John Klingberg: Dallas Stars First Norris Trophy Candidate Since Sergei Zubov?
Sure, why not?
The chances of the Dallas Stars ever employing a defenseman as talented as Sergei Zubov are slim. He never won a Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL. He isn't in the Hall of Fame, and without that hardware, there is a not insignificant chance he never will be. Whether the voters fix that or not is irrelevant to the fact that Zubov was great.
I've resisted the "pressure" to compare John Klingberg to Zubov not because Klingberg isn't a very good player, but because that is a really lofty comparison. Zubov was one of the best defensemen of a generation full of great defensemen. Klingberg just played in his 80th NHL game. That's more pressure than anyone can reasonably be expected to handle.
But, then again, look at where Klingberg ranks after almost a full season in the NHL in Stars history. In his first 80 games Klingberg has 55 points. That point total has been eclipsed by Stars defenders only twice since the move to Dallas, both by Zubov.
It's also worth noting that in Zubov's top point producing season with the Stars he hit 71 points, a total only eclipsed by four Norris Trophy winners in the last ten years. Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy in 2006 when he scored 82 points, the highest by a defenseman since the lockout wiped out the 2005 season.
We're here to talk about Klingberg though. Bitterness over Zubov is for another time and another post. Klingberg is the most likely bet of anyone on the roster to have a chance of winning the Norris since Zubov retired. The question is this: how likely is it that Klingberg can win the Norris as soon as this season?
We need to know what it takes to win the Norris. It's going to an offensive player first and foremost. Jason Demers, god bless him, is never winning a Norris. Over the last ten years the average Norris winner has played in about 79 games when you take out the lockout shortened season. When you project the production of the last ten winners out to 82 games the average Norris winner scored 15 goals and assisted on 52 for a total of 67 points in 26 minutes per game.
If his first 80 games represented a full NHL season, Klingberg hasn't been on that level. His 53 points are fantastic, and no one is complaining about the 22 minutes per game he gives. If he put those numbers up over this full 82 game season it would be the lowest time on ice for a Norris winner if he won it, and he would have more points than only two of the ten previous winners. Those two were Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara, players with significant defensive reputations.
Of course, he's only 23. His first 80 games aren't his ceiling.
If the first 15 games of the 2016 season are any indication Klingberg is even better. It's early, but he's on pace tie hit the Lidstrom number from 2006 at a point per game. If Klingberg keeps this pace up, he's a 100 percent guarantee to win the Norris. It's still incredibly early though.
At even strength he's scoring at a higher rate, 1.5 points per 60 minutes this year compared to 1.27 last year. On the power play the production is ridiculously higher than last year as the Stars have really figured that unit out, at least early. We're talking 3.83 points per 60 minutes up to 7.61. 7.61 isn't an unprecedented number. Two defensemen topped it last year. We expect the Stars to have a good power play. If it continues humming the way it has, with Klingberg doing his thing, he's going to be among the league leaders in defenseman points.
We're almost a quarter of the way through this season and Klingberg is a legitimate threat for the Norris. If he picks up a couple more minutes per game and gets into the high 60's in points he is going to make a strong case to win the first Norris Trophy in Dallas Stars franchise history.
I'm still not comfortable putting him and Zubov in the same sentence, but if this production continues he's going to do something Zubov never could by bringing home some individual hardware. By the end of this season it could feel quite a bit more comfortable putting the two of them together.