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The Karlsson Conundrum

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames
CALGARY, AB -- For the past five years, the search has been on to find a capable caddy for Calgary Flames workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff.

In 2005-06, Brian Boucher and Philippe Sauve spelled Kiprusoff for just 11 games. Current goaltending coach Jamie McLennan had his crack at it the next season.

The Flames used Curtis McElhinney for the start of the 2007-08 campaign but the club opted to bring in veteran Curtis Joseph to aid the team in the stretch. McElhinney took on the duties for a full season in 2008-09 but was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for veteran goalie Vesa Toskala the next year.

Toskala and the Flames opted to part ways at the end of the 2009-10 season and the search was on for the next goaltender to spell off Kiprusoff.

Inspired by his play in the Swedish Elite League, then-general manager Darryl Sutter sent a sixth round draft pick to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Henrik Karlsson's rights. He quickly signed the Swede to a one-year deal and hoped he would adjust quickly to the North American game.

Now, 51 games in the year, Karlsson has appeared in 12 games and has earned points in an impressive eight of those contests. As the season has progessed, interest in keeping the 27 year-old has obviously increased and acting general manager Jay Feaster noted working out a deal with Karlsson will come to forefront after seeing him play in a few games.

"We have a lot of confidence in Karlsson," Feaster said last week. "That is one of the things that I'm excited about - to see how he responds and how he performs because if he is able to do what we believe he's capable of, then yes, getting him resigned would be a priority."

Now that Karlsson has had the chance to showcase his talent, many have wished the team had signed him to a longer deal but Feaster is adamant a single season contract was the best possible option for the team at the time due to the fact his play was relatively unknown to most within North America.

"Understand that in signing him to the one-year deal ... it's important that you have that opportunity to evaluate the player. If he turns out to be a guy who you think is going to be a part of your long-term future, you wish he were signed for three or four years. But the reality is that you don't know until you see him in North America, see him in NHL action. What he's shown us thus far has been impressive. Now he needs to continue that body of work."

Not only has Karlsson shown that he is a competent netminder in his stint with the club, he's given the team a shot of energy that Feaster appreciates. After wins, Karlsson often fist pumps in jubilation.

That energy has made him a fan favourite but Feaster noted there are some people in the organization who were worried about his new trademark move. In Carolina, Karlsson gave a fist pump after stopping the first shooter. However, Calgary went on the lose that contest.

"The first shooter he made the save on, he gave the first pump and Jamie (McLennan) was apoplectic," he said. "In the coaches office afterward, he said 'Don't worry, I'm going to talk to him,' and 'We have talk to him because it just pumps up the other team and it gives them more incentive.'

"I was standing there with (Senior Vice President and assistant general manager) Mike Holditch and I said 'Don't worry Holdy, we'll suck the flavour right out him. We'll turn him vanilla as soon as we can.' I hate that. I love the fact that this kid has passion. You know what? If it pumps up the other team, so be it. Let this kid show his passion and when he gets excited, let him show it. Some nights he's going to get beat so you tip your hat to the other guy and move on."

While the organization is impressed with what they have seen in his 12 appearances, Feaster needs to see more before he can formally sit down with Karlsson and discuss future plans.

"I believe that we, as an organization, need to know what we have in him," he stated. "He certainly did the job for us in Montreal and allowed us to come back and get a point. It's interesting because I thought he made three ten-bell saves in that game that kept us in it and kept us where we had a chance to win. After the game, I walked in the coach's office and Brent said 'I don't even think he was expecting a shot,' on the Subban game-winner.

"It's funny because if you read his comments the next day, he said 'I didn't think he was going to shoot. I was reading the pass.' So he cheated on that short side post and that's a rookie mistake, that's a first year pro mistake. He doesn't know the player, doesn't know he is likely to take a shot. It's a situation where he's still learning and we need to know what we have there."
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