It’s hard to remember when the Ottawa Senators didn’t have their captain heading into the upcoming NHL season.
Former NHL player Daniel Alfredsson was that Ottawa Senators captain from 1999 to 2013. The Swedish born player was loved by the Ottawa faithful, which made it surprising when Alfredsson decided to play for the Detroit Red Wings during the 2013 off season. But ready to take on a leadership position was fellow Swede Erik Karlsson.
This past weekend, Erik Karlsson was traded to the San Jose Sharks for a large package of prospects and picks. It was hardly surprising that Karlsson was dealt, as the Ottawa Senators had been transitioning towards a rebuilding team for a few months now. A few days before Karlsson was traded, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk released a video with Senators defencemen Mark Borowiecki on the state of the team. But Karlsson’s trajectory from a young, skinny Swede to one of the NHL’s premier offensive defensemen was one which took some time.
Karlsson was selected in the 1st round by the Ottawa Senators back in the 2008 NHL draft. The Senators had just been swept the Pittsburgh Penguins with a defense led by Wade Redden. He would later leave to the sign with the New York Rangers in the off season.
Karlsson was the 4th rated European skater that NHL Draft. One NHL scout noted his offensive ability and potential to anchor a power play, with Karlsson’s weight not seeming “NHL ready”. The Ottawa Senators specifically were targeting Karlsson in a NHL draft that featured the likes of Stamkos, Doughty and Pietrangelo. Daniel Alfredsson made the selection on behalf of the Senators, with the veteran Swede welcoming the latter to the organization. With Alfredsson’s departure a mere five years later, one could look back at how significant that moment was during the 2008 NHL Draft.
The 2011-12 NHL season was Karlsson’s breakthrough. He had 78 points in 81 games to not only lead the Ottawa Senators in points, but all NHL defensemen. Karlsson would win the Norris Trophy that year for best defenseman.
Karlsson faced a significant injury during the 2012-13 NHL season, when Matt Cooke’s skate landed on the back of his leg. This brought much attention to NHL player being required to wear cut proof kevlar-socks, which some players and commentators argued against.
In his ten year tenure as Ottawa Senator, Karlsson won two Norris trophies, was named to five all star teams, and was named to the First NHL All Star team five times. But Karlsson’s greatest accomplishment might have been his connection to the Ottawa community.
As the Ottawa Senators captain for five years, Karlsson served as the face of the franchise. Just a few days before being traded, Karlsson and his wife were active with their charity “Can’t Dim My Light”. Karlsson’s charity aims to raise funds towards anti-bullying initiatives. And earlier this year, Karlsson tragically lost his son to stillbirth. The Ottawa community quickly rallied around the Karlsson family.
The Ottawa Senators published a tweet after the Karlsson trade, which noted his “dedication and his contribution to the Ottawa community on and off the ice”. No one will know Karlsson’s final legacy towards the Ottawa Senators. But one thing is for certain. The Ottawa Senators started the 2018-19 training camp not only without their premier NHL, but one less leader in the dressing room. Leaders can be created, but legacy is hard to establish. Karlsson will be missed in the greater Ottawa area.