Tonight is the big night for the NHL, when they hand out the awards. Perhaps the attendee with the biggest smile on his face will be Ottawa Senators’ defenseman Erik Karlsson. With the ink not yet dry on the 7 year, $45.5 M contract extension signed yesterday, Karlsson will be up against a pair of imposing presences in Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber.
Numbers have been tossed around, and the biggest knock against Karlsson is his play in his own end and his physical presence. I will make one last case for Karlsson, knowing full well that the winners have already been determined and it won’t have any effect whatsoever.
Perhaps this little chart illustrates just how effective and dominant Karlsson was at even strength.
While many naysayers would point to Karlsson’s power play production sparking his offensive dominance, only 3 of his 19 goals came with the man advantage, as opposed to Weber’s 10/19 and Chara’s 8/12. Nearly half (45%) of Weber’s points came on the power play, while Chara and Karlsson were a very similar 35% and 36% respectively.
While it is true that Karlsson didn’t spend much time on the PK, Karlsson still logged more ice time than Chara and was only slightly behind Weber in total time on ice per game. While critics argue that Karlsson’s ice time was cherry-picked and he didn’t have to go up against the opposition’s top players, his +/- was actually better on the road than at home.
As you can see, Karlsson will never be physically imposing and that is where his shortcomings may be in terms of providing a complete game. However, his takeaway total dwarfs the other two, and in many cases is more valuable than a hit, as he often turns those takeaways into rushes the other way.
As a defenseman in the NHL, you have to play to your strengths. For Karlsson that means playing with the puck on his stick. Is Karlsson the player I want on the ice in the last minute of a game protecting a 1 goal lead with a faceoff in my own end? NO. I would rather have Chara or Weber in that situation. But turn the tables and be down by a goal, with a faceoff in your own end and 25 seconds on the clock to get the puck to the other end with control and create a scoring chance, then there is no player I would rather have than Karlsson.
You can say he has shortcomings, but for each one you point at for example hits, Chara was ranked 24th and Weber tied for 16th. As for penalty killing time, Chara was 40th and Weber 80th among defensemen in the NHL. The things that are knocks against Karlsson are things that you can teach defensemen and they are a dime a dozen in this league. The things Karlsson excels at are unique and only a handful of players in the league can even dream about doing what he does on a regular basis.
And this year, he did it better than anyone, and deserves to take the Norris Trophy, along with his 7 year contract, home from Vegas this week.