Last season, Quinn Hughes tied for second in scoring by a defenceman with 76 points in 78 games.
It was a distant second, to be sure, as Erik Karlsson became the first defenceman in over three decades to put up 100+ points in a season, but it was still second.
It’s surprising, then, that Hughes finished ninth in voting for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, an award that is given to the best “all-around” defenceman in the NHL but often defaults to the defencemen that have put up the most points.
In the last decade, just six defencemen put up more points in a single season than Hughes’ 76 points and he also had a plus-20 goal differential at 5-on-5 on a Canucks team that was minus-43 at 5-on-5 when Hughes wasn’t on the ice.
In other words, it was a pretty remarkable season from Hughes and he deserved better than a ninth-place finish in Norris voting. And oddsmakers seem to agree.
Hughes has the fourth-best odds to win the Norris
The latest odds from MGM Ontario give Hughes 10-to-1 odds to win the Norris — 11.00 in decimal odds. Those are the fourth-best odds behind only Cale Makar, Adam Fox, and Rasmus Dahlin, two of whom have already won a Norris, and ahead of Miro Heiskanen and Charlie McAvoy.
That also means all of those defencemen have better odds of winning the Norris than the defending Norris winner, Karlsson, who has 16-to-1 odds of winning the award.
Honestly, that’s pretty understandable. The chances of the 33-year-old Karlsson repeating his 101-point season are slim, especially after his trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he likely won’t get quite as much ice time as he did with the San Jose Sharks. If he can’t pile up enough points to outweigh his defensive deficiencies in the minds of awards voters, he won’t be taking home the fourth Norris of his career.
That opens things up for Makar or Fox to win another Norris or for Dahlin or Hughes to win their first.
Makar is the favourite to win the award with 9-to-4 odds — 3.25 in decimal odds — which makes a lot of sense. The only reason he didn’t finish higher in Norris voting last season is because he missed 22 games due to injury.
In order for Hughes to beat out Makar for the Norris, he’ll need to keep pace with the Colorado Avalanche defenceman in scoring and continue to progress defensively. The more structured system of Rick Tocchet — and a bounceback season from Thatcher Demko — would help, but will the points still come in a more defensive structure?
Hughes' path to the Norris Trophy
Hughes’ odds work out to approximately a 9% chance of winning the Norris. That sounds about right considering what would have to go right next season in order for him to take home the trophy.
The Canucks would have to be a better team overall, as that would help both to get Hughes more attention around the league and to help him get more points. Sure, a phenomenal individual effort, such as Karlsson’s 101 points for the woeful San Jose Sharks, can overcome a poor team performance, but a 100-point season seems unlikely for Hughes.
The oddsmakers don’t see a strong season coming from the Canucks, with an over/under set at 88.5 points — better than last season but still well short of the likely playoff bar in the Western Conference. The Canucks are obviously hoping and expecting a much better season than that.
The Canucks’ power play, which is a major source of points for Hughes, would need to avoid taking a step backward with the departure of Bo Horvat, who played a key role in the bumper. That means someone like Brock Boeser, Ilya Mikheyev, or Anthony Beauvillier finding some chemistry with the first power play unit to keep the good times rolling.
Hughes would also need a steady defence partner to help elevate Hughes’ game at 5-on-5. The right partner ought to free Hughes up to be more daring offensively while also helping him perform better defensively to quiet the criticisms of his defensive game, as unfair as they might be.
“I'm playing a lot of minutes, and defensively, I've been trusted against the top lines,” said Hughes at one point last season. “Anyone that says I'm a defensive liability, frankly, doesn't watch me play at this point.”
Along with all of those things going right, Hughes’ competition — particularly Makar, Fox, and Dahlin — would need to falter. Even if Hughes gets more respect defensively, his path to winning the Norris comes from his offensive ability.
Makar is the biggest threat to take the shine off Hughes, as he’s scored at better than a point-per-game in his career, with 66 points in 60 games last season. If he does it again next season and stays healthy, Hughes will have his work cut out for him.
Other Canucks odds for the 2023-24 season
Hughes isn’t the only Canuck to show up in the sportsbooks, of course. He’s not even the only Canuck listed for the Norris, as Filip Hronek is tied for the 27th-best odds at 100-to-1.
Elias Pettersson currently has the 14th-best odds to win the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player in the NHL, with 50-to-1 odds. Hughes shows up in those odds as well at 150-to-1, while J.T. Miller, Andrei Kuzmenko, and Thatcher Demko each have 250-to-1 odds to win the award.
Demko has the tenth-best odds of winning the Vezina Trophy at 25-to-1 despite his struggles last season, while Pettersson has 66-to-1 odds to win the Rocket Richard.
The oddest odds are for Rick Tocchet, who is being given 25-to-1 odds to win the Jack Adams for coach of the year, which ranks 16th among the 32 coaches in the NHL. That seems low, given that the Canucks have a good chance of making a big improvement over last season and there’s nothing the Jack Adams voters like more than a rags-to-riches story.
To be clear, PITB does not endorse gambling on hockey, which is notorious for being unpredictable. At the same time, oddsmakers have a vested interest in accuracy when making their odds and invest a lot of money in getting them right, so it’s interesting to look at what those odds predict.