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Poll: Is Erik Karlsson an elite defenseman?

Aug 23, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

Ottawa Senators v Pittsburgh Penguins Getty Images

While defensive defenseman seem to suffer when it comes to Norris Trophy voting,* offensive blueliners tend to get nitpicked an awful lot. In many cases, they’re labeled as double-edged swords; people believe that there’s a strong chance they can hurt their teams when aggressive bids to push the pace fall flat.

It’s pretty difficult to make an argument for anyone other than Erik Karlsson being the best player on the Ottawa Senators, yet that doesn’t mean that he’s a consensus pick as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He’s generally downgraded by the same conversations people had about dynamos like Paul Coffey.

The question is: should he be considered among the very best at his position?

One thing that seems beyond debate is his sterling offensive ability. While most blueliners aim for 60 points and would likely be happy with 50, Karlsson is a rare threat to at least flirt with a point-per-game. Not only that, he creates so many shots that it’s easy to argue that the sum of his offense makes up for any defensive lapses (legitimate or exaggerated).

Silver Seven Sens advances the argument that the gifted 24-year-old makes the players around him better, too. The “fancy stats” smile upon Karlsson as well, as you can see here and here.

Circling back, though, his style can make it easier to pinpoint those moments when things don’t work out. The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy wondered if he’s “too soft” to be an elite defenseman, for one:

In 2012, the Sens star won the Norris Trophy as best defenseman in the NHL. The award, voted on by hockey writers, is notoriously slanted towards blueliners who put up offense and Karlsson was a gem that year with 19 goals and 78 points in 81 games. By contrast, runner-up Shea Weber had 49 points that season, playing more minutes than Karlsson and certainly make the space in front of his netminder a lot scarier for enemy forwards than Karlsson ever could.

But at the same time, is your team ever safe from getting scored upon if Karlsson is carrying the puck up the ice? No doubt the Swede is a special talent, but that attention to detail in his own zone seems to be lacking sometimes.

“Elite” means different things to different people, so let’s leave that to your own discretion. Based on whatever standards you’d like to consider, is Karlsson an elite defenseman?

* – The fact that Zdeno Chara only owns one Norris is pretty mind-boggling.

  1. endusersolutions2013 - Aug 23, 2014 at 7:24 PM

    PHT poll proposal: In addition to polling about a team-specific issue, I recommend that an additional question be added to each team’s day going forward.

    What place will the team finish in their division in the upcoming year? I’ll start this off my saying in the same place, 5th. I don’t see them overtaking Detroit, who are unlikely to have as severe injury issues next year. And I don’t see any of the teams below improving enough to pass them.

  2. mshantz22 - Aug 23, 2014 at 8:07 PM

    Karlsson is a winger playing the wrong position. He is a good offensive defenseman, but half the league’s defenseman would fare better in covering a 2-on-1 than Karlsson.

  3. btlpper68 - Aug 23, 2014 at 8:38 PM

    Elite defenseman: can he be trusted to hold his own defensively, make a lower caliber defenseman better, and be trusted out there protecting a 1 goal lead with a minute left, Karlson Dosent fit these characteristics

  4. shanekelleytx - Aug 23, 2014 at 8:39 PM

    Definitely an elite defenseman. By far the best at offense and it makes up for his average defense. It’s not like he’s out there doing like Ovechkin does.

    • flyerspsu - Aug 24, 2014 at 12:06 AM

      his defense is well below average

    • chanceoffleury - Aug 24, 2014 at 1:00 AM

      Guys like Subban and Letang can match him offensively. And guys like Keith, Doughty, Suter, and Weber make up for the small offensive gap by being significantly better defensively. It just depends.

  5. LampyB - Aug 23, 2014 at 8:48 PM

    Yes this shouldn’t even be a poll.

  6. ragsrus - Aug 23, 2014 at 8:55 PM

    No way. Not even close. Karlson is Mike Green 2.0.

  7. jason9696 - Aug 23, 2014 at 9:13 PM

    He’s a good one. But I wouldn’t call him an elite one. Even if he does have a Norris Trophy to his credit.

    On that note, can you believe that Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban are both Norris Trophy winners. And Drew Doughty isn’t? Something is seriously wrong with that picture.

    • pjblake2redwings - Aug 25, 2014 at 9:13 AM

      the fact that Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban have the same amount of Norris trophies as Chara and Doughty has 0 is wild to me…

  8. endusersolutions2013 - Aug 23, 2014 at 9:32 PM

    I’d rather hanve Keith, Doughty, Weber or Pietrangelo over the next two years that either. Not just an opinion/bias/hunch…

    When all the PKS contract drama was generating daily articles, I did an assessment of to more offensively orriented d-men, using “old school” offensive and defensive measures, along with two “advanced stats”. The rankings were

    • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 23, 2014 at 9:40 PM

      On the other hand, if he’s top 5, than I would think an elite label would be appropriate.

  9. hockeyflow33 - Aug 23, 2014 at 9:42 PM

    Shouldn’t an elite defenseman be playing important shut-down minutes instead of sitting on the bunch in the final minutes?

  10. btlpper68 - Aug 23, 2014 at 9:42 PM

    Weber and doughty don’t have Norris trophies but Subban and karlson do…k

    • dueman - Aug 23, 2014 at 11:25 PM

      Just boggles the mind, doesn’t it? That’s what happens when you let a bunch of journalists, who believe that the number of points a player gets is the only statistic required in determining a players value, decide which player gets the trophy…

  11. ragsrus - Aug 23, 2014 at 10:46 PM

    Karlson is garbage. If you don’t think so then you don’t know much about hockey.

