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Norris Trophy Rankings: A 2-horse race between Makar, Hughes

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Welcome to the third edition of theScore's 2023-24 Norris Trophy Rankings and the second in-season version. New rankings will be published once a month throughout the campaign.

These rankings focus on analytics and the all-around ability of defensemen rather than only points or reputation.

xGF% = five-on-five expected goals for percentage

5. Jonas Brodin, Wild

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23 1 8 24:20 58.5

Brodin has never been dynamic offensively, and this season hasn't been any different. He's on pace for 32 points - which would be a career high. However, the Norris hasn't been handed out to someone with 32 points or less since Rod Langway in 1983.

So while Brodin may not be a serious competitor on this list, he'll be more than worthy of some downballot love if he keeps up his superb defensive play - the main reason for his appearance. Among defensemen with at least 300 five-on-five minutes, Brodin ranks first in expected goals against per 60 minutes, 10th in xGF%, and fourth in defensive goals above replacement.

Brodin isn't known for his physicality, and he's only racked up six hits. But his positioning is sound and he's among the best in the league at using his stick to break up plays. He ranks 14th with 60 blocked shots.

4. Erik Karlsson, Penguins

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25 6 13 24:26 56.3

Karlsson isn't on pace to match his historic point production from last season, but he's arguably playing a better all-around game. It helps that he has an improved supporting cast with the Penguins, but Karlsson's xGF% is nearly 6 percentage points higher than it was a year ago. He's also been far stingier defensively, as he's been on the ice for 30 goals for compared to 16 goals against at five-on-five.

The three-time and reigning Norris Trophy winner hasn't just been a power-play savant, either. It's been the opposite, in fact: 15 of his 19 points have come at five-on-five. He's partly responsible for Pittsburgh's woeful 30th-ranked power play, which is operating at just 9.9%, but Karlsson could climb this list if that starts clicking.

3. Roman Josi, Predators

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25 5 13 24:55 57.6

Josi is similar to Karlsson in that they're both former Norris winners, 33 years old and driving five-on-five play at a high rate - even if their point totals pale in comparison to those of the top two on this list.

The edge goes to Josi because he's doing more with less around him. While Karlsson is surrounded by future Hall of Famers, Josi, along with forwards Filip Forsberg and Ryan O'Reilly, is tasked with carrying the Predators. Josi is also the clear No. 1 defenseman in Nashville. In Pittsburgh, Kris Letang helps shoulder the burden.

Josi leads all defensemen with 94 shots this season, ranks 13th in xGF%, and 17th in xGA/60.

2. Quinn Hughes, Canucks

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26 9 27 24:51 49.0

Hughes is still a beast offensively, racking up 16 points in 14 games since these rankings' last edition on Nov. 9. But his underlying numbers are starting to take a downturn. His xGF% over the last month is 46.1% despite the Canucks' xGF% being 52.6% in the same span. That means that, of late, Vancouver has statistically been better when Hughes is off the ice.

Of course, Hughes leads the team in ice time and soaks up difficult matchups. Those numbers shouldn't be taken as gospel, but he clearly isn't driving play at five-on-five at the same rate he was earlier in the campaign.

So, while he falls out of the top spot, Hughes doesn't deserve to drop any further. Overall, he's been a catalyst to one of the most surprising teams in the 2023-24 season. He's still tied for first among all skaters in assists, tied for fourth in points, and leads all defensemen with 9.4 goals above replacement.

1. Cale Makar, Avalanche

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23 7 27 24:28 57.3

Makar has missed Colorado's last two games with a lower-body injury, but he was a man on a mission before he went down. He's returning Thursday, too.

The 2022 Norris winner has produced 20 points in 12 games with a 59.9 xGF% since the last edition of these rankings. Makar has been on the ice for 15 goals for and only six against at five-on-five in that span.

Makar is also tied for his team's lead in points - an impressive accomplishment on a roster featuring Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. The blue-liner is seventh among NHL skaters in points per game, and first among defensemen.

While Makar and Hughes are similarly elite offensively, Makar gets the nod because of his improved play over the last month and his superior underlying results. There's a serious case to be made that Makar should be the front-runner for the Hart Trophy, which hasn't been won by a defenseman since Chris Pronger achieved the feat in 2000.

(Analytics source: Evolving-Hockey)

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