It’s difficult to imagine that a two-time Norris Trophy winner and three-time All-Star would need to have their reputation burnished any further. But with his performance in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, Erik Karlsson is taking his moment in the national spotlight to raise his standing even further. Sometimes, it takes 140-foot saucer passes to catch the world’s attention. It might be hard for some to imagine that, given his previous accolades, Karlsson’s excellence needs to be highlighted further. For those who watch him regularly and see his critical importance to the success of the Ottawa Senators’ franchise, it’s hard to imagine how he wasn’t a finalist for the Hart Trophy this year, or most years for that matter. Part of the issue Karlsson has always been that he doesn’t fit the mold of what hockey fans have come to expect from defencemen. The hockeyocracy likes big, burly, jar-headed boys from the Prairies who are missing teeth and who are as likely to drive an opponent into the concussion protocol as they are to fire the puck off the glass into safety. When Karlsson was chosen at the 2008 NHL Draft, I was present at the then-Scotiabank Place, sitting at the opposite end of the arena from the stage. When Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson announced the name of their selectee, a gentleman in front of me promptly stood up, proclaimed profanely that this was a “waste of a pick,” and immediately stormed off. As the years passed, and Karlsson accumulated more points than anyone other than Steve Stamkos in his draft class, I’ve wondered if that fan ever came around. That’s not a given, as even in his own market, Karlsson often faces criticism for all the things that he isn’t, without nearly enough emphasis on what a unique player he is. In recent years, a narrative developed in Ottawa that suggested that Karlsson should somehow trade off some percentage of his offensive prowess to focus on defence, as though these were somehow sliders on a player profile page that he could simply nudge in either direction by a few percentage points here or there.
Karlsson showing hockey world what Senators fans always knew
Sportsnet | May 2