Erik Karlsson is in a class all by himself

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This is part of Ottawa Senators day at PHT…

Erik Karlsson didn’t get to take home his third Norris Trophy last season as the NHL’s top defenseman, finishing in second place behind Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. That should not take away from the fact the Senators’ captain is not only the most productive blue liner in the NHL right now, but is also on his way to being one of the best players of his era and one of the most prolific scoring defenseman to ever play in the NHL.

Already one of just 13 players to ever win the Norris Trophy more than once (all 11 retired players that have won it twice are in the Hall of Fame; Duncan Keith is the only other active player), Karlsson’s level of production is nearly unmatched in this or any other era of the NHL.

The numbers he puts up on a yearly basis are simply staggering, especially when you compare them to his peers in the NHL and how far away even the next best players are.

  • His 82 points in 2015-16 placed him fifth in the entire NHL among all players. It was good enough to make him the first defenseman in more than 30 years to finish in the top-5 in scoring in any season.
  • Over the past 20 seasons he is the only defenseman that has finished in the top-10 in scoring in any individual season. Karlsson has done it twice.
  • Over the past three seasons his 222 points are 58 more than any other defenseman in the NHL during that stretch. The gap between the No. 2 defenseman on that list, P.K. Subban, and the 32nd leading scoring, Jake Muzzin, is 59 points. He is 10th among all skaters during that stretch (right between Joe Thornton and John Tavares) and is the only defenseman in the top-45 and one of only three (Subban and Roman Josi) in the top-70.

It is an incredible level of dominance that the NHL hasn’t seen from a defenseman in decades. But even with all of that production, and even with two Norris Trophies already sitting in his trophy case and a very good chance that he can add at least one more in his career (if he does, he would be one of just nine players to win more than two), he still seems to be a little under-appreciated in the NHL as one of the game’s top players.

His defensive game is always a subject of criticism, but that is case with just about any high-risk, puck-moving, offensive defenseman. When they make a mistake, it is going to stand out more and be highlighted over and over again. But the plays they end up making because of that aggressive style of play usually end up outweighing “the big mistake plays.”

His lack of time on the penalty kill is also usually brought up as a negative mark against him. But there is nothing wrong with playing to a player’s strengths, and in Karlsson’s case that is clearly his ability to make plays with the puck and drive the Senators’ offense. Every minute you spend putting him into situations where he has to focus on defense is a minute he doesn’t have in a situation where he can make a difference.

The Senators are a tough team to get a read on at times. They are just one-year removed from a 99-point season and have some top-line talent sprinkled throughout their roster. But they followed that up by taking a big step backwards in 2015-16. Whether they are able to rebound in 2016 under first-year coach Guy Boucher remains to be seen, but no matter what they do as a team on the ice they will have one of this era’s best players skating for them every single night.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.