The Capitals' 22-year-old blueliner bucked that trend Friday, agreeing to a six-year, $23.8 million contract. Carlson will earn $3.8 million in 2012-13 and $4 million per season from 2013-14 through 2017-18.
"To be honest, I think that all I wanted was to be here a long time," said Carlson, who had been a restricted free agent. "I think that [was a goal] that I've had since I've got here, and it has a lot to do with really liking this team, liking this city and liking our fans. I obviously wanted to be here."
Washington selected Carlson with the 27th pick of the 2008 NHL Draft and has teamed with Alzner for most of his career to form one of the game's best young defensive pairings.
With injuries limiting Mike Green to 81 games the past two seasons, Carlson has stepped in to lead the team in ice time (22:38) in 2010-11, and finish second in that category last season at 21:51.
Carlson has been used as a quarterback on the power play and in a shutdown role in the game's final minutes. His versatility and ascent on Washington's depth chart also has earned him the trust of management.
"In this case, we were pretty comfortable with what we have in the player, the direction he's going in and what he can do," McPhee said. "He's a good-size guy [6-foot-3, 212 pounds], he's strong enough in the corners to come up with the puck, he defends real well, he's mobile, he's got offense in his game, he stays healthy and hasn't missed any games the last couple of years. So we thought in this particular case that the longer term would work for us."
Carlson was one of six Capitals to dress in all 82 games last season and finished with 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists), setting a career high in goals. By his own admission, though, he could have played better in the regular season.
Coming off a 2010-11 season in which he was named to the NHL's All-Rookie Team, Carlson struggled with consistency.
"He was in the NHL in short order and has played very well since he's been here. He was probably our best all-round defenseman last year and we think there's still a lot of room to grow. He seems to play his best games in the big games and that's what you like to see." -- Caps GM George McPhee
Despite finishing second among Washington blueliners in goals, points and shots (152), Carlson tied for a team-worst minus-15 (after being plus-21 the previous season).
"I felt that, obviously, I wasn't at my best all season long," Carlson said. "But I thought I played great in [the] playoffs. I still think that I can get better and there are things that I can take from last year to kind of know where I need to be every game. That's just one of those things that you think a lot about in the summer, and when it comes time to play, I'll have something I need to work on then."
Carlson teamed with Alzner to form Washington's No. 1 defensive pairing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and he contributed offensively with two goals and five points in 14 games.
Throughout his career Carlson has shown a knack for coming through when the stakes are high. He was a key cog for two Calder Cup championship teams with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League in 2009 and 2010, and he scored the overtime goal to win the gold medal for the United States at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"He was in the NHL in short order and has played very well since he's been here," McPhee said. "He was probably our best all-round defenseman last year and we think there's still a lot of room to grow. He seems to play his best games in the big games and that's what you like to see."
With Dennis Wideman, the Capitals' leading scorer among defensemen last season, gone to the Calgary Flames, Carlson may be looked upon to carry even more of the load this season.
"I know from myself, from my game and what I've done, I think that it's a big commitment from them and it's a big commitment for me," Carlson said. "I know that I can get a lot better, and I'm not happy with where I am, ever. I think that what they've shown to me means a lot."