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Coaches Room

Karlsson wants chance to win Cup with Senators

Former coach MacLean says defenseman loves Ottawa but not afraid of moving on

by Paul MacLean / Special to

The Coaches Room is a weekly column by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. Jim Corsi, David Marcoux, Paul MacLean and Joe Mullen will take turns providing insight.

In this edition, MacLean, former coach of the Ottawa Senators, looks at the uncertain future of Sens' captain Erik Karlsson. Will he be traded? Will he be re-signed or will he part ways with Ottawa when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019? Whatever happens, Karlsson's impact on the Senators franchise can't be emphasized enough.

TORONTO -- Here we are, just days away from the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26, and Erik Karlsson's name continues to be in the news.

Erik is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019, so there is no shortage of speculation concerning how long (or short) his tenure with the Ottawa Senators will continue to be. There are plenty of reports out there about whether the Senators will trade him if they don't think they can re-sign him, but those stories always seem to get more traction as the NHL Trade Deadline approaches; this year it's Monday at 3 p.m. ET.

During my tenure as coach of the Senators from 2011-14, I had the pleasure of coaching Erik. In the process, I learned a few things about him.

First off, you have to understand that Erik is part of the culture of the Senators and the city of Ottawa. Not only is he one of the elite players in the NHL, he's the identity of the Ottawa Senators.

Video: NHL Tonight crew on Erik Karlsson trade rumors

When Daniel Alfredsson left to go to the Detroit Red Wings in July 2013, the Senators franchise was defined by Erik moving forward. Anywhere the team goes, it's about Erik Karlsson. Everyone wants to see Erik Karlsson. He's the face of the franchise, and he welcomes that. It's not a burden for him.

I know he wants to remain a member of the Senators for his whole career -- or at least as long as he can. He's got roots there. Daniel's still there. Erik's wife is from there. It's the first team he played for. But as he said, it's a business.

Financially he's going to demand what he's going to demand. And I know how badly he wants to win. He doesn't want to do it by himself. I know those are going to be some of the factors for him.

You can't underestimate his desire to win. Winning the Norris Trophy multiple times isn't his goal. He wants to have a chance to win a Stanley Cup. He wants to do that in Ottawa. But if he doesn't think he can do it there, I'm sure he won't be afraid to move on.

Truth be told, Erik's really not afraid of too many things, if anything.

Last spring, for example, Erik came within a double-overtime goal in Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins of leading the Senators to the Stanley Cup Final. He did it on one ankle. It was an incredibly valiant effort.

But it didn't surprise me. That's just Erik Karlsson.

One thing Erik has besides natural talent is a huge amount of courage. And he has a tremendous amount of dedication to his teammates and to the city of Ottawa to be the best he can be.

If he can be out there, he's going to be out there. It's naturally in him, but Daniel also helped him with that, and his teammates helped him with it too. He got to see it firsthand being around guys like Chris Phillips and Chris Neil and Jason Spezza over the years. All these veteran guys who have been around and played through a lot of stuff. After seeing your teammates do it -- when it's your turn to do it, you do it.

That leadership burden he took on after Jason left in 2014 was a big thing. You can't expect teammates to do it if you don't do it. At the time, he showed he was ready to accept the responsibility of being the captain of the Senators.

Erik, of course, had surgery on his ankle during the offseason. People need to constantly be reminded of that when they ask why his game might not be at the same elite level it was last season.

Keep in mind that the ankle injury came on the same leg he tore his Achilles on. To come off an injury like that -- they say it takes 3-6 months before you can get back and start to do things, but it usually takes 6-12 months before the way you used to be able to do things when you are talking about these major injuries. In a lot of cases, it takes a full calendar year before you can start to have the strength and the confidence you had before.

So he comes back from his Achilles injury, then he injures the ankle. It's compounded by the screws and nuts and bolts they put in there; in my estimation, he might not be completely and fully back to the Erik Karlsson we all know until maybe this time next year. That's when I expect him to have that step and that jump he's known for.

When you watch him play now, that first step -- the one that makes the biggest difference -- just isn't the same as it was. That's just because of the surgery and the rehab. Time is needed for the small muscles and the other things that affect your balance to strengthen.

You have to be diligent when it comes to rehabbing that stuff. You can't say: "Oh, I'm tired today, I don't want to do that." That's something you have to stick to, and it takes a whole lot of dedication and commitment from the player, from the trainer, from the coach.

Time is what it takes. That's the important thing. Sometimes we get too critical of people and lose sight of the fact how difficult it is to come back from these major injuries.

Erik is one of the most talented, coachable players I've ever worked with. He's one of the elite performers in the game. As such, his future is going to be very much in the public eye.

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