Karlsson, a 6-foot, 180-pound 22-year-old, gives away four inches and 52 pounds to Nashville’s Shea Weber and nine inches and 75 pounds to Boston’s Zdeno Chara, but they will be on equal footing Wednesday night in Las Vegas when they find out which of the trio of star blueliners will be named the NHL’s top defenseman for the past year.
They will be on much closer financial footing as well, as Karlsson agreed to a new seven-year, $45.5 million deal with Ottawa on Tuesday. That’s a $6.5 million cap hit for the next seven years, quite a leap from the $1.3 million hit he had for the past three seasons on his entry-level deal.
Karlsson’s game took quite a leap this past year as well. After a solid 13-32-45 line in his sophomore campaign in 2010-11, Karlsson broke out with 19-59-78 totals this past season. That was the most points for any defenseman in the league, with his nearest pursuers 25 points behind him.
While Karlsson’s work in his own zone is more of a work in progress, he did make some strides there as well as he finished plus-16 a year after posting a minus-30.
It all added up to a big payday for Karlsson, who was scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1. But keeping him off the market into his unrestricted free agent seasons with the seven-year deal required quite an investment by the Senators.
Karlsson’s new cap hit is exceeded by just five defensemen league-wide, with Brian Campbell at $7.14 million through 2015-16, Drew Doughty at $7.0 million through 2018-19, Chara at $6.92 million through 2017-18, Jay Bouwmeester at $6.68 million through 2013-14 and Dan Boyle at $6.67 million through 2013-14. Dion Phaneuf is also at $6.5 million through 2013-14, while Weber is a restricted free agent after making $7.5 million on a one-year deal this past season.
And just to make you shudder, Wade Redden also has $6.5 million cap hit through 2013-14, though the Rangers have buried that in the AHL the past two seasons.
Contracts like Redden’s, and the Rangers’ ability to get it off their cap by assigning him to the minors, are sure to be one of the issues discussed in the upcoming round of negotiations as the league and the NHL Players’ Association attempt to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement with the current deal set to expire in September.
The huge raises players like Karlsson are getting in their second deals are also going to be a point of contention. The Bruins have already seen the effects with the big leap Milan Lucic made from his initial cap hit of $850,000 to his current hit of over $4 million when his second deal went into effect in 2010. Now Lucic will be up for his third contract after the upcoming season at the same time that Tyler Seguin will be looking to cash in on his second deal.
Every team around the league is dealing with the rising costs of its young stars. Whether Karlsson will be one of the last to cash in under the current system is one of many issues needed to be settled in the coming months to avoid another round of labor strife.