B/R NHL Roundtable: Cale Makar or Adam Fox: Take Your Pick

Bleacher Report NHL StaffFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2022

B/R NHL Roundtable: Cale Makar or Adam Fox: Take Your Pick

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    They're the two of the best young defensemen in the NHL today and will undoubtedly battle each other for the Norris Trophythe NHL's best defenseman awardin years to come.

    Drafted fourth overall in the 2017 NHL draft, Cale Makar has been a star on the Avalanche's blue line ever since he made his debut during the 2019 NHL playoffs. He won the Hobey Baker Awardthe NCAA's version of the Heisman Trophy for hockeyin 2019 and is currently leading all NHL defensemen in goals scored.

    Adam Fox entered the NHL with considerably less fanfare than Makar did. Although he was drafted 66th overall in the 2016 draft by the Flames, Fox ended up with his boyhood team, the Rangers, after being dealt to the Blueshirts in 2019. Despite being listed at 5'11", Fox has defied his original expectations and went on to capture the Norris Trophy last season after posting 47 points in 55 games. 

    So, if you were an NHL GM, who would you take: Makar or Fox?

    Our B/R NHL writing staff got thinking and debated the topics.

    Got your own opinion on the subject? Send us your thoughts by commenting below.

Not an Easy Choice, but Adam Fox Is Just a Cut Above

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    This wasn't an easy choice. Adam Fox of the New York Rangers and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche herald the arrival of the new wave of superstar defensemen. They wasted no time becoming elite puck-moving blueliners since their NHL debuts in 2019-20, quickly becoming core players for their respective clubs. At 23, their best seasons lay ahead of them.

    Fox, however, gets the nod over Makar as the better defenseman. Key word here being "defense."

    It's not just because Fox is the reigning James Norris Memorial Trophy winner, earning the honor over Makar. The Avs blueliner stands a great chance of taking home that award this season given his stellar play thus far.

    Makar is the better of the two offensively, holding a league-leading 1.16 points-per-game among defensemen with at least 20 games played this season. He also has a better average (0.98) than Fox (0.78) over the course of their careers to date. Makar also has better puck-possession stats than his Rangers counterpart.

    Defensively, however, Fox holds the advantage.

    Both log roughly the same amount of ice time, with Fox averaging a team-leading 24 minutes, 39 seconds per game to Makar's 24 minutes, 34 seconds. While Makar leads the Avalanche in power-play ice time (4:16), he logs just 51 seconds of shorthanded time. Like his Avs counterpart, Fox leads his club in ice time with the man advantage (3:17), but he also averages two minutes and 13 seconds of shorthanded time per game.

    Fox leads the Rangers in takeaways with 35 and second in blocked shots with 79, while Makar is sixth on the Avalanche with 15 takeaways and third with 40 blocked shots. The young Blueshirt is also more durable, appearing in 164 regular-season games to Makar's 133.

    That's not to suggest Makar is lousy in his own zone. His strong puck possession makes it difficult for opponents to generate scoring opportunities. However, when it comes to overall performance, Fox is the better defenseman. It's why he beat out Makar in the Norris voting last year to become only the second sophomore since Bobby Orr to win the Norris. His all-around abilities could help him win it again this season.

    - Lyle Richardson

Want More Skill? Take Cale Makar

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    If you happen upon an NHL coach or executive who suggests he'd eschew both Makar and Fox rather than have to choose between them, guess what?

    He's lying.

    They're both remarkable young players.

    They're both the envy of the remaining 30 general managers in the league, or at least the ones who don't have guys like Victor Hedman, Dougie Hamilton or Charlie McAvoy under contract.

    So, any assertion that one is so much better than the other is ridiculous.

    That said, if I'm starting a team tomorrow and I can pick first between them, I'll take Makar.

    Why?

    Because he's that good at what he does.

    Is he as traditional a defenseman as Fox? Absolutely not.

    The esteemed Mr. Richardson pointed out all the statistics that illustrate why the reigning Norris Trophy winner ought to be your guy if that's what you're looking for in a blueliner.

    But I'm an old Edmonton Oilers fan, and I still have fond memories of their early glory years when the greatest blue-line playmaker since Bobby Orr—Paul Coffey—posted video-game numbers while riding shotgun to Gretzky, Messier and Kurri on the way to three Stanley Cups.

    He won another alongside Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr a few years later in Pittsburgh.

    Though Makar isn't likely to score 48 goals or produce 138 points (Coffey's ridiculous 1985-86 numbers) anytime soon, he's a similarly important cog in a Colorado Avalanche machine that was scoring a league-best 4.25 goals per game heading into Tuesday night.

    Players with those sorts of skill sets don't come along often.

    And with all due respect to Fox, it'd be easier to go out and find someone approaching his acumen to plug in alongside Makar than it would be to keep Fox and try to get hold of a Makar clone.

    So gimme No. 8 and I'll take my chances.

    - Lyle Fitzsimmons

Is It Too Much to Ask for Both?

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    Michael Martin/Getty Images

    Here's the thing about players like Makar and Fox: They change the way the game is played. Not for everyone, of course. We aren't going to see bubble NHLers all of a sudden start busting out spin-o-ramas at the blue line to evade pressure on the regular.

    But for higher-end defensemen—especially young ones—seeing what both Fox and Makar can do with the puck nightly will flip some switches. Every time one of these kinds of impact skaters makes a highlight-reel play, someone somewhere thinks to themselves, "Hey, I can do that!"

    Most of them probably can't. But these two are still going to be heavy influences on the up-and-coming generation of blueliners. Sort of like how Alex Ovechkin and his enthusiasm for scoring goals inspired the likes of Auston Matthews to look at things a bit differently than they would have otherwise.

    Coaches will always preach responsibility and defense, but skaters like Fox and Makar move the needle in ways that can be hard to track. At least until some first overall draft pick in 10 years talks about how they saw Makar's gnarly overtime game-winner against the Chicago Blackhawks live and how it inspired them to approach their position differently. 

    It remains to be seen just how generational these two talents end up being, but for now, we're being treated to some special hockey from them. Offense from the back end has slowly become a staple of Stanley Cup-caliber teams, and with Fox and Makar making these kinds of impacts on ice, it's only a matter of time before the players they inspire end up in the NHL doing the same things. 

    And that's good for hockey and great for fans who are lucky enough to watch on a nightly basis.

    - Franklin Steele

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