March 1, 2012

SENS-ational Swede - Erik Karlsson Norris Trophy winner ?

During a week where the Ottawa Senators traded a defenseman drafted 9th overall (Brian Lee)  for a player who is a pending UFA this year (Matt Gilroy). You would think that I would be writing an article talking about how the Ottawa Senators scouts clearly do not have a good eye for d-men, due to the fact that they picked a bust like Lee in the top 10. However, trading up to draft Erik Karlsson in 2008 more than makes up for the Lee mistake. In fact with the way he is playing, the Senators could have every 1st round pick be a bust for them for a decade, and I still might give a vote of confidence to them just because of the Karlsson pickup.

How often is it that an Ottawa Senators player is the talk of the league? Zdeno Chara was great in Ottawa, but didn’t reach his peak until Boston, culminating in the 2009 Norris trophy. Daniel Alfredsson was always a great leader, but never a true NHL SUPERstar. Jason Spezza is currently in the top 5 in NHL scoring, however, is never mentioned in the same breath as players like Malkin or Giroux. Erik Karlsson in his 3rd year might do something that nobody else has ever done for the Ottawa Senators, and that is truly be the best in the league at his position. It is crazy to say it but Erik Karlsson with what he has accomplished in his young career, might just end up being the best thing that has ever happened to the Ottawa Senator. However, if that is too much of a stretch for you, then there is no doubt he is on pace to put up the single best individual season Ottawa has ever seen.

Karlsson currently has 15 goals and 66 points in 63 games, and is on pace for 19 goals and 86 points this season! Before we discuss the significance of those numbers and why they might be some of the best the league has seen in a long time, let’s look at how his stats compare to the rest of the league this season. Karlsson leads D-men in goals, assists, and points! But what is most impressive isn’t that he has the most points, it’s how far ahead of the rest of the pack he is. He is simply in his own class right now, as he has 23 more points than the next closest d-man Brian Campbell. When you look at d-men producing offensively this season, there really is no comparison to the young swede, as he truly is in a league of his own.

Karlsson has been great all season long, but recently his stats have been off the charts! His production dropped after the All-Star break, but after being held off the scoresheet for 4 consecutive games, Karlsson reached a new level in his game. He is currently in the midst of an 8 game point streak, in which he has 7 goals and 18 points. In fact, 6 of those 8 games have been multi-point efforts, which is just unheard of for d-men. He is one of the main reasons that the Senators have climbed their way back into contention and have a very strong hold on a playoff spot right now.

Not only is Karlsson leading all blueliners in points, he is also tied for 6th in overall points regardless of position. The only players with more points than him are Malkin, Stamkos, Giroux, Kessel and his teammate Spezza. It is incredibly rare for a d-man to be this high in the scoring race, yet Karlsson hasn’t seemed to let that slow him down a single bit, as he is keeping pace with even the best scorers the league has to offer.  If that still doesn’t impress you, compare his stats to the stats of d-men in recent years. With 2 more points he will tie last year’s leader in blueline scoring Lubomir Visnovsky with 68 points. In the last 3 seasons, 60 points has been surpassed by a defenseman only 6 times, and yet Karlsson has already accomplished that with 19 games left in the year! Post-lockout the most points put up in a season by a defenseman was 80 points, which was a career high put up by Nicklas Lidstrom, the man who has won the Norris trophy an incredible 7 times! Karlsson is currently on pace to surpass that total by 6 points. I don’t think I need to stress how impressive it is to be able to do something from the blueline that Lidstrom hasn’t been able to do. Even Mike Green who had some of the greatest offensive seasons in recent memory, was never able to eclipse the 80 point plateau. Green put up 76 and 73 points in back to back seasons, but wasn’t able to win a Norris trophy, as he was the runner-up both years. This will be the year that an offensive defenseman other than Lidstrom wins the Norris.

Last season Karlsson put up 13 goals and 45 points which was very impressive, but his -30 kept him off of everyone’s radar. This year he is much improved in that category as he is a +15 so far this year, helping solidify his Norris campaign. For those of you that think all he does is put up points, and don’t count +/- as a legitimate stat, thus need to be a little more impressed to consider him Norris worthy. How about the fact that he chews up a ton of ice time for the Senators? Karlsson is 10th in the NHL when it comes to time on ice (TOI) as he plays just over 25 minutes a game. He has played over 25 minutes 32 times this year, and has played over 30 minutes 4 times. Having a defenseman who could play those type of minutes is a huge asset for a team, as that means the 3rd pairing isn’t leaned on to play many minutes. The kid is an absolute stud, and considering he is only in his 3rd season and already one of the best at his position proves that the sky is the limit for him.

The only thing preventing Karlsson from being the guaranteed Norris winner is the fact that he plays in Ottawa. If he played for a market like the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers or even teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens, he would be the talk of the league. However, despite the fact that he isn’t getting the credit he deserves league wide, the Senators won’t be complaining as his stellar play has them relevant again when it comes to the playoff race, and it looks like he will be a fixture on their blueline for years to come! Some say he isn’t good enough defensively to win the Norris, and will suffer a fate similar to Mike Green, however, I think the critics are wrong as Karlsson will be hoisting the Norris trophy in the air at the NHL awards ceremony this season!  If you don’t know Erik Karlsson, or haven’t had the pleasure of watching him, I suggest you do, because he truly is one of the best young players in the NHL, and will only get better with age.

- Grant Robinson

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