NEW YORK — When Paul MacLean took over as coach of the Ottawa Senators, he didn’t think Erik Karlsson had it in him to be a Norris Trophy candidate.
“I just knew that he could skate real good,” said MacLean, about an hour after Karlsson, Nashville’s Shea Weber, and Boston’s Zdeno Chara were named finalists for the Norris Trophy, given yearly to the league’s top defenceman.
“And I knew that if we could get him to be active and to skate, that he had the opportunity and the skill to be a very good player.
“But I don’t know if we felt at that time that he would be good enough to be a Norris candidate.”
The 21-year-old Swede’s breakout season, in which his 78 points topped all defencemen and were good enough for 11th overall, couldn’t be ignored by those who said he was a one-dimensional player.
If that was a common cry of his detractors, there was not a discouraging word from his teammates.
“He’s had a great season and deserves to win the Norris,” said Jason Spezza.
“The year offensively that he’s had, the big minutes that he plays for us, and the fact that every night he’s playing against the other team’s first or second line, and being the engine that drives us from the back end — he just does a lot of real good things for us.”
Karlsson wore the nomination with humility. Of course, he’s had a good teacher in Daniel Alfredsson.
Karlsson said he didn’t enter the season dreaming of being nominated for the Norris, and says he only thought he might have a chance once the season ended.
After all, the field of excellent NHL defencemen is deep, including the best-ever Swedish defenceman, Nicklas Lidstrom, who has won the trophy four of the past six years and seven times overall but didn’t make the cut this year.
“I’m very proud, and it’s a big honour to be named, especially with the (other) guys who are there,” said Karlsson.
“It’s been a good year. I couldn’t be more happy.
“I never imagined it would happen, but we’ve obviously done a good job on this team this year. We’ve played some good hockey and some guys in here have had outstanding years. I’ve just tried to contribute.”
So with Alfredsson, who is a Masterton finalist, that’s two Senators who will be at the NHL awards gala in Las Vegas in June, and it should be three on Monday when MacLean is announced as one of the three finalists for coach of the year.
Alfredsson was thrilled for his young friend.
“I’m really happy for him,” he said.
He’s had an unbelievable season and is one of the big reasons we’re in this position.
“He’s worked hard and he’s progressed really quick. It’s great for him.”
THE LAST HURRAH?
Everyone was thinking about it except him.
Thursday’s playoff game was the 111th (notice the nice symmetry) that Alfredsson played as an Ottawa Senator.
The question on the minds of everyone in the circle of cameras and microphones around him on Thursday morning was whether this would be his last game.
Alfredsson’s answer was that he hadn’t thought about that — or tries not to.
“I did a little bit the other day,” he said. “I read some comments about (Detroit Red Wing defenceman Nicklas) Lidstrom, but at the same time I just try to stay in the here-and-now.
“Take it day-by-day, and enjoy it and make the most of it, and then we’ll see after.
“Especially in the playoffs, it takes a lot of energy to get ready, and it’s easy to get distracted, so I’m just staying focused on today.”