When Roman Josi took over as captain of the Nashville Predators in 2017, he did so as probably the 2nd best defenseman on the team. It would have been hard to put him over P.K. Subban at the time, since Subban was arguably the most impactful blueliner in the league, a reputation he solidified by becoming a Norris Trophy finalist in the 2017-18 season.
But then P.K. Subban was traded to New Jersey. Now the roles have flipped, and Roman Josi is clearly the best defenseman on the Nashville Predators and arguably one of the most impactful blueliners in the league.
In the past, Josi’s ability to compete for the Norris Trophy was outshined by guys like Subban, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Mark Giordano, and Drew Doughty. This year, Josi has probably his best chance yet at winning the NHL’s top prize for defensemen.
Josi’s point production is good
First and foremost, Roman Josi is currently in the top three in scoring among defensemen in the NHL. Scoring, and not defense, is probably the most important factor in being considered for the Norris Trophy. It’s sad, but true.
Right now Josi sits in third with 31 points, behind Dougie Hamilton (34 points) and John Carlson (45 points). He’s also 2nd in goals scored by defensemen with 11, again behind Hamilton and Carlson, who each have 12.
The key here is that Josi is in the top three, not necessarily that he’s not in first. In order to get a shot at the Norris, you’ve got to at least be in the conversation. You won’t be in the conversation if you aren’t putting points up on offense.
While Josi can probably surpass or equal Hamilton’s point total by the end of the season, it’s unlikely he will pass Carlson, who already has a huge lead. And with Carlson playing on an elite offense in Washington, Josi probably has no chance.
But again, as long as he stays in the conversation, he’s got a chance.
Josi’s defense is good enough
Look, here’s the truth: the Norris Trophy isn’t really about how good a defenseman is in their own zone. If it were, I doubt most people would even know who to pick for the award.
Defensive metrics are hard to measure and a lot of it depends on factors beyond an individual defenseman’s control. Things like deployment, teammates, opponent skill, team defensive structure, the team’s offensive ability to maintain possession. It can get in the realm of subjectivity very quickly.
Side note, this is exactly why the Norris winners are almost always great offensive defensemen. Objectivity is just easier than subjectivity and hockey writers are often lazy. It’s easy to count when goals and assists are scored. It’s not easy to count when they are denied.
On that note, when you dig into the underlying numbers, Josi has been quite good defensively this year. Out of 108 defensemen with at least 500 even strength minutes this season, here’s where Roman Josi ranks in some key defensive metrics (courtesy of Natural Stat Trick):
- shot attempts allowed per hour – 59th
- shots allowed per hour – 42nd
- expected goals allowed per hour – 4th
- scoring chances allowed per hour – 18th
- high danger chances allowed per hour – 2nd
While his shot attempts allowed stats are just average, he’s been excellent at denying high danger chances. Forcing attackers to the outside and giving his goalies a chance to make the save has been his forte. He’s always been great with his stick, poke checking dangerous stick handlers and forcing blocked shots. He ranks 40th in shots blocked per hour this year, which could be higher, but he’s blocking them at about the same rate that he’s allowing them.
Out of 108 defensemen with at least 500 even strength minutes this year, Roman Josi is:
-2nd in high danger chances allowed
-4th in expected goals allowed
He’s also 3rd in goals + assists at the other end.
Norris Trophy finalist season in the making? #Preds
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) December 20, 2019
Stats aren’t everything though. If Roman Josi is going to get a real shot at the Norris Trophy, he needs some good old fashioned hype.
This may be the one area of Roman Josi’s “game” that is weakest. When it comes to league hype around defensemen, Josi doesn’t garner much. Often the conversation around Josi is about how “underrated” or “quiet” he is, which by definition means he isn’t getting the same coverage than an Erik Karlsson or P.K. Subban gets.
In the league’s annual “Top 20 defensemen” segment they do every summer, Roman Josi came in at #8. That put him behind a few guys who have also never won Norris Trophies, including Morgan Rielly and Seth Jones, but ahead of a couple who have, including Drew Doughty and P.K. Subban. I believe this is the highest he’s ever been on these rankings, not that that means much.
In the end, Roman Josi is going to need a bit more hype from the league. How can he do that?
Well, more goals like this would be a good start:
Roman Josi with the #Preds goal of the year so far.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) December 20, 2019
Seriously, all it might take is a couple more highlight reel goals like the one in last night’s loss to Ottawa in order to get the attention. Like I said, the league likes scoring, even when considering who the trophy for best defensemen should go to.
Josi in his prime
At only 29 years old, Josi is in the coveted “under 30” demographic for NHL players. The prime age for an NHL defensemen isn’t an exact number, but of the last ten players to win the Norris Trophy, only four were over 30 years old. This doesn’t mean he couldn’t win the Norris at age 30 or 31, but he’s probably got a better shot now as opposed to later.
Entering this season, Josi had been keeping a steady pace of .68-.70 points per game in the NHL. He’s made a giant leap this season to .91 points per game. While he can probably maintain something close to that this year, it’s unlikely he will be able to put multiple seasons like this one together. Players have rebounds and often regress after successful seasons.
Speaking of which, Josi is shooting almost 9 percent this year, a couple ticks above his career average. Like the points per game metric, he can probably maintain that rate this season. But keeping that up over multiple seasons would be a real challenge.
Roman Josi is having a successful season at both ends of the ice, even if he’s riding a bit of a hot streak to do it, and he’s starting to get the attention he deserves. With just a bit more luck and bit more hype, this may be his best chance to win a Norris Trophy.
— Featured image via James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports —