It took more than eight years and four NHL organizations, but Ottawa Senators defenseman Matt Carkner can finally count on a consistent paycheck with a few zeroes in it.
When the 28-year-old signed a two-year contract extension with the Senators Tuesday, it marked the first time in his career he has inked a deal that will pay him one-way money, meaning he'll earn $700,000 (U.S.) in 2010-11 and 2011-12 regardless of whether he plays in the NHL or the minors. This year, he's scheduled to make $500,000 on his existing two-way deal.
But it's clear that a full decade after he was drafted, Carkner has finally proved he belongs in the NHL. He has done everything asked of him this season and done so solidly, averaging 18 minutes a game on the Senators blueline and supplying some nastiness and toughness along the way. If he can even continue his level of play over the next three seasons without getting any better, Bryan Murray's signing will have been a good one.
That's because any time you can get a player who is capable of giving your team quality minutes – and you can do so for less than $1 million per season – you've hit the jackpot. Carkner certainly isn't a player around whom the Senators will build, but it gives them a relatively cheap player they can plug in either on defense or at forward in a pinch and know that he's not going to be a liability.
It certainly didn't hurt that Senators coach Cory Clouston knew what he was getting in Carkner, having coached him for two seasons with the Binghamton Senators of the American League. The same way a number of players have flourished in Washington because they were coached by head man Bruce Boudreau in Hershey, Carkner has a coach who intimately knows his strengths and limitations and has seen him in almost every situation.
But what Carkner has done better than anything, to his credit, is prove he can be more than just a one-dimensional enforcer. Of course he can do that, as evidenced by his three fights in the regular season so far and four in the pre-season, but it's his ability to play a sound defensive game at the back end that has him occupying a regular spot in the Senators lineup. His lack of footspeed is definitely a concern, but his willingness to play a robust game and stand up for his teammates is not.
And it looks like he'll have a chance to put that skill set on display in Ottawa for at least the next three years.
This article also appeared in the Ottawa Metro paper.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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