    • avscup - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:03 AM

      Right. Because those who determine the Norris Winner know nothing about hockey! I’m old school and believe in defenseman playing defense also…ala Ray Bourque, Rob Blake, etc but Karlson is one of the best offensive D men in the game. Thereby Elite!

  12. endusersolutions2013 - Aug 23, 2014 at 10:55 PM

    While the advanced stats referenced were relevent, he was not near the top 10 in either. A measure I think is also relevent was left out Rel Corsi COQ – relative CORsi Quality of Competition. He was not top 30, not close.

  13. bsaundaz - Aug 23, 2014 at 10:56 PM

    elite offensively, yes. defensively, NO FCKING WAY. im tired of the norris being given to the best offensive defenseman whereas its supposed to be the best defenseman. DEFENSE IS REQUIRED…pk, karlson are not deserving of this award. give it to the real dmen

    • avscup - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:05 AM

      Spot on! Doughty!!! But There is not a GM in the league that would not welcome Karlson’s point production!

  14. Hard to BeLeaf - Aug 23, 2014 at 11:27 PM

    There are great offensive dmen, like Karlsson, Subban.
    There are great defensive dmen, like Chara, Seabrook,
    But the elites are the guys who are great at both. I’d put Keith, Doughty, Weber, Pietrangelo and Suter in that group.

    Sadly points count more than anything for the Norris voters, so Karlsson and Subban have their names on it before Weber, Doughty, Pietrangelo or Suter. Karlsson’s was hard to argue because he had such a massive point lead, but Suter was ripped of when Subban won because of PP points totals.

  15. vancouversportsbro - Aug 23, 2014 at 11:45 PM

    This is tough. He had a really good year where he won the Norris but if you look at the defensive aspect of his game, he’s not elite in that sense like Chara or Ryan Suter are. As in, he does not prevent goals and dominate when playing defense. He could become better in that area, who knows. I’ll say he has proven he can be elite but is not consistent enough to be called so yet.

  16. paulerhythm - Aug 24, 2014 at 12:34 AM

    Too many differing opinions on a young defenseman. He’s scary good when on offense, which bodes well. Defense is okay, not spectacular. He doesn’t have to be physical to be effective. He can lay the body to separate the opponents from the puck; he can skate out of trouble and he can make passes. I’d say that’s elite to me. The time will come when Doughty, Weber, Suter and Pietrangelo wins the Norris, especially Doughty has every east coast writer saw what Doughty can do during the Kings Champion Cup run.

  17. blomfeld - Aug 24, 2014 at 1:08 AM


    *** NHL’s Top 5 Defense Men as rated by Nigel Pimlico @ The Times of London ***

    1) Drew Doughty
    2) Alec Martinez
    3) Slava Voynov
    4) Matt Greene
    5) Jake Muzzin


  18. mackattack29 - Aug 24, 2014 at 6:02 AM

    Lol it is painfully obvious how ignorant people are when it comes to Karlsson’s defensive abilities. The majority of people probably saw a highlight of Karlsson giving the puck up leading to a goal in 2012 and assumed that’s what he’s been doing for his entire career since. Haha if people are going to be THIS ignorant about Karlsson then don’t comment. He is solid defensively and can transition out of his zone better than anyone in the league. He is miles better than anyone is willing to admit defensively and his offensive skills make him more elite than any defenseman who’s name isn’t Weber, Suter, Doughty, and equal to Keith and Subban. Other than that he’s right in the mix of top 10 defensemen in the league. And for those who say he’s a 4th forward….. just… find a new sport because this one seems to be hard for you to follow.

  19. clpalermo94 - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    No question he is Elite. As risky as his defensive capabilities are he’s is still pretty darn good at them. You add in his offensive prowess and what he means to any team he wears the jersey for and his value is unprecedented.

  20. kevsens - Aug 24, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    I’m gonna assume that not many here watched EK game in and game out in his Norris season. I did. No, he can’t clear a crease like a Doughty or Weber, but his defensive abilities are on par with them. There isn’t a dman in the league that can stick check or catch back up to the play like EK. His defense isn’t the best in the league but it’s above average and his overall game places him in the elite category. Last year was a step back for the entire team defensively and EK struggled as his injury the season before hindered him significantly. People seem to forget that there were some professionals calling him one of the best players in the game in the first 15 games of the season before he got hurt.

  21. razorsedgeperformance - Aug 24, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    If you measure a dman based on his physicality, then Karlsson is not elite. Blame that on the genetics, he is TINY! But if you actually watch him play you see that he erases odd-man rushes with his speed, breaks out of the zone as good as anyone in the league, and whoever said he doesn’t play crunch time minutes needs to check the log books! If he was a liability then why do coaches continue to play him for 25-30 mins a night? Do we think Paul McLean doesn’t understand hockey? He was best defenseman at World Juniors, he was first-team all-star at olympics (which means top 2!), a Norris winner, and he is still only 24…I’d say that makes him ELITE! Saying so doesn’t take away from Doughty, Keith or Pietrangelo!

  22. calden99 - Aug 24, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    No move him to a winger

  23. kevsens - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:55 PM

    Ya. Pretty sure no one had watched him for an entire game. The guy plays half the friggen game and he most definitely kills penalties.

    He. Is. Elite.

  24. sterogatory - Aug 25, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    How is this even a question? Karlsson is one of the most dynamic players in the game. His defensive stick work and speed are underrated and he moves the puck better than any other d-man. He also kills penalties effectively and leads the team in minutes. Won’t be surprised when he gets the “C” and puts up a point per game again this year. Karlsson = elite.

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