The year is 2011.
Nashville finished the regular season in a three-way tie with the Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes at 99 points and would go on to face the Ducks as the fifth seed for their sixth trip to the playoffs in the previous seven years.
Winning their first-ever playoff series, the Predators advanced to face the Vancouver Canucks but would be dispatched in six games, who would go on to lose in the Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins. All the while, defenseman and team captain Shea Weber would be playing one of his best seasons in a Nashville Predators jersey.
While it wasn’t the greatest scoring season from a defenseman in franchise history to that point (Weber’s 48 points in 2010-11 ranked sixth-best), his overall dominant presence at the blue line, Thor-like shot, and ability to lead his team had made Weber one of the most formidable defensemen in the league — enough to warrant him being voted as one of the finalists for that season’s Norris Trophy award, along with Red Wings legend and then six-time winner of the award Nicklas Lidstrom and previous winner Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.
In one of the closest votes in the history of the award, Lidstrom edged Weber by nine votes (736-727) to take home his seventh and final Norris Trophy.
The woes wouldn’t end there for Weber and the Predators when it came to the Norris.
The very next season, Weber would come in second once more, but this time to offensive defenseman Erik Karlsson and by 12 votes (1069-1057) instead of nine.
Two years later, Weber would come in third to both Chara and Duncan Keith. Then fourth in 2014-15. Then 10th in 2015-16.
The Predators would have other players inch closer to winning the Norris, earning seven finishes in the top-11 or better between 2015 and 2019.
This franchise has been all over the map in producing some of the best defensemen in the league since arriving in 1998, but yet to have one named as the “Best in the NHL”.
Until Monday night.
With the remaining NHL Awards handed out today before Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, Predators defenseman and captain Roman Josi beat out both John Carlson of the Washington Capitals and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning to bring home his first, and the team’s first, Norris Trophy.
Josi’s been far-and-away one of the best in the league over the last handful of years as it is. It just seemed like he was due to finally take home the award.
While Carlson led the league in points by a defenseman, Josi wasn’t too far behind in the same category holding down second place — while dominating plenty of other statistics.
According to NaturalStatTrick, Josi finished the season sixth in CorsiFor percentage at even-strength, but first in individual expected goals with a dominant 7.43 (only Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore had an ixG over seven this season along with Josi).
Not only that, but he registered 128 individual scoring chances forced while on the ice, 33 more than the next closest player, and left the Predators with a noticeable gap in even-strength offense when not on the ice — changing the team expected goals from 3.01 to 2.49 (a 20 percent negative differential for a chance to score), while Carlson’s absence changed the same for Washington from 2.76 to 2.68.
Outside of being an incredibly pivotal part of the scoring machine for the Predators, do you need more? Josi finished the year with the franchise record for most points by a defenseman, most assists in a season by a defenseman, and eighth-best scoring season in Predators history.
There are plenty of ways you can squeeze this orange, but scanning the picture as a whole clearly places Josi as the best defenseman in the league when compared to the two other finalists.
And the voters agreed.
Coming off two seasons removed from the last Predators player to win a major award, Pekka Rinne and his Vezina Trophy in 2018, it was fitting that the second-nicest player on the team — because listen, no one is nicer than Rinne — would finally get his hands on a trophy of his own.
But not only that, it finally paints Josi in his own light, one where he’s not eternally under the shadow of Weber or simply regarded as “one of the best” in the league.
That’s not a slight at Weber at all, but a fair truth in the sense that the former captain had carried that “greatest defenseman in franchise history” tag line. Even with Josi exploding forth for the Predators since the Weber/Subban trade.
Josi is the best defenseman in the league. Those of us who have watched him for years knew it. Thankfully, it seems the rest of the world is finally taking notice.