15 seasons, despite playing only 69 games:
That’s a fantastic output, anyway you slice it, and here is how I slice it:
That’s 17 assists on the power play, of which a bunch (I guess, I’m not looking them all up, update: dammit, I just did, it was just six) were assists to Alex Ovechkin, presumably on the Ovi Spot. Surprisingly (to me), that’s actually a dip for Carlson-to-Ovi — he was in double digits in each of the prior two seasons. So being setup man for the world’s best shooter on the power play isn’t just a cheat code to get Carlson a trophy; it’s probably not playing a big role overall.
I’m actually kind of stunned by this. Once I reassemble my brain, I’ll return to my prior point: Carlson’s case for the Norris is based on offense. It has to be, because…
Woof, via hockeyviz. The big red blob in front of Washington’s net at bottom means that’s where opponents get a ton of action, relative to the rest of the league.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t do a good job putting this in context. Below are opponent event rates per hour, color-coded, when every defender is on the ice. It goes from worst at top (podcaster Tony DeAngelo) to best, with Carlson highlighted.
That’s not great. Opponents kind of have a feeding frenzy when he’s on the ice. But then again, Carlson’s overall trend is going in the right direction; his team’s on-ice shot-attempt percentage has improved from 47.8 percent in the Cup year to solidly in the black now with 51.4.
Those percentages are all about trade-offs, and Carlson’s really really good at making split-second risk assessments to generate quality offense. He has a great shot, lots of volume, tremendous support from his on-ice partners, and a heaping load of opportunity (Carlson clocked 1700 minutes this season, seventh most among defenders). In order to get a Norris nod, Carlson didn’t even need friendly shooting percentages — his individual and on-ice shooting during the power-play were both down, and his teammates’ shooting during five-on-five play were down as well.
As much as I want to kvetch about his defense, it’s important that we keep it in context. Carlson’s offense more than makes up for his defensive shortcomings. Evolving Hockey’s Goals Above Replacement model puts Carlson down 4.3 on defense (a bottom-10 number), but up 10.9 on offense (a top-10 number). So, yeah, I worry about Carlson’s play without the puck, but that’s a me problem, not a John problem. For now.
Carlson will get paid $8 million a year for the next seven seasons, the entirety of which he will be in his thirties. Carlson’s offensive profile will eventually change, and so too must his risk-assessment intuition. The returns will diminish, but only John can decide how fast. In the meantime, I will just consider his imminent hardware as vindication of Mike Green’s snubs from a decade back.
What will the world look like when Carlson’s contract is up? Jetpacks or? How should Carlson change his game next season? Should he at all, or just hope for a repeat? I mean, with some better shooting percentages and a full season, he could have hit 90 points.
Read more: Japers Rink
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