Blog Entry

Erik Karlsson's big year leading Senators

Posted on: February 21, 2012 3:02 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2012 3:09 pm
KarlssonBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at offensive production of Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson

With less than two months to play in the regular season the Ottawa Senators find themselves in a position that probably not even the most optimistic of their fans expected them to be when the season began back in October.

As of Tuesday afternoon, and following their 6-0 win over the New York Islanders on Monday, the Senators are in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference with a six-point lead over the first non-playoff team. The playoffs look to be a very real possibility --if not likely at this point -- for a team that was projected by most to be one of the worst teams in the league over the summer.

It's a pretty good position to be in, and one of the driving forces behind their success has been the play of third-year defenseman Erik Karlsson, their first-round pick from the 2008 draft.

After a dominant two-goal, four-point performance on Monday afternoon against the Islanders, Karlsson currently sits atop the NHL leaderboard for scoring among defenseman with 57 points. That's 17 points more than the second-leading scorer, Florida's Brian Campbell. To look at it another way, the gap between Karlsson and Campbell from first to second is as big as the gap between Campbell and Florida's Jason Garrison, who is currently 38th in scoring among defenseman (23 points). And that's pretty amazing.

On his current pace of nearly a point-per-game, Karlsson would finish the regular season with 76 points, which is probably about as good as you can expect in the NHL these days from a defenseman. It's going to take him just 13 points over his final 21 games ( or an average .61 points per game, which is well below his current pace of .96 points per game for the season) to reach the 70-point mark, which would make him just the fifth different defenseman to reach that level over the past 14 seasons.

Nicklas Lidstrom did it four times over that stretch. Mike Green did it twice. Sergei Zubov and Brian Leetch each did it once.

His performance this season is starting to attach his name to the Norris Trophy discussion (as Sportsnet's Ian Mendes and Justin Bourne of the Score both argued on Tuesday), which is sure to have it's share of detractors.

Think back to when Green, the Capitals super-skilled and extremely productive defenseman, was a finalist for the Norris in back-to-back years during the '08-09 and '09-10 seasons with offensive seasons that were near mirror images of what Karlsson is currently doing for Ottawa. It was always polarizing because his shortcomings defensively were always pointed out and magnified, along with some variation of the comment, "well, he's basically a fourth-forward when he's on the ice." Or something along those lines.

Keep in mind, though, that the Norris Trophy doesn't (or isn't supposed to) go to the best "defensive defenseman." It's supposed to go to the player that demonstrates "the best all-around ability in the position."

That, of course, includes offensive ability, and that's something that Karlsson clearly has, and at a very young age. And it's not like he's a poor defensive player at this point in his career, either.

Karlsson is already logging a team-high 25 minutes of ice-time per game for the Senators, nearly two full minutes more than the second defenseman, and when he is on the ice the Senators tend to have the upper hand when it comes to possession and keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Among defensemen that have played at least 50 games this season (or players that we would consider for the Norris Trophy) Karlsson currently has the best Relative Corsi rating in the NHL 13.8. Corsi, if you're not familiar with it, is simply the total shot-differential at even-strength (goals, saves, missed shots, blocked shots) when a player is on the ice, which gives a pretty good indication of which players and teams are controlling possession of the puck the most. And that's pretty valuable, because the best way to keep the other team from scoring is to keep them pinned in their own zone, and Karlsson has been as good at that as any other defenseman in the league this year.

Now, Karlsson does have a bit of an advantage over some of the players he's ahead of that are also legitimate Norris candidates, if not favorites, (such as Nashville' Shea Weber and Boston's Zdeno Chara).

The Senators do protect him a bit defensively by not asking him to start many shifts in his own zone (his offensive zone-start percentage is currently over 56 percent). He also isn't asked to kill penalties all that much, and spends a great deal of time on the power play. But even if you look at just his even-strength points (35) he's still crushing the rest of the defensemen in the league in scoring (the No. 2 defenseman in even-strength scoring is Kevin Bieksa, with 25 points).

No matter how you look at it, he's having an incredible season and has clearly been Ottawa's best defenseman, if not its best overall player, and is one of the biggest reasons the team has exceeded almost every expectation.

I don't know if that's enough to get him serious Norris consideration at this point as the names Chara, Weber and Lidstrom still carry enough clout (and are pretty darn good players as well) to make it difficult for him to crack the top-three.

That doesn't mean he isn't deserving.

(Corsi and Zone Start numbers via

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Since: Feb 3, 2009
Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:21 pm

Erik Karlsson's big year leading Senators

karlsson's lack of PK time has EVERYTHING to do with his size, and NOTHING to do with his lack of defensive ability.  on the PK, you need a d-man who can clear the front of the net for your goalie, and frankly, at 5-11 175lbs, i can't see EK being very effective at moving guys like lucic out of the way.  the rest of ottawa's d-men are HUGE bodies who throw themselves in front of pucks, cuz lets be honest, that's about 90% of what playing on the PK is.  Dmen on the pk just need to clear the front of the net and block shots.  to me, that's an indication of being strong and slightly crazy, not being a great d-man. 

also need to point out that you said you'd base the norris on +/-, where EK is I think at +16 or +17 now, only 1 back of the other 2.  and is DESTROYING them in pts, with almost double the amount of pts that chara and weber have.

i'm sorry, but playing 2 minutes of PK per game in NO WAY can make up for the ridiculous difference in their points.

Since: Jun 18, 2007
Posted on: February 22, 2012 6:09 pm

Erik Karlsson's big year leading Senators

I never said PK minutes should be the most important factor.  If I was going to rank the top things I would look at, it would be plus/minus, points & PK minutes.  Since you can't measure a D-man's value solely by his offensive output, one needs a way to counter those numbers with something that speaks to his defensive skills & importance.  The plus/minus is one way to view that.  Another is PK minutes.  That tells you how important it is to his coach to have that player on the ice in a shorthanded situation.  Since you can't really measure the number of goals a defensive player saves you in a game, then you can only look at the most critical minutes where the team needs a defensive stand as an indicator.  How else do you measure defensive effectiveness?

Certainly, it's not a perfect indicator.  But look at the last several Norris winners.  None of them have ever had that low % of PK time as Karlsson does.  I know you follow the Sens closely.  And I don't.  So I take your word that the lack of PK time doesn't equate to a defensive liability in Karlsson's case.  I've only seen him play a couple times.  However, that stat must mean something when every other winner has heavy PK time.   

Since: Feb 3, 2009
Posted on: February 22, 2012 2:25 pm

Erik Karlsson's big year leading Senators

i'm not disputing the importance of PK time, obviously it is important.  i'm simply disputing it as a leading factor in determining the norris trophy winner.

pk time is a tiny fraction of the a d-man's actual ice time.    the effect that the 2 mins or less per game that guys spend on the PK, has on their pt totals is probably too miniscule to even calculate, and therefor should not be a deciding factor when it comes to something like a norris trophy.

at the end of the day, does EK's 20+ extra pts mean more than chara and weber's extra 80 seconds per game of PK time?  which is more valuable to their respective teams?

if karlsson was a defensive liability, or even average, then i could see him not really being considered over the other guy.  however, 5 on 5 he's a great defensive player.  I think there is a greater disparity between ek's offensive ability and that of chara and weber, then there is of a defensive disparity between the same players.

Since: Jun 18, 2007
Posted on: February 22, 2012 1:20 pm

Erik Karlsson's big year leading Senators

You are right on the +/-.  I didn't factor Team goal differential in.  Nashville's is not "MASSIVE"'s like 10/12.  So that doesn't really apply.  Boston's is really large.  So that should reduce the impact of Chara's +18.  But depending on how deep you go with imputed scoring, etc.  You claim that Karlsson is DESTROYING them in offensive production.  Okay.  He's got 20 more assists.  But that means if he's got 4 lower in the +/- that his pairing has allowed 24 more goals with him on the ice than Weber's,  or 22 more than Chara's.  Sure, you can't pin all those goals on a specific player.  Maybe the goalie was bad.  Maybe the forward made a stupid play.  But it has offset the differential in points a little bit.

But where I do believe you are way off is the PK minutes.  Playing 2-3 minutes of PK time each game, means that only 21-22 minutes of Chara & Weber's time is at even strength or Power Play.  Where Karlsson has almost all of his minutes at even strength or advantage.  That's less time to score & more opportunity on the ice for Karlsson to increase his offensive production.  Even further, skating 200+ minutes per year of PK time takes it's toll on a player.  If Karlsson had to skate that many PK minutes, chances are his production would decrease a bit.  So, YES, PK time is huge.  

Stats are useful - not meaningless.  Even if we disagree on the proper context or weighting.  Who's to determine what the proper weighting is?  That comes down to opinion.  

