Ottawa Senators v Pittsburgh Penguins

Poll: Is Erik Karlsson an elite defenseman?

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While defensive defenseman seem to suffer when it comes to Norris Trophy voting,* offensive blueliners tend to get nitpicked an awful lot. In many cases, they’re labeled as double-edged swords; people believe that there’s a strong chance they can hurt their teams when aggressive bids to push the pace fall flat.

It’s pretty difficult to make an argument for anyone other than Erik Karlsson being the best player on the Ottawa Senators, yet that doesn’t mean that he’s a consensus pick as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He’s generally downgraded by the same conversations people had about dynamos like Paul Coffey.

The question is: should he be considered among the very best at his position?

One thing that seems beyond debate is his sterling offensive ability. While most blueliners aim for 60 points and would likely be happy with 50, Karlsson is a rare threat to at least flirt with a point-per-game. Not only that, he creates so many shots that it’s easy to argue that the sum of his offense makes up for any defensive lapses (legitimate or exaggerated).

Silver Seven Sens advances the argument that the gifted 24-year-old makes the players around him better, too. The “fancy stats” smile upon Karlsson as well, as you can see here and here.

Circling back, though, his style can make it easier to pinpoint those moments when things don’t work out. The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy wondered if he’s “too soft” to be an elite defenseman, for one:

In 2012, the Sens star won the Norris Trophy as best defenseman in the NHL. The award, voted on by hockey writers, is notoriously slanted towards blueliners who put up offense and Karlsson was a gem that year with 19 goals and 78 points in 81 games. By contrast, runner-up Shea Weber had 49 points that season, playing more minutes than Karlsson and certainly make the space in front of his netminder a lot scarier for enemy forwards than Karlsson ever could.

But at the same time, is your team ever safe from getting scored upon if Karlsson is carrying the puck up the ice? No doubt the Swede is a special talent, but that attention to detail in his own zone seems to be lacking sometimes.

“Elite” means different things to different people, so let’s leave that to your own discretion. Based on whatever standards you’d like to consider, is Karlsson an elite defenseman?

* – The fact that Zdeno Chara only owns one Norris is pretty mind-boggling.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Vlasic on the unenviable task of matching up against Crosby

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 and Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada look on during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff against the United States on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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Plenty of people believe that the San Jose Sharks’ defense is superior to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel, but it’s one thing to be better on paper. When you’re on the ice, against a speedy and talented team, can you really stop the Penguins?

All signs point to sorely underrated Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic drawing the difficult assignment of trying to slow down Sidney Crosby.

Vlasic, a former Team Canada teammate of Crosby (as you can see from this post’s main image), realizes that he’ll have his hands full. In fact, he seems to believe that this will be an even tougher challenge than trying to solve St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

The fantastic all-around defender isn’t exactly expecting to reinvent the wheel in his strategy against Crosby.

“It will be the same as in the first three series,” Vlasic said, via The Hockey News. “We’re playing against the top players on every time – Sid, (Evgeni) Malkin and those types of guys for Pittsburgh. Me and (Justin Braun) will just keep doing what we did, taking away time and space and hopefully it works out.”

The two players have had glowing things to say about each other for some time, but don’t be surprised if this high-level competition turns those happy thoughts into hard feelings.

It stands as one of the matchups to watch in what could be a fresh and fascinating Stanley Cup Final.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

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Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.