The Sports Daily > The 6th Sens
“Erik Karlsson’s a Run-and-Gun, Wild Card Kind of Guy”

During the second intermission, Hockey Night in Canada‘s Hotstove Panel kicked around the topic of Erik Karlsson’s upcoming contract negotiations. As always, my thoughts are in bold.

Tim Wharnsby started the discussion by saying:

“About ten days ago, Don Meehan, Craig Oster’s actually the agent for Erik Karlsson, and Pat Morris all met with Bryan Murray and assistant general manager Tim Murray in Montreal and they went over a bunch of clients but Erik Karlsson came up and they wanted to table negotiations. Preliminary talks went well. Erik Karlsson wants to stay in Ottawa. He loves it there. He loves the city. Loves the system. He loves the new coach in Paul MacLean. He also likes the fact that Daniel Alfredsson has been a great mentor to him this year. It looks like everyone is on the same page here but the question now is, ‘Does he sign a short term deal or a long term one?’

It’s times like this when I wish that Filip Kuba had a Twitter account. My guess is that he’d go the Robin Lehner emoticon route: ;(

Mike Milbury interjected:

“I don’t know how you can sign him to a long term deal not knowing what the CBA is. I mean this is a one-time guy here. This is his first real flash and dash season. I don’t think you can afford to send him on his way to a five or six year deal without knowing what the new parameters are in the (new) collective bargaining agreement. If (Karlsson) gets his nose out of joint say, ‘Okay, you want a one year deal. Here’s your one year deal. We can’t hamstring this franchise going forward by giving you a whole bunch of candy after one great season.’ And it’s been a great season but we’ve seen what’s happened to Drew Doughty after one great season and it’s not been very pretty.”

Very valid points. After the season that Karlsson has had, the only leverage that Ottawa really has in negotiations is the fact that Karlsson’s cumulative production and level of play pales in comparison to what he has done this season.

As often as some will discuss the benefits of eschewing a long-term contract with a player who is coming off one unbelievable season, it’s foolish not to recognize that there is some level of risk in not signing Karlsson now because it could save the organization some money in the long run.

Granted, signing Karlsson to a lengthy extension now does nothing for the team in the short-term. Barring some season long work stoppage, the 2012/13 roster was always going to feature Erik Karlsson on the Senators’ blue line. As Eugene Melnyk has repeatedly stated, in light of the their surprising success, the organization’s three year plan has not changed. As a ‘rebuilding’ organization with an owner who no longer seems interested in spending to the salary cap ceiling threshold each year, every realistic fan should still have an eye looking towards the future. The expectations of being a contender aren’t there yet.

In Karlsson, the Senators do have a young player who resembles a burgeoning and marketable star. Under the current parameters of the CBA, he should be under team control through the age of 25. Should they reach a long-term extension with him and buy out a few of his unrestricted free agent years, assuming Karlsson fulfills his vast potential, the long-term impact of such an extension could provide some real value to the team.

By signing him to a less expensive one or two year deal, assuming Karlsson continues to put up impressive offensive totals and be matched against the opposition’s best players, the likelihood of his second contract being more expensive than a long-term extension that he could sign now is probably very real. In consideration of the time frame when the Senators can be expected to contend, this increased annual cost (just spitballing here but I’d imagine it could be as much as $1-1.5M) could have some ramifications should management wish to augment their core.

Elliotte Friedman adds to the conversation by stating:

“That’s the thing that a lot of GMs talk about: Ottawa’s in a tough spot here. If you say ‘Wait until the new CBA comes in so that we can see what the rules are’, you risk upsetting the player. Will you upset Erik Karlsson if you tell him to wait? So I think what you’ll probably see and wouldn’t be surprised is if Ottawa goes the short term route and says, ‘Can we do that? And then we can all see what the new CBA (looks like).’ Remember when Brian Burke did that interview a couple weeks ago, he said, ‘The good players will still get paid.’

Milbury interjects again:

“Wait a second. Wait a second. I mean, the poor player might be upset Elliotte. We’re in a new day and age and everybody needs to have their binky and their nice fluffy pillows. But they’re in a new CBA with a team now that is on the fringe of making the playoffs and there’s no guarantee that they even get in. And this guy, if you watch PJ Stock, which I don’t make it must-see tv but I did watch PJ this afternoon and he made great points about this kid is not the perfect defenceman. He’s a run-and-gun, wild card kind of guy. If he’s a little upset, tell him to get over it.”

The last part of Milbury’s rant reminded me Iceman’s speech to Maverick in Top Gun. Erik Karlsson. You’re dangerous!

Newsflash to Mike Milbury: no defenceman is infallible. Even the most ardent supporters of a player like Zdeno Chara will admit that he can be exploited by speed. Moreover, this insight into Mike Milbury’s beliefs helps explain why he was so eager to rid the Islanders of so many promising young prospects. Mad Mike values cumulative production over the ceilings of young players!

Using Drew Doughty as an example is intriguing on a number of levels:

1) The Los Angeles Kings deserve their share of blame for how they negotiated Doughty’s contract – choosing to play hardball and costing Doughty the bulk of training camp before caving in and awarding him an eight year $56 million extension.

2) With the exception of a few players, the production of a NHL player rarely remains static; to the point that it is naive to assume that each player’s numbers will progress and develop in a linear fashion. Doughty’s numbers may be down from last season for example, but the Kings team has collectively struggled to put up points. Maybe with a full training camp under his belt next fall, Doughty and the Kings can bounce back and have the success that everyone believes they can.

Friedman chimes in by saying:

“You know Mike, some GMs do care about their players’ feelings. You know, some do…”