This post is part of Senators Day on PHT…
Erik Karlsson wasn’t playing at nearly 100 per cent during the Stanley Cup playoffs — and he was still by far Ottawa’s best player in their run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Not only was he Ottawa’s best player, he was often the best player on the ice between the Senators and their opponents, despite playing through a foot injury. That landed him a vote for the Conn Smythe, despite the fact his club came oh-so-close but ultimately didn’t make it to the Stanley Cup Final.
While brilliant in the playoffs, he paid quite a price.
The surgery on his injured left foot took place in the middle of June and requires a four-month recovery. The Senators remain hopeful that their best player will be ready for the beginning of the regular season in October.
While Karlsson gets plenty of accolades for the skill he possesses and his ability to log big minutes during regular season and playoffs — making it look easy at times, too — he may not get enough credit for just how durable he’s been over the last four years.
He had a string of three consecutive seasons in which he played the full 82-game schedule. That streak was interrupted in March at 324 consecutive games played due to his injury suffered right before the playoffs.
As Mark Stone aptly put it at the time: “He’s the best defenceman in the world. If you take him out of your lineup, it’s obviously a huge blow.”
The Senators have a number of key contributors like Craig Anderson in goal and Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman — among others — up front. But the success of this team hinges greatly on Karlsson being in the lineup and healthy enough to play. Even on one healthy foot, he showed he was still capable of carrying Ottawa, but the Senators will gladly take him at 100 per cent health in two months time.
Off the ice, it’s worth mentioning that Karlsson has only two years remaining on his contract before he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency. At a $6.5 million cap hit, you could argue that for what Karlsson provides them every game — not just the points (71 in 77 games this past season) but being able to play almost 27 minutes per game on average — Ottawa is getting a bargain on that seven-year contract right now.
Karlsson is a premier defenseman at the age of 27, and yet his $7 million salary for next season is at the same level as Jeff Petry, Alex Pietrangelo and Johnny Boychuk, per CapFriendly. For Karlsson, that number does bump up to $7.5 million in the final year of his contract.
That is, of course, going to change with his next deal.
The Senators have benefited greatly from having one of the game’s best players on their blue line. He showed that once again in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. He’s won the Norris Trophy twice and has four nominations in total.
And it won’t be long before the Senators will have to pay accordingly in order to keep Karlsson in Ottawa.