Again, I'd take Karlsson on my team any day.  He's fantastic.  None of my comments are meant as a knock against him.  Just if I built a team from scratch, he would not be the first D man I would select.    &nbs


Since: Feb 3, 2009
Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:34 am

Erik Karlsson's big year leading Senators

Goals:  Karlsson - 12 (3.33), Weber - 12 (3.33), Chara - 12 (3.33)
Assists:  Karlsson - 45 (5), Weber - 26 (3), Chara - 24 (2)   
Time on Ice:   Weber - 26 min (4), Karlsson - 25 min (3), Chara 25 min (3)
Penalty Kill Minutes:  Chara - 155 (5), Weber - 140 (4), Karlsson - 35 (1)
Plus/Minus:  Chara +18 (4), Weber +18 (4), Karlsson +14 (2)
Play vs. Opp Top Line:  Weber (4), Chara (4), Karlsson (2)
so, in your scoring system, a difference of +4 and a difference of 20 assists is worth the same amount of pts?

and EK does play against the other teams top lines all the time.  He and kuba are our top pair, and are always on the ice against the other teams 1st line

the ONLY THING the other guys have over karlsson are the PK minutes.  can you really determine an award based on less than 2 mins per game of ice time, on average.  ESPECIALLY when you consider how much karlsson is DESTROYING them in offensive production.

it's also important to consider the overall team when looking at their defensive numbers.   karlsson is a +14 on a team that has only recently had a positive goal differential  ( i think their at like +2 or something, after outscoring their opponents 12-2 in the last 2 games).  chara and weber on teh other hand, are both at +18, but on teams who's goal differential is MASSIVE, especially when you compare it to ottawa.  also, weber plays with suter, chara plays with seidenberg.....who does EK play with, friggin kuba.

your stats are all fine and good, but without context, or proper weighting, they're meaningless.

Since: Feb 19, 2007
Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:26 am

Erik Karlsson's big year leading Senators

I am a Ranger fan, but have watched a few Ottawa games and have to say this kid is impressive.  His skating is fluid and effortless, his passing is spot on, and he makes smart decisions on the ice rather than having to plaster a guy to make the defensive play.

He reminds me of Nick Lidstrom.

I think as he grows and matures he will be the top all around defenseman in the league.

Since: Sep 28, 2011
Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:09 am
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Dec 30, 2008
Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:27 am

Erik Karlsson's big year leading Senators

Whatever comes of this season, awards of not, Karly is getting more and more respect. He deserves it. The Senators would be lost without him.

Since: Jun 18, 2007
Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:12 am

Erik Karlsson's big year leading Senators

Karlsson is a great defenseman.  There is no doubt about his scoring prowess.  And he certainly isn't a liability on the defensive end.  But to say he's a front-runner (or should be) or the Norris Trophy is a bit of a stretch, if one looks at the criteria for the award.  It's supposed to go to the best ALL AROUND defenseman.  Not just the defenseman with the most points.  Let's try to look at this objectively - with the two other's the writer mentioned as Norris candidates.  I'm going to list several categories that would - to me - make up an "all around" defenseman.  I'll assign each category 10 points & distribute the points on relative strength.

Goals:  Karlsson - 12 (3.33), Weber - 12 (3.33), Chara - 12 (3.33)
Assists:  Karlsson - 45 (5), Weber - 26 (3), Chara - 24 (2)   
Time on Ice:   Weber - 26 min (4), Karlsson - 25 min (3), Chara 25 min (3)
Penalty Kill Minutes:  Chara - 155 (5), Weber - 140 (4), Karlsson - 35 (1)
Plus/Minus:  Chara +18 (4), Weber +18 (4), Karlsson +14 (2)
Play vs. Opp Top Line:  Weber (4), Chara (4), Karlsson (2)

The totals from above:

Karlsson = 16.33
Chara = 21.33
Weber = 22.33

Even if you were to more heavily weight the points categories above - I still believe either Chara or Weber is more deserving of the Norris.  In fact, even though Lidstrom won it on reputation last year, you can make a case that he's more deserving this year than Karlsson as well.  It's hard to see how any defenseman can win an all-around award when they don't play on the penalty kill.  It's such a crucial part of the game.  Lidstrom, Weber & Chara are "shut-down" defensemen who also rank near the top of the league for defensive scoring. 

Not that I'm dogging Karlsson.  He's a great player.  Any team would be glad to have him!! 

Since: Feb 3, 2009
Posted on: February 21, 2012 11:49 pm

Erik Karlsson's big year leading Senators

here's a math problem

X = terrible goaltending + BRUTAL defense + inconsistent scoring + awful coach + overrated GM

solve for X

here's a hint, it's a team that rhymes with "go tonto staple reefs"

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