OTTAWA - Erik Karlsson struck it rich in Las Vegas.
On the eve of the NHL awards in Sin City, the Senators star defenceman signed a seven-year, $45.5-million extension (cap hit of $6.5 million annually) with the club, preventing Karlsson from becoming a restricted free agent July 1.
“It feels really, really good,” Karlsson said in a telephone interview before going out for dinner with Senators management to celebrate the conclusion of a relatively easy negotiation period.
“Obviously, I’m very happy with how everything turned out. From the start, all the discussions have been very positive and very fair. I have a lot of respect for (GM) Bryan (Murray), (owner) Eugene (Melnyk) and the whole organization. They’re very professional, they’ve been around and they know how things work. I’m very pleased with everything that’s happened.”
Coming off a 78-point season (tops among all NHL defencemen) that earned him a nomination for the Norris Trophy, Karlsson made it clear last week he didn’t expect negotiations to off the rails with the Senators.
The plan all along was for Murray to sit down with Karlsson’s representatives in Las Vegas prior to the awards. The sides got together this week and didn’t waste any time coming to an agreement.
The deal is a bit below the eight-year, $56-million extension defenceman Drew Doughty signed with the Los Angeles Kings last year. Those parties had significant issues before coming to terms — with Doughty holding out of camp for two weeks before settling on the deal.
Karlsson, 22, said last week he had no intention of following Doughty’s path to get the deal he wanted with the Senators.
“Obviously, this changes my life,” Karlsson said. “I know I’m going to be in Ottawa for seven years and I’m very happy to be there. I like the city a lot and I really believe in this team a lot. We have a really young team, a very good organization and we’ve come a lot further than many people thought. I’m happy to get this kind of trust (from the organization) and I’m very appreciative of everything they’ve been doing for me.”
Melnyk was delighted to get the deal hammered out, too.
“We feel strongly that this long-term commitment will be great for both sides,” Melnyk