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.