|In just three years, Erik Karlsson has grown from Senators first-round draft pick into a finalist for the James Norris Trophy (Getty Images).
Call it seventh heaven for Erik Karlsson.
The Norris Trophy finalist and the Ottawa Senators agreed today on a new contract that will keep him in the nation's capital for the next seven seasons, clearly establishing the 22-year-old Swede as a franchise cornerstone for the foreseeable future. The signing comes less than three weeks before his July 7 wedding in Goteborg.
Sevens, which are a big deal in the casinos in Las Vegas — where Karlsson will attend the NHL Awards on Wednesday night — are apparently pretty special in this young man's world these days. But no matter when it happened or for how long, the contract fulfilled a wish of Karlsson's to remain in the city in which he and has fiancee, Therese, have come to call home since he first joined the Senators three years ago.
"I’m very happy about it," Karlsson said shortly after inking the deal. "It feels like both sides are very happy about it. I know I am. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me in my three years that I’ve been here. They made me a better hockey player than I thought I would be by now and I have all the thanks in the world to (give to) Ottawa’s organization for letting me do what I’m good at and developing in the way that I think is best.
"They’ve been schooling me really well into becoming the player that I am today and staying with this team for seven more years is going to make me an even better hockey player. I’m really looking forward to all those years. I know we really have something good going on. We have a good team and a lot of good young players coming up. I have nothing but good to say about the organization and I’m very, very happy with how things turned out."
For the Senators, the signing of Karlsson — their top pick (15th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft — helps ensure that in a big way by keeping a major piece of their foundation firmly in place. In a breakout season in 2011-12, the native of Landsbro, Sweden, led all National Hockey League blueliners with 78 points — the highest total recorded by a blueliner in the loop in half a decade. It was also 25 better than Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets and Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers, the NHL's second most productive defencemen.
“When you see a guy rise the way he has, it’s real important to keep him,” Senators general manager Bryan Murray said of a player he considers a "cornerstone" of the franchise. “It took a little bit of time, a bit of effort from both parties, but to get it done, and get it done at this time of year, is real important.”
Karlsson said Friday he wasn't concerned that a deal would get done and expressed the hope that something would happen when he, his agent Craig Oster and Murray would all be in Las Vegas for the NHL Awards. The two sides met Monday night and Karlsson accepted the Senators' offer on Tuesday morning.
"I said right from the start I want to stay here for a long time and I really want to be committed to this team and do everything I can to help out. I’m going to do everything I can to live up to the expectations that are going to be on me from now on. I know we’re going to have a good team even next year and in the future, we’re going to have a lot of good young guys coming up. I’m really looking forward to playing on a winning team and playing for a Stanley Cup ... This is the best possible option for me and I'm very grateful for having this opportunity given to me." - Erik Karlsson
"Once we started talking, I think both sides handled everything professionally and everything went the way it was supposed to be," said Karlsson. "I’m very appreciative of everything they’ve done and, as I said before, the organization has really helped me become the player I am today and it’s not something that I was counting on when I stepped into the league three years ago. I’m very happy to stay for seven more (years).
"We probably could have gone a lot longer in this deal and I could have gotten more money, but I think it’s fair for me and I’m happy with everything they’ve done for me. Seven years is a big commitment on their side and it really shows that they believe in what I can do as a player and they want me to be a big part of this organization."
Added Senators owner Eugene Melnyk: "The negotiations weren't difficult. He loves the city. He’s committed to being a community person, which is important to us, as well, for becoming a role model for the younger fans in Ottawa.”
He also sees a franchise that, very early into its rebuilding phase, has already shown plenty of signs that it is headed back to contender status. Karlsson wants to be a leader into the brighter future that appears just around the corner.
"I said right from the start I want to stay here for a long time and I really want to be committed to this team and do everything I can to help out," said Karlsson. "I’m going to do everything I can to live up to the expectations that are going to be on me from now on. I know we’re going to have a good team even next year and in the future, we’re going to have a lot of good young guys coming up. I’m really looking forward to playing on a winning team and playing for a Stanley Cup.
"This is the best possible option for me and I'm very grateful for having this opportunity given to me. Ottawa is something very special to me. I've lived there for three years and I want to live there for a very long time. I really like everything the city and the organization has to bring."
Count captain Daniel Alfredsson, a fellow Swede and Karlsson's good friend and mentor, among those who believe today's news is good for the franchise and for the fans in Ottawa.
"I think it's great for Erik, obviously, for our team and for the city, too," said Alfredsson. "He's a person that everybody likes to be around. His skill on the ice is unbelievable and I think we're just starting to see his potential. At 22 to be able to accomplish already what he has is unbelievable and it's been extremely fun being a part of the start of his career. I'm happy for him to get this deal."
At the NHL Awards on Wednesday, Karlsson is up against Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators and Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins as he seeks to become to first Ottawa blueliner to win the Norris. He has plenty of Senators company at the event — Alfredsson is a finalist for the Bill Masterton Trophy, presented to the player best exemplifying perseverance and dedication to hockey, while Paul MacLean is a nominee for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year.
"Everyone wants to win, but there can only be one winner," Karlsson said of the Norris. "Whoever wins is going to (deserve) it and whoever wins is going to be the guy that earned it."