Messina: Erik Karlsson contract an interesting one to follow

By: Chris Messina, Contributing Writer
@cmessina85

Signing All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson is a top priority for the Ottawa Senators, although getting the contract together may take some work. (BridgetDS/Flickr)

I’d hate to be Ottawa Senators General Manager Brian Murray right now. He’s probably got the toughest contract to negotiate this summer of any GM in the National Hockey League this summer. His 22-year-old All-Star defenseman, Erik Karlsson, is a restricted free agent and might just win the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman. Murray made it public on June 13 that locking up the young defenseman is a top priority, but it will still take some work.

Maybe it is a good problem to have, but it will have a big impact on the Ottawa Senators and the next CBA. The Karlsson contract, much like the Drew Doughty contract last summer will be a focal point of the CBA which is set to expire this summer. That the contracts star players are awarded coming off their entry level contracts.

Teams have been signing these players to big deals over long terms to buy out years of free-agency in their mid-twenties, which for most players is the prime of their careers.

We have seen similar deals signed in recent years, most notably was Los Angeles Kings defenseman, Drew Doughty along with New York Islanders center, John Tavares last summer. Both played in the NHL as 18-year-old rookies and could have be eligible for unrestricted free-agency at the age of 25 has their clubs not locked them up long-term.

The Kings and Doughty agreed on an 8-year deal worth $56 million which will take Doughty to the age of 28 before he is eligible to be a free-agent. Meanwhile the Islanders signed Tavares to a 6-year contract for $33 million, the Oakville native will be 26 when his contract expires.

When the NHL missed the 2004-05 season one of the trade-off for the salary cap the owners wanted was liberalized free-agency. The players got it, in the old system players would be 31 when they could become UFAs. Now teams are trying to lock-up their young stars long-term or big money when they are in their early twenties.

That is what will make the Karlsson contract so intriguing. You have a possible Norris Trophy winner that will be 22 when training camp opens in September (assuming there is no lockout) that is known for being a puck rushing defenseman, arguably the best in the game right now but struggles in his own end at times and hasn’t had much post-season success.

Mind when most of these contracts are done, very rarely has the player proven anything in playoffs. But you have to wonder about the wear and tear an undersized defenseman will have to uphold to over the course of a 10 month season if he is going to lead his team to the Stanley Cup.

The Swedish defenseman put up forward like numbers last season scoring 19 goals to go along with 59 assists totalling 78 points in 81 games. When these deals are negotiated number play a huge factor because they can be measured.

From the Senators’ standpoint, you look at the deal as an opportunity to lock-up the next face off your franchise, as Karlsson would likely take over that role from current captain Daniel Alfredsson when he retires (yes he will probably take that identity even ahead of Jason Spezza). They also look at it as an opportunity to sign a player that is still getting better. As for Karlsson himself, he does not want to miss training camp or any part of the season (as Doughty did last year) because of a contract dispute. He told Sportsnet he’s confident a deal will be made.

We mentioned the defensive flaws in his game but consider he made huge strides with that aspect of his game last season and who is to say he can’t improve on the 78 points he posted last year as the team around him gets better? Whatever happens, this will definitely be a focal point in the expiring CBA.

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