Melnyk’s “greatest” boast gives Karlsson big shoes to fill

Just think of the great ones: Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Ray Bourque, Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson, and Paul Coffey.
Not to mention Red Kelly, Chris Chelios, Tom Johnson, Rod Langway, Doug Wilson, and Scott Niedermayer, all among the more accomplished defencemen to play in the NHL.
Heady company, indeed, especially for a 21-year-defenceman who is only in his third NHL season.
But that is the company that Erik Karlsson found himself in after Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk reached for the hyperbole on Sunday and predicted that Karlsson will “go down in history as one of the great defenceman of all time.”
Given that negotiations are about to begin on a new contract for Karlsson, it was probably imprudent for Melnyk to make such a comment.
It likely only served to add several hundred thousand dollars to the eventual settlement, which will probably come in around $5.5 million per season.
But to his credit, Karlsson was able to get his helmet on for Tuesday’s practice and said he appreciated Melnyk’s comments.
“Obviously, I’m very glad to hear that be believes in me and thinks that what I do is pretty good,” said Karlsson.
“I mean, I still have a pretty long way to go in my career and a lot of things can happen. All I can do is be myself and try to be a good player for a very long time.”
Melnyk might not be far off the mark in his reach for the stars, though.
Karlsson, the leading scorer among defenceman and 16th overall, could turn out to be one of the very, very good ones. Certainly he has all the skills.
But it will take some time to arrive at that judgment.
Asked where he thought Karlsson might be in five years, Senators coach Paul MacLean said “I can’t wait.
“His game has grown a lot and I think there are still areas and places where it can grow.
“But as far as I’m concerned, his growth potential is basically up to him and his ability to comprehend the game and his dedication to the fitness aspect of the game and his continued growth as a player in seeing the ice and the people around him.”
Captain Daniel Alfredsson, who knows Karlsson better than perhaps anyone on the team, is not about to step into the debate of whether Karlsson will end up as one of the greatest.
But he is a fan and sees a big future for him.
“It’s hard to forecast, because it depends on injuries, and health, obviously,” said Alfredsson.
“But he’s young, he’s going to get stronger, he’s going to get more experience, and if this team continues to develop and keeps getting better, it’ll be for a him a winning team and that’s how you really develop.
“It’s impossible to say where he’s going to be in five years, but I don’t think he’s going to get any worse.”
“He’s had a great start to his career. He enjoys the game and he works hard and pays attention to the things he can improve on.
“Where he is right now is impressive.”
Karlsson said his immediate goal is simply to have a better season than the one before. Looking ahead five years is too far away. Besides, he jokes, he might not like what he sees.
“Maybe I’ll be more defensive,” he said.
“Maybe a younger guy will come up and take my spot and I’ll have to play defensively. I don’t know. It’s tough to say.
“There are so many factors that can play a big part in how your career turns out, and five years is a long time. Hopefully I’m here and keep improving every year.”
General manager Bryan Murray said he has not yet officially opened negotiations with Karlsson’s agents.
“We’ve had a conversation,” he said. “They know we want to sign him.
“But there’s nothing more than that going on.”
If Murray can get Karlsson’s name on a four-year deal, he’ll be doing good, whatever the cost, because in five years, in 2016-17, Karlsson will have his seven years in and be an unrestricted free agent.
That’s when he’ll really be expensive – if, of course, Melnyk is correct and Karlsson is on his way to being one of the greatest.
But if everyone thinks that Melnyk put a few dollars in Karlsson’s pocket this time around, Karlsson is more circumspect about his accomplishments this season.
“I don’t think you should base a contract on one year,” he said.
“But obviously it’s something me and (my agents) will have to sit down and talk about after the season.”

What do you think? Leave a comment