The Ottawa Senators are in danger of missing the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They entered play Wednesday five points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference.
But one could make a strong case that without defenseman Erik Karlsson, the Senators wouldn't even be that close to a playoff spot.
Karlsson continues to be the most dangerous offensive defenseman in the NHL; he's tied for third in the League among all skaters with 68 points (11 goals, 57 assists) in 68 games. He averages 29:10 of ice time per game, the most in the NHL. He has 24 points on the power play.
Regardless of the situation, chances are Karlsson will be on the ice.
With a quarter of the 2015-16 season remaining, Karlsson remains the front-runner to win the Norris Trophy as the League's top defenseman.
"[Karlsson] is like all elite players … sometimes their biggest strength becomes their biggest weakness," Senators coach Dave Cameron told the Ottawa Sun. "What I mean by that is that they're able to take the puck at different times and just go and dominate. Sometimes when the game tightens up and the team is struggling they grab that puck and actually try to do too much.
"That's a mature thing. Every elite player has done that; that's what makes them elite. They want to be the dominant force at that time. As they mature they start to read the play a little bit, tend to [understand] less is more. But still, at the time when the game is on the line they don't want to come off the ice. They want the puck; they want to make the difference.
"Certainly [Karlsson] has grown over the years and he's getting better at it. As much as he's talented, his biggest strengths are his competitiveness and how smart he is. He gets it."
Karlsson previously won the Norris in 2012 and again last season, when he had 66 points and a plus-7 rating in 82 games. He's well on his way to winning it for the third time.
Video: BUF@OTT: Karlsson buries a rebound into the net
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings: Doughty quickly is cutting into Karlsson's Norris Trophy lead. The 26-year-old got his 30th assist of the season Monday and ranks third in the NHL with an average ice time per game of 28:22. Doughty has 43 points in 65 games and a plus-19 rating.
"Obviously I want to jump into the rush and play offense as much as I can too, but the No. 1 priority is shutting down the other team's best players, and I take a lot of pride doing that," Doughty told USA Today.
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks: Burns had 60 points last season, the most productive of his NHL career. He's about to blow past that mark.
Burns has four goals and five assists during a five-game point streak and enters Thursday against the New Jersey Devils (10:30 p.m. ET; MSG+, CSN-CA, NHL.TV) with 60 points. He leads all defensemen with 24 goals, and Monday he became the first to score more than 23 goals in a season since Mike Green scored 31 with the Washington Capitals in 2008-09.
"We're creatures of routine, I think," Burns said. "We do the same thing every night. I think I went 19 games without a goal. You just kind of ride that roller coaster. The guys have been playing well. They've been making good plays and a lot of times I've been the recipient of a lot of good plays."
ALSO IN THE MIX: John Klingberg, Dallas Stars; Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild; Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks.