Kent Tukeli | Fri 29/09/2017 - 05:29 EDT

NHL Norris Trophy Futures: Best Five Defenseman Bets for 2017/18

NHL Norris Trophy Futures: Best Five Defenseman Bets for 2017/18

2017/18 Norris Trophy Favorites

Brent Burns – San Jose Sharks

Burns became the focal point of the Sharks offense in 2015-16, earning 27 goals and 48 assists as San Jose made its way to the Stanley Cup finals. Voters snubbed Burns and Erik Karlsson that season, voting Drew Doughty as the Norris winner despite superior production.

Brent shrugged and followed up the snub by enjoying another career year, collecting 29 goals and 47 assists, winning his first Norris Trophy in the process. Burns earned 96 first place votes compared to runner-up Karlsson, who garnered 63 first place votes for the Norris.

Patrick Marleau left the Sharks in the offseason, subtracting one of the most consistent scorers in franchise history. San Jose will need Burns to have another superb offensive season to prevent a serious drop off in production. Good thing the Sharks signed him to a contract that pays him $64 million by the time 2024 arrives. Burns should be considered the top candidate to win the first back-to-back Norris nods since the legendary Niklas Lidstrom in 2008.

Victor Hedman – Tampa Bay Lightning

Now that Brent Burns won a Norris Trophy, Victor Hedman’s the best defenseman in the NHL to never win the award. Last season, Victor broke out with his best season ever, collecting 72 points and 16 goals in 79 games. This was nearly double his previous year’s total of 47 points.

One of the amazing aspects of Hedman’s performance was the fact that he stepped up in the absence of Steve Stamkos. Without players like Victor and Nikita Kucherov stepping up, the Lightning wouldn’t have challenged for a playoff spot late into the 2016-17 regular season.

Norris Trophy voters took note, with 106 of them selecting Victor as the third best defenseman of the year, behind Burns and Karlsson. Stamkos appears healthy again, ready to contribute at a high level. Teamed with Stammer and Kucherov, Hedman could end up setting new personal bests in all stat categories, which would certainly net him his first Norris.

Erik Karlsson – Ottawa Senators

“They took half of my ankle bone out and the part that is still there should be as normal as possible,” Erik Karlsson said, discussing his lower body injury. For most hockey players, this would be a devastating setback that would prevent a high level of performance. Karlsson is not like most humans, and will probably hit the ice flying for the Senators whenever he returns.

Erik can’t be considered the favorite to win because of this injury, but he’s still great enough to outproduce all other NHL defensemen even if he misses the first ten games. Karlsson notched 82 points in his incredible 2015-16 campaign, the first d-man to earn a point per game since Ray Bourque in 1996. Somehow, he finished second in Norris voting to Drew Doughty.

Erik already has a Norris notch on his belt, when he earned the award during the 2014-15 campaign. There’s a good chance that Karlsson’s odds to win the Norris have been reduced because he’s on the mend. If you’re going to bet on him winning the honor, place a wager while he’s still in recovery to maximize your potential winnings.

Roman Josi – Nashville Predators

Nashville knows how to develop talent. Roman Josi turned out to be so good that the Predators could trade away Shea Weber for P.K. Subban, solidifying their defense for years to come. Without Weber, the Predators marched all the way to the Stanley Cup finals last year, before the Penguins stopped their journey.

Last season was a down year in terms of offensive production, dropping from 61 points to 49 points. Part of this was due to injury. Josi missed only one game the previous two seasons, earning 116 points in 162 games between 2014 and 2016. Roman finished fifth in Norris voting for both of those seasons, and will return to the top ranks of NHL defenseman with an injury-free campaign.

This year, Ryan Ellis will start the season on the IR because of a knee injury, which will force Josi to take on more minutes than last year. Combined with P.K. Subban, Roman could enjoy a career year offensively while maintaining elite defensive coverage. He’s not the favorite to win - but he’s one of the best dark horse Norris candidates in the NHL.

Dustin Byfuglien – Winnipeg Jets

Big Buff might be one of the most underrated defensemen in the league, especially now that he’s toiling away in relative obscurity as a member of the Winnipeg Jets. Over his last seven seasons with the club, he’s earned 50 or more points five times. One of the main criticisms for Byfuglien centered on a lack of protection he provides his own netminder.

Not anymore. Dustin was +10 last season while maintaining elite offensive contribution, leading the NHL in ice time at 27:27 per game. This year, Dustin will have more help on the backline because his peers appear to enter the campaign with a clean bill of health.

The Jets also picked up Steve Mason to solidify their situation between the pipes, which could bolster the NHL’s opinion of Byfuglien’s ability to defend. Winnipeg forwards continue to morph into one of the deadlier groups in the league, which could boost Dustin’s production up into the 60-65 points range.

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