Karlsson’s Comments – Should Senators Fans Worry?

Before the Ottawa Senators ended their seven-game losing streak on Friday, the team’s captain said something that sent Sens fans even further into panic mode. After practice in New York last week, Erik Karlsson was asked about his status as a free agent in 2019. He responded by saying that he won’t accept anything less than market value on his next contract.

“I like it here, I’m comfortable here, I’ve been here my whole career. It’s something that I invested all my time in and something I would like to see all the way through,” Karlsson said. “But at the end of the day, when it comes down to it, if it’s not the right fit and it’s not going to work out business-wise, then you’re going to have to look elsewhere because that’s what (owners) are going to do, as well.”

Karlsson’s answer didn’t exactly go over well with a fanbase that is less than a month removed from seeing another beloved player get traded away. However, it’s not hard to understand where Karlsson is coming from. The star defenceman has been earning an annual average of $6.5 million per season for the last six years, well below what he could earn on the open market.

Ottawa Senators, Erik Karlsson
Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Looking for Karlsson Comparable

P.K. Subban has the highest average annual salary of any defenceman in the league, making $9 million per season. While both are elite, Norris Trophy-winning defencemen, Karlsson has put up consistently better numbers over the past five seasons. Also, the salary cap has gone up by $6 million since Subban signed his extension in 2014, meaning Karlsson could get considerably more.

It’s difficult to find a comparable for Karlsson’s contract, as his most comparable player, Drew Doughty, is also headed towards unrestricted free agency in 2019. The two are the same age, and while Karlsson has been a more productive player, Doughty says Karlsson’s contract demands will have a big effect on his own negotiations.

If Karlsson and Doughty are going to be monitoring each other’s contract negotiations, then there’s a good chance that they’ll be making similar money in two years. Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said that Doughty is looking for a contract that’s even bigger than Anze Kopitar’s eight-year, $80 million deal, and that seems like a realistic ask for Karlsson as well. Both defencemen will likely get a contract in the $100 million dollar range, depending on the term.

Drew Doughty (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When evaluating Karlsson’s value to the Senators, there aren’t too many players who compare. The team was competitive without him early this season, but losing him permanently would be the first step in a full-scale rebuild. This is why Sens general manager Pierre Dorion has to be willing to offer almost anything Karlsson asks for.

What should reassure Senators fans, however, is that Dorion is completely aware of how important his captain is to the team’s success. During the Senators’ playoff run last season, Dorion famously said the following:

“I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this but, you believe in whatever you believe in, and they always say God rested on the seventh day, I think on the eighth day he created Erik Karlsson.”

Re-signing Karlsson won’t be cheap, but it’s something the Senators’ management team knows they have to do.

Elephant in the Room – Is Erik 100%

However, there’s one reason why it might actually make sense for the Senators to hold off on contract talks for a while, even though it involves a nightmare scenario for Sens fans. After undergoing extensive foot surgery that Karlsson says involved removing part of his ankle bone and adding a new tendon, his recovery hasn’t been seamless.

Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson anticipates the play. (photo: Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

While Karlsson has been fairly good this year, some of the hiccups in his game can probably be attributed to his surgery. It should just be a matter of time before Karlsson gets used to his new ankle situation, but if the season goes by and Karlsson doesn’t show any improvement, then there will be cause for concern.

Even though Karlsson has been the cornerstone of this franchise since his breakout season in 2012, the team will be hesitant to commit to a $100-million contract if he doesn’t get back to his normal rate of production. Extending Karlsson will be a no-brainer if he gets back to being his old self, but since there are still some questions regarding his health, Dorion might want to wait a bit before offering a long-term deal.