Is Erik Karlsson too soft to be truly elite?

Ryan Kennedy
Weber-Karlsson

The Ottawa Senators lost 5-4 in overtime to Montreal last night, with Sens star Erik Karlsson notching three points in defeat. Ottawa would not have been in overtime without Karlsson, but the Sens wouldn’t have lost the game if it wasn’t for the talented blueliner, either.

Check out the winning goal, where Karlsson surrenders along the boards to 5-foot-7, 175-pound Brian Gionta, directly leading to P.K. Subban’s winning tally:

That’s a little soft, no?

Karlsson is by no means a crease-clearing monster, but to be considered one of the top defensemen in the world, there’s gotta be a little more effort than that. So is Karlsson a better talent than he is a blueliner?

In 2012, the Sens star won the Norris Trophy as best defenseman in the NHL. The award, voted on by hockey writers, is notoriously slanted towards blueliners who put up offense and Karlsson was a gem that year with 19 goals and 78 points in 81 games. By contrast, runner-up Shea Weber had 49 points that season, playing more minutes than Karlsson and certainly make the space in front of his netminder a lot scarier for enemy forwards than Karlsson ever could.

But at the same time, is your team ever safe from getting scored upon if Karlsson is carrying the puck up the ice? No doubt the Swede is a special talent, but that attention to detail in his own zone seems to be lacking sometimes.

And I’m not saying he has to be a beast like Weber. Nicklas Lidstrom has so many Norris trophies he could use them as bowling pins and he wasn’t a bruiser. But Lidstrom was great defending with his stick and he was also smarter than pretty much everyone else on the ice – so he wouldn’t have been caught in the position Karlsson was on that winning Subban tally.

The most controversial statistic published by the NHL is hits, since players miraculously appear to be more physical at home according to scorekeepers, but for the record, Karlsson has 73 through 48 games. That puts him fifth among Ottawa defenseman.

Once again, Karlsson is putting up nearly a point per game from the blueline, but is saddled with a minus-11 rating since nearly half his points come on the power play. His CORSI rating in 5-on-5 play is actually pretty good among NHL defenseman, ranking in the top-20, but well behind fellow rushers Drew Doughty and Kevin Shattenkirk.

No doubt Karlsson’s offensive prowess will see him vie for another Norris Trophy in the coming years, but it would seem a little odd for the offensive dynamo to have two if Weber still doesn’t have one to his name.