Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Comparing Quinn Hughes’ season to the NHL’s Norris Trophy finalists
9 months ago
This season’s Norris Trophy nominees have been announced, and Quinn Hughes’ name wasn’t among the three finalists. When the winner is announced in June, San Jose’s Erik Karlsson, Colorado’s Cale Makar, and New York’s Adam Fox will be the trio holding their bated breath, while Hughes sits on the sidelines.
But like a few other defenders, Hughes’ 2022-23 campaign probably warranted a closer look. The 23-year-old broke the Canucks single-season record for points by a defenceman for the second straight year, potting 76 points and keeping the blue line afloat in a season full of injuries and dismal team defensive performances.
Hughes is far from the only defenceman who probably deserved a better case for the Norris this year. Boston’s Hampus Lindholm and Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin also had incredible seasons on the blue line for their respective teams, and arguably at least one of them should’ve been a finalist.
So where does Hughes compare next to the actual three finalists?
First, let’s look at their scoring work. Putting the puck in the net is obviously the second most important part of being a good defenceman. But when it comes to Norris voting, point totals play a crucial role on ballots, and Karlsson made history.
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Karlsson’s 101 points gave him a 25-point cushion on the next two highest-scoring defenders, Hughes and Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey at 76 apiece. But like a lot of Karlsson’s teammates on the Sharks, preventing goals was a near-impossible task for him.
Meanwhile, Hughes kept within striking distance of Karlsson at 5v5, albeit with much better metrics in his own end.
|Even Strength Avg TOI
|On Ice Goals For
|On Ice Goals Against
|On Ice Goal Differential
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
On the surface, Fox’s +30 goal differential at even strength puts a lot of distance between him and Hughes’ +18. But Hughes was also on the ice for ten more goals for than Fox, despite playing on a less successful team.
But Hughes was a major asset defensively. Out of the seven Canucks defenders that played over 250 minutes at even-strength, Hughes had the lowest Scoring Chances Against per 60 at 26.25.
Hughes’ ability to prevent as many scoring chances as he created made him Rick Tocchet’s most valuable asset. Hughes took on a monstrous workload down the stretch, averaging nearly 30 minutes a night from late February on.
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Karlsson, Makar, and Fox all played heavy roles for their respective teams, but their skill at preventing chances wasn’t as strong. Karlsson’s SA/60 of 31.24, Makar’s 30.59, and Fox’s 27.88 were all higher marks than Hughes’, despite two of them playing less ice time.
Makar’s case is of particular interest. While he and Hughes posted extremely similar stat lines, Makar also played 18 fewer games than his former rival for the Calder Trophy. And while 66 points in 60 games gives Makar the edge in points per game, it also points to the crucial difference between each defender’s season; the quality of their linemates.
Makar spent the majority of his season on a pairing with Devon Toews, who also finished top 20 in NHL scoring among defenders with 50 points. Makar and Toews played over 750 minutes of even strength as a unit, finishing with an Expected Goals For percentage of 58.16.
On the flip side, Hughes’ most regular partner was Luke Schenn. The duo played 450 minutes, posting an xGF% of 43.28 before Schenn was traded to Toronto ahead of February’s trade deadline.
On the offensive side of the puck, Hughes was on an island all by himself. The second highest-scoring Canucks defender was Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s 22 points in 54 games, a whopping 54 less than Hughes.
With all of that in mind, Hughes is as irreplaceable on the Canucks blue line as any Norris finalist in recent memory, but his team missing the playoffs proved to make the crucial difference. The same thought process likely kept Dahlin off the final list, and if not for Erik Karlsson becoming the first defenceman of the millennium to crack the century mark in points, he undoubtedly would’ve met the same fate.
Whether or not a team achievement like reaching the postseason should play such a pivotal role in awarding an individual achievement is up for debate. But for now, Hughes shouldn’t worry about being left out of the final three this time around. There will be plenty more chances for the young face of the Canucks’ defence to earn a nomination down the road, and he’s just getting started.
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