2023 Oil Rig Awards: James Norris Memorial Trophy

In the lead-up to the 2023 NHL Awards in Nashville on June 26, we here at The Oil Rig have put together our own version of the program. We voted on each of the awards, the Jack Adams Award, Lady Byng Trophy, Selke Trophy, Norris Trophy, Calder Trophy, Vezina Trophy, and Hart Trophy, to give out our own accolades.

The James Norris Memorial Trophy is awarded to the defender judged to be the best all-around player in the position throughout the regular season. In the past, this award has received criticism for defaulting to the best offensive defender, even if they may not be the greatest on the defensive side of things—an easy bias as offensive stats are easier to measure than defensive prowess.

With some impressive offensive seasons from defenders in the 2022–23 season, will that side of the game prevail this season?

The Oil Rig’s 2023 Norris Trophy is awarded to…

Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks

Erik Karlsson has had an incredible bounceback season late in his career to take home what would be his third Norris Trophy, his first since 2014–15. He set a new career high in points with 101, becoming the first defender to hit the 100-point threshold since Brian Leetch in 1991–92 and the sixth to do so in NHL history.

Even if the defensive side of his game is lacking at times, the offensive power that he possesses more than makes up for it, as his ability with the puck has shown to be a major contributor to his team’s success. Something that made him a potential trade target at the past deadline.

Karlsson recorded a point on 43.2% of his team’s goals this season, an absurd percentage for a defender. To show just how much of a positive impact he had on his team’s performance, when he was on the ice, the Sharks had a 54.8 expected goals percentage. When he was not on the ice, that dropped to 41.9%. The 12.9 relative expected goals percentage in all situations (according to Moneypuck) was good for sixth in the league amongst defenders with a minimum of 725 minutes played this past season.

When Karlsson was on the ice, the Sharks could reasonably compete. But without him, the team’s performance was more in line with their 29th place finish.


Josh Morrissey, Winnipeg Jets

For the first time in his career, Josh Morrissey is receiving consideration for the Norris Trophy. And for good reason. He was magnificent on both sides of the puck through the regular season and was a key driver of team success from start to finish. When he got injured in the playoffs, it was one key factor why the Winnipeg Jets could not get anything going in the latter stages of their first round loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Morrissey doubled his previous career highs in assists (60) and points (76), while also setting a career high in goals (16) and time on ice per game (24:14). The Jets have had a few seasons of question marks on defence as they struggled to find legit top pairing players, especially someone who could play in a number one role. With his breakout this season, it appears as if Winnipeg has found their guy.

Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

Miro Heiskanen has slowly and quietly developed into one of the best all-around defenders in the league. His elite skating ability and footwork, incredible defensive IQ and situational awareness, and ability to see and control the play have placed him in borderline Norris contention for the past few seasons.

This year marked the breakout for the Dallas Stars’ top defender. One of the things holding him back from being an all-around defender was offence. He was never bad, averaging about 30-35 points per season, but he never stood out offensively. With a career high 62 assists and 73 points, Heiskanen has catapulted himself into being a candidate for the Norris Trophy.

He is one of the most trustworthy players in all situations around the league, and his durability and dedication to his craft help him play an incredible amount of minutes. In the regular season, he averaged 25:29 in ice time per game, good for sixth amongst defenders.

Expect Heiskanen to be a regular name in the nominees for the Norris Trophy moving forward.

Award ballots

Vote Tallies: 1st Place = 10, 2nd place = 7, 3rd place = 5, 4th place = 3, 5th place = 1

The Oil Rig’s writer takes

Sean Laycock: I typically avoid defaulting to the leading defensive scorer for the Norris Trophy, but this season Karlsson just had is enough to give him my vote for the award. Morrissey and Heiskanen had equally impressive seasons and are very deserving of recognition here too. Rasmus Dahlin had a bit of a breakout season himself, and started to show why he was the top pick a few years back. While a defensive defender like Jared Spurgeon, who gets constantly overlooked for how effective he is, needs a shoutout with my final vote.

Ray Boulette: Again, the Eastern media will do anything to not nominate an Oiler for an award, just like the COVID-19 shortened 2020–21 season when Tyson Barrie led all defenders in scoring but was not even nominated for the Norris. This is why I have demoted Karlsson even though he scored 101 points, he was also -26 on a team that only won 22 games. Apparently we can’t give the Hart to Connor McDavid when he leads the league in scoring and misses the playoffs but we can give the Norris to Karlsson when he does the same thing as a defenceman?

The lack of consistency with the NHL awards is annoying. I flipped a coin between Adam Fox and Dougie Hamilton, and of course I added Darnell Nurse in the fifth spot because I am his #1 fan and will mock anyone as a fairweather fan who suggests we trade him.

Gregory Babinski: While there were many worthy of a vote, I went with Quinn Hughes. The roller coaster of mediocrity that has defined the Vancouver Canucks during Hughes’ time hasn’t given Hughes the platform that some of the other defencemen on this list. Hughes deserves some recognition for his strong season on both sides of the puck. I could not, in good conscience, vote for Morrissey over Hughes, for example.

Unfortunately, given the precedent of the Norris Trophy defensive defenders are underrepresented. While the NHL does recognize an all defensive team, perhaps not enough is made in this respect. Jaccob Slavin, Spurgeon, and Hampus Lindholm, among others, certainly deserve credit here.

Michelle Nguyen: Karlsson is absolutely deserving of the Norris this year. The Norris is given to the defenceman with “the greatest all-round ability” and he’s shown it on a struggling Sharks team. Morrissey gets my second place vote simply for the fact of Josh “Norris-sey”. He had a career best year with the Jets before their eventual elimination by the Stanley Cup Champs.

Sean Laycock

Sean is a stubborn, lifelong Oilers fan who lives by the motto "There is always next year".

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