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Sens' Karlsson focused on 'being better next year'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators blueliner Erik Karlsson led all NHL defencemen with 78 points in 2011-12, which in great part helped earn him a nomination for the James Norris Trophy (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images).

Erik Karlsson doesn't want to be known as a one-shot wonder.

Fresh off the most prolific season by a National Hockey League blueliner in half a decade, the Ottawa Senators defenceman said today he believes his best his still yet to come. Scary stuff indeed, given the season he just had.

"Hopefully, it's not a once-in-a-lifetime thing," the 22-year-old Karlsson told reporters earlier today on a conference call from his off-season home in Goteborg, Sweden. "That's not what I want to do. I want to be better next year."

Karlsson enjoyed a season for the ages in 2011-12, racking up 19 goals and 78 points — the latter number the highest by an NHL defenceman since seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings totalled 80 in 2005-06. Karlsson's assist (59) and point totals also shattered longstanding modern franchise records in Ottawa.

Can Karlsson, who is coming off just his third NHL season, take it even higher next year? He doesn't know for sure, but added he won't judge his play — and any level of improvement — based on his offensive numbers alone.

"if I’m a better hockey player next year than I was the previous year, it doesn’t matter if I (score) a less amount of points," he said. "I want to help this team win hockey games and that’s what it’s all about. This was a season where everything kind of fell into (place) and during certain points in time, I was pretty lucky about things. That’s what you need if you’re going to put up a lot of numbers like I did.

"You’re going to need some luck as well and, hopefully, i can have a better season next year. Where I’m going to end up in points, I have no idea or no real goal. I just want to keep developing my game."

While his point totals were indeed staggering — his 78 points were a whopping 25 better than the next-best blueliners, Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets and Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers — Karlsson also saw his plus-minus figure rise dramatically as well, from -30 in 2010-11 to +16 this past season. But it was the much flashier offensive numbers that did the most to earn Karlsson a nomination for the Norris, presented annually to the league's top defenceman.

"He outscored every (defenceman) by 25 points and that's an important factor in it," said Senators head coach Paul MacLean, who's a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach. "He was a plus player and he played against the other team's very best players ... he was on the ice for 25 or 30 minutes every night. And he led the league by a mile in points.

"Should he win it? I think he's done enough. But will he win it? I don't know, but I think he's done enough."

The Norris winner will be announced next Wednesday at the 2012 NHL Awards in Las Vegas (8 p.m., CBC), with Karlsson up against Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators. It's not exactly a place the Senators blueliner expected to find himself at the season's outset. And the NHL Awards will mark his first exposure to the glitz and glamour of the Nevada entertainment mecca.

"From what I've heard, it's a very exciting place to go and it's something that you're going to enjoy a lot," said Karlsson. "Just to be nominated is a great honour. It’s not something I was planning on going into the season and it’s definitely something that was special to me. Just being there and being around everybody is enough, but you want to win and it’s not in my hands. We’re going to have to wait and see."

Karlsson, who's set to become a restricted free agent on July 1, is also hopeful that Las Vegas will provide a springboard to the completion of a new contract with the Senators. His representatives and Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray are both attending the NHL Awards and it's possible discussions will continue between the sides at some point there.

But Karlsson made it clear today he wants to stay in Ottawa for the long haul.

"Hopefully, I can have a really long career and, hopefully, it can be in Ottawa," said Karlsson, a first-round pick (15th overall) by the Senators in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. "We're still in the early stages of things, but everything is going really well and there is no rush. I think we both know where we stand. I want to stay and they want to keep me, so there are no issues there.

"I've been in Ottawa for three years and both me and my fiancee (Therese) like it there, and we want to stay. There isn't any question about that. You want to stay for a longer time, but we're going to have to wait and see what everybody says and what's best for the team and me."

After the awards, Karlsson and Therese will head back to Goteborg for another big event — their July 7 wedding. It'll be another exciting day in this young man's life.

"It's a bit stressful about some things, but I think we have everything under control," Karlsson said of plans for the wedding. "I'm happy where we are in terms of the planning and everything, and it's going to be a really good day."

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