In a season filled with few ups and many downs, the Ottawa Senators have watched Erik Karlsson develop into arguably the best defenseman in the game.
There’s an abundance of candidates for the best defenseman in hockey, with Drew Doughty remaining an annual Norris favorite and Duncan Keith leading the Blackhawks defense. But the degree to which Karlsson has been the best player on the Senators this season cannot be overstated.
The rest of the Senators defense has struggled mightily, while Karlsson has played his best hockey despite the quintet around him. The contrast between Karlsson and his colleagues is stark.
Erik Karlsson leads the Ottawa Senators in the following statistical categories: Assists, Points, Relative Corsi For percentage, and Relative Fenwick For percentage. He ranks second on the team in Corsi For percentage and Fenwick For percentage overall. He is the only defenseman with a Corsi For precentage and Fenwick For percentage above 50 percent.
Through February 5, his 55 points rank him third in the NHL in points.
And he’s a defenseman.
A defenseman on a team that will likely be out of the playoff race by the trade deadline.
This season, Ottawa Senators have a Goals For percentage of just 38 percent without Karlsson on the ice, which would rank the team below the league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets, who come in at 44 percent overall. With Karlsson on the ice, the Senators own a 54.5 Goals For percentage, which would be good for third in the NHL.
Ottawa plays Karlsson a league-high 28:53 per night, likely cognizant of how tremendous of an impact the Swedish defenseman has on the team’s chances of winning.
Taking a look at his colleagues paints a better picture of just how vital Karlsson is to the Senators.
The other five most common Senators defensemen are Cody Ceci, Jared Cowen, Marc Methot, Chris Wideman, and Patrick Wiercioch. None of the quintet have a Goals For Percentage above 50 percent. In fact, Ceci’s, Cowen’s, and Methot’s would rank the team as worst in the NHL, while Wideman and Wiercoch would place the Senators 28th in the NHL.
The biggest criticism of Karlsson will always be his defense relative to the other top defensemen in the league, which does cause some concern when praising the likely candidate for the Norris Trophy. Today’s Slapshot’s own Carolyn Wilke elaborated on the defincies in his game:
First, he really doesn’t kill penalties. Karlsson ranked last amongst all 17 defenders in shorthanded goal differential per 60 minutes (-11.42), in large part due to his extremely low penalty kill time on ice (1.13 minutes per game, good for 15th place). Only two defenders logged less time with the penalty kill, fellow Swedes Oliver Ekman-Larsson (0.42 minutes per game) and John Klingberg (0.17 minutes per game).
While it’s certainly a fair point, it doesn’t take away from his value to the Senators. Ottawa has struggled mightily to keep the puck out of the net this season, and Karlsson has been their best defenseman by a landslide.
In terms of possession and offense, Erik Karlsson eclipses his colleagues in an unfathomable way, especially considering that the Senators are only six points out of a playoff spot. Without Karlsson, Ottawa would find themselves in the race for Auston Matthews.
Stats via: War on Ice, Hockey Reference, Puckalytics