This piece is dedicated to Darren M. from Silver Seven Sens, who tragically expressed his opinion that Erik Karlsson wasn't ready for the NHL in an article this morning only to have it be rendered moot by Bryan Murray later this afternoon. This one's for you Darren.
Amid speculation Karlsson might soon be packing for a trip to the American Hockey League team in Binghamton, general manager Bryan Murray said the 19-year-old defenceman is staying put here in Ottawa. ~ Allen Panzeri, The Ottawa Citizen
The way fans and the media have been carrying on, one would think Erik Karlsson's play had made Sens fans long for the days of seeing Jim Paek, Chris Dahlquist or even Hank "Sail My Boat" Lammens on the blueline.
For whatever reason, it's a polarizing issue for a Senators team that's done reasonably well thus far this season. Is there reason for legitimate concern? Or is this another Dany Heatley described case of the media/fans making an issue of something when there's nothing else going on?
In order to come to a conclusion, I'm going to examine this issue by the numbers:
...On an entry-level deal.
When I first found out that Karlsson had a legitimate chance to make this year's squad, my primary concern was that the Senators would burn a year on Erik's entry-level deal, bringing him one year closer to restricted free agency. Or for you non-savvy hockey economics readers, it'd essentially mean that the Senators would expedite the process for Karlsson having a bigger cap hit. Given the NHL's cap system, one can raise a valid point that the Senators would be better served if Erik Karlsson was still on his entry-level contract for the 2012-2013 season.
With the current trend to lock up young talent before their entry-level contract expires and if Karlsson develops as we all hope he does, the man might be making some big jack on his next contract. In other words, his next deal could have huge implications on Ottawa's payroll structure when the team might be better equipped for Stanley Cup contention.
165. Or is it 175?
There are two things that are taboo to talk about in Ottawa. One's light rail transit. The other is Erik Karlsson's weight. Even though no one knows his weight, we can take pride in that he's still bigger than half of the Montreal Canadiens roster. Regardless, there's legitimate concern for how it can affect his play over the course of a season. Can he survive the wear and tear of playing an 82-game schedule? Or will the size and speed of the average NHL'er ruin his swagger and confidence? Unfortunately, these are questions that can only be answered after the season.
That's the number of minutes per game that Karlsson is averaging in icetime thus far. According to Panzeri, that's three more minutes than Bryan Murray expected to be playing at this point in the season.
Part of this increased workload can be attributed to the loss of Filip Kuba to injury and that's part of the reason why it's difficult to gauge Karlsson's play right now. Without the positionally sound Kuba by his side, Karlson's been flanked by another puck moving defenceman in Chris Campoli. Not exactly the ideal pairing for a kid who's trying to find his niche or for a coach who's busy trying to get ideal matchups on the ice. Fortunately, Ottawa's currently on a stretch where they're playing five of six games at home, so the Kuba injury hasn't affected the team as much as it could have.
While some are citing Karlsson's weight as a reason for him to grow and develop back in Sweden, it's conceivable that because of Kuba's injury, Karlsson's been pressed into some meaningful minutes and that could help his development as he adapts to playing against the best in the world.
Karlsson wears a number most commonly associated with pasty white offensive linemen from Oklahoma. I hate to borrow something from the Jacques Martin era, but can the organization not ditch the high digits and give this kid a more appropriate number fitting of a defenceman? What about wearing 8? He wore that with Frolundra. Or maybe the 5 that he wore with the Swedish Junior team. Now that Schubert's gone, he can have that number too.
Some are citing Karlsson's plus/minus stat as a determining factor as to whether he's ready for NHL duty. I don't want to get into a discussion over how trivial of a statistic plus/minus is, but let's examine the facts. Prior to Monday night's Pittsburgh game, Karlsson was only a -1 through four games in which the team had a record of 3-1.
After the Penguins game in which he posted a -3, people are criminalizing the guy on a night when Ottawa supposedly didn't get the bounces against last year's Stanley Cup Finalists.
Was his size to blame for Tyler Kennedy's first goal to deflect in off Karlsson's skate past a helpless Leclaire?
Or maybe his size was to blame when Alfie made an egregious turnover inside the Penguins blueline that resulted in a Tyler Kennedy goal? Or maybe it was Karlsson's fault when Kennedy blew the subsequent slapshot from just inside the blueline past Leclaire for Pittsburgh's backbreaking 3-1 goal.
Besides, I thought the silver lining of the game was that Crosby and Malkin were held scoreless?
If plus/minus is such an issue for Karlsson, maybe it's time that people take notice of others:
- Michalek (-3); Kovalev (-4); Spezza (-3); Alfie (-3); and Campoli (-3);
"10 games is not going to be the measure of Erik Karlsson." ~ Bryan Murray
Nor should it be. How do you measure Erik Karlsson in 10 games when he's been in the city for months and no one still has any clue as to how much he weighs? If you can't measure something tangible, how can people be expected to measure his skillset and readiness.
It's funny though, it's only been five games and some have already filled out their scouting reports. With every loss, it's expected that people are ready to write off Karlsson's season. We're arrogant pricks pretending that as armchair GMs, we know better than team's scouts and braintrust.
Sure, maybe Karlsson's inclusion on the roster is PR for Bryan Murray doing something right, in case the season goes awry. Looky!! Looky!! See that shiny thing on the blueline? He's the diamond in the rough that I cultivated in a draft!! He's the guy that Brian Burke wanted with his Anaheim pick! I can draft talent well!
Honestly though, I've weighed the options personally and I don't have a problem with the kid sticking. Considering how shitty the power play has been and how blah the in-house alternatives are, I think Karlsson's shot and creativity are too good for the team to pass up in a year when the East is relatively wide-open. Maybe I'm being naive in thinking that the Sens can slide into one of the bottom playoff seeds in the East but whatever. After years of watching cut and paste stopgaps on the blueline, I'm willing to watch the first rookie blue-chipper since Meszaros develop back there. So count me amongst Clouston and Murray as a guy who can live with the rookie's mistakes. I guess I'm just buying into the Bryan Murray PR hype.
I'll take solace in the fact that I'm probably not the only one.