Suspended season puts John Carlson's year for the ages in jeopardy

Finalist for the Norris Trophy isn't exactly and inclusive society, but this season John Carlson was making his way into it. It would be a shame if he couldn't see it through and take home his first Norris.
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When people are getting sick and dying and everyone is confined to home, it might be difficult to sympathize with a guy who could be robbed of the first, and maybe only, Norris Trophy of his NHL career. And John Carlson seems to get that. But you’ve got to feel for the guy.

Even though Carlson has been a truly elite offensive producer from the blueline for the past couple of seasons, the highest he has ever finished in Norris Trophy voting is fourth, and that was last season when he scored 70 points. But this year was shaping up to be Carlson’s year. He was leading all defensemen in points, posting career highs and entering some very exclusive territory with 15 goals and 75 points in 69 games. While Carlson’s totals have actually gone up as he’s approached 30, you just never know if you’re ever going to be in that group again.

For a couple of reasons. Nick Lidstrom won his first Norris at the age of 30, then went on to win six more of them. But he’s a freak. So is Zdeno Chara, who won his first and only Norris at 31. Just last season, Mark Giordano won the Norris for the first time at the age of 35, and you’d have to think that was his one shot. And when you consider that over the past five years there have been 15 Norris finalists named and all of those spots have been occupied by only six players – Giordano, Victor Hedman, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and P.K. Subban – it’s not an award that is very friendly to interlopers.

The NHL hasn’t made any decisions on whether or not it will hand out its individual awards if this season is cancelled, largely because it is clinging to the hope that it can somehow finish the 2019-20 season with integrity. But really, that’s probably not going to be the NHL’s call and there is a very real chance we’ve seen the last of hockey for this season. And that would be a shame for guys such as Carlson, who were putting together the kinds of seasons that get recognized in the annals of NHL history.

“I’m just worried about playing at this point,” Carlson said on a videoconference Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t want to be too optimistic of coming back quickly and finishing the regular season. All I’m trying to do is think about keeping myself in the best shape I can with the circumstances and whatever the rest of the season holds, I’ll be worried about that when I lace the skates up again.”

Going into the break, Carlson was on an 89-point pace and if he had achieved that total, he would have been only the ninth defenseman in NHL history to score that many points and it would have represented the highest total since Raymond Bourque scored 91 points in 1993-94. And with 13 games remaining, Carlson was only six points behind the franchise record for points by a defenseman, set by Larry Murphy in 1980-81. So that gives you an idea of what kind of season he was having. Even if you remove the Norris Trophy consideration and the numbers, it had to be frustrating to have a season like that one stopped in its tracks.

The Capitals, meanwhile, well, they were one of the league’s most confounding teams this season. At times they looked like the team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago and at other times they looked lost and confused. Even though they were in first place in the Metropolitan Division going into the break, they were just one point ahead of the surging Philadelphia Flyers and four ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Had they not finished first in the Metropolitan, it would have marked the first time in five seasons they were not the division’s best regular-season team.

“As a team, I don’t think we were where we needed to be, probably the last 30 games or so,” Carlson said. “So that was definitely a big talking point for us coming down the stretch – trying to find the right balance. The way we play and our systems, I felt like they were starting to come back.”

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