Season Review – Erik Karlsson was on top of the world. Defending Norris Trophy winner, brand spanking new contract, married in the off-season, and off to a start that would have him on pace for a second straight Norris trophy. Then, with one swipe of Matt Cooke‘s skate (intentional or not), everything changed. The limp heard around the NHL saw Karlsson in obvious pain and in real trouble as he was helped off the ice. A severed achilles tendon, a 70% cut, and surgery that would keep mortal men off the ice for up to 6 months. Well, as bad as it was, all was not lost and Karlsson made a magical return to action just 9 weeks after the surgery and made it back onto the ice for the final 3 games of the season. Although he was clearly not 100%, Karlsson got 4 points in those 3 games, bringing his total to 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) and a +8 rating.
Playoffs – Karlsson had a great first round even on just one leg. He recorded a goal and 5 assists in the 5 games against Montreal, but like his teammates, he hit a wall against Pittsburgh. Karlsson seemed to regress with his Achilles injury taking its toll on him and he was in obvious discomfort on every shift, as he was pointless in 4 of the 5 games, earning 2 assists in the game 4 loss.
Contract Status – Karlsson is locked up long term, entering the second year of his 7 year contract that carries a cap hit of $6.5M.
Importance To Franchise – Karlsson is the building block around which the Senators are built. He will be a key factor for years to come, as long as he can return to 100% with a summer of rehab on his leg.
Needs to Improve – His defensive zone play is still a work in progress. It has improved by leaps and bounds every year, but it is still the area that critics like to look at when searching for holes in his game. Fortunately, that is something that can be taught and learned, and Karlsson has a track record of continual improvement at his all-around game.
Grade – A …a telling point for me was his press conference after the injury, where he said things that made people take notice of his leadership and character. His talent was never in question, but that press conference shouted future captain as well. As for on-ice, his point total still ranked him 60th among defensemen in scoring despite playing just over 1/3 of the season.