The NHL handed its top defenseman award to a new name yet again last season. Colorado Avalanche rearguard Cale Makar was the 2021-22 James Norris Memorial Trophy recipient, marking the seventh year in a row a first-time winner took home the honor.
In 77 games, Makar put up an incredible 28 goals and 86 points from the blue line. His goal scoring ranked first among defensemen in the league while his point total was second only to Nashville stalwart Roman Josi’s 96. Makar’s +48 was second in the NHL for defensemen, behind teammate Devon Toews (+52).
When you go beyond the traditional numbers like goals, points and plus-minus, Makar was second in xGF% (57.82%) and fourth in CF% (56.92%) for defensemen who played at least 1,300 minutes at 5-on-5. Makar was a dominant defender in the NHL last season and deserved the Norris Trophy.
Can he repeat in 2022-23? So far, sportsbook Bovada has Makar as the favorite to be the top defenseman in the NHL next season at +200.
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NHL Norris Trophy Odds
Odds as of August 3 from Bovada
NHL Norris Trophy Odds: Why Is Makar The Favorite?
When you consider who might win the Norris Trophy, you have to think about which defenseman might score the most points. The Norris is awarded to the defenseman who has the greatest all-around ability, but points weigh heavily in the end-of-year voting.
Over his three-year NHL career, Makar is fourth in points among defensemen with 180. The only blue-liners to outscore him since 2019-20 are Roman Josi (2020 Norris winner) with 194 points, John Carlson with 190 points and Victor Hedman (2018 Norris winner) with 185 points.
Now consider that Makar plays for Colorado. Since 2019-20, the Avalanche are the second-best offensive team in the NHL, scoring 740 goals in 308 games. There hasn’t been a massive change to the Avalanche roster during the offseason to suggest their red-hot offense will slow down next season.
And Makar, who averages over 25 minutes of game time, is going to be a big part of that offense in 2022-23. That’s why he’s a favorite to be the first back-to-back Norris winner since Nicklas Lidstrom in 2008.
Makar’s Avalanche also have the best 2022-23 Stanley Cup odds at +400.
Best Long-Shot Bets
John Carlson (+3500)
Carlson has put up a ton of points from the blue line for years now. Since 2019-20, only Roman Josi has scored more than his 190 points. And since 2017-18, he ranks first in terms of points per game (0.91) among defensemen who have played at least 300 games. Take away that 300-game filter and only Makar has a higher point-per-game rate at 1.01 but Carlson played nearly double the number of games Makar did in that period.
It seems that the one knock against Carlson is that he doesn’t average the same amount of time on the penalty kill as some of the other top-pair defensemen in the league. But that argument doesn’t really hold much water. While Josi, for example, played over 200 minutes on the PK in ’21-22, Carlson still played over 130 PK minutes for a Capitals unit that ranked 11th in the NHL compared to Nashville’s 18th.
Carlson’s +3500 odds are quite long for the Norris – our odds calculator puts his implied odds of winning at 2.78 percent – but he’s got everything it takes to win it.
Aaron Ekblad (+1200)
Again, points matter when it comes to the Norris Trophy. Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad is going to put up numbers next season. His 57 points last year were well back of Makar’s 86 and Josi’s 96, but Ekblad only played 61 games. That’s a 77-point pace over a full season.
The Panthers were already an offensive juggernaut in 2021-22 and then they added 24-year-old forward Matthew Tkachuk, coming off a 108-point campaign with the Calgary Flames. If Ekblad can stay healthy during the 2022-23 season, he can easily put up enough production to be considered for the top defenseman trophy.
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