Year one was worthy of the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL's top rookie. In year two, Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche is in the running for the league’s top defenseman.
As his team prepares to fight to extend its season, Makar, 22, was named a Norris Trophy finalist, awarded “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”
The honor is on the back burner right now.
“To be completely honest with you, it’s not something that’s at the forefront of my mind right now,” Makar said Wednesday, the day before Game 6 of the second round. Colorado trails the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in the series.
“I’ll worry about that when we get things finished up here.”
The top three vote-getters were gathered from ballots submitted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association at the end of the regular season. The winner will be revealed during the next two rounds.
The three finalists are in different situations. Adam Fox of the New York Rangers is a month into the offseason. He is also a second-year NHL player and finished first among defensemen in assists (42) through 55 games.
Victor Hedman and the Tampa Bay Lightning finished off the Carolina Hurricanes in five games Tuesday and are on to the Stanley Cup semifinals against the New York Islanders. He was tied for third in points from defensemen during the regular season (45 through 54 games). Hedman is a finalist for the fifth straight season and won in 2018.
Against the Golden Knights, Makar can build on a regular season in which he averaged exactly a point per game (eight goals, 36 assists in 44 games) and was plus-17. He would become the first Norris Trophy winner in franchise history.
“I think the jump in his game has been on the defensive side of it,” coach Jared Bednar said. “Always been able to produce on the offensive side, drive the play from the back end, whether he’s leading the rush or joining it.
“He’s a more consistent defender and a heavier defender for us this year. He’s starting to play in more situations, including a little bit of time on the penalty kill if his minutes aren’t that high.”