Following a season in which the Senators missed the playoffs for the first time in three years, head coach Paul MacLean had a very frank assessment of the guy he considers to be his best player, Erik Karlsson.
From The Casket (a weekly publication from Nova Scotia):
CASKET: Erik Karlsson, former Norris trophy winner, could be considered a high-risk defensemen in some aspects of his game. What are your thoughts on his game?
MACLEAN: Erik is one of the best defensemen in the league and ended up with 70 points for us this year. Offensively, he’s gifted. Defensively, his competitiveness was hampered by his continuous recovery from his Achilles tendon injury he had last year. He’s not a big guy so he has to depend on his skating ability and stability on his skates and he didn’t have a lot of confidence in that. In saying that, it can’t be an excuse for some of the shoddy play he had during the season. He is our best player and moving forward he’s going to be an important part of what we do.
Karlsson led all NHL defensemen in scoring this year, with 74 points — 13 more than the next closest guy, Duncan Keith — and had near-identical possession metrics (54.8 percent Corsi, 4.3 percent relative) as he did during his Norris-winning campaign in 2011-12.
So, what was the problem this year? If you want to read between the lines on MacLean’s other comments, it was the turnovers.
“Our defensive zone play was a concern for us and part of that was how we exited our zone,” MacLean explained. “We turned the puck over more than anyone in the league inside our defensive zone and that certainly led to scoring chances for the other teams. Our goalies didn’t have much of a chance on some of the turnovers.
“Moving forward that’s one of our biggest concerns. We have made some strides in our defensive zone but still have lots of work to do there.”
Though the giveaway statistic is questionable — namely, the criteria for what constitutes one — it is telling that Karlsson led the Sens with 115 this year, 47 more than the next guy on the list (Jason Spezza). Given the number of minutes Karlsson logs and the number of breakouts he’s responsible for, it’s understandable that his giveaway total would be high… but he was by far the league leader too, registering 15 more than Taylor Hall and Niklas Hjalmarsson, who had 100 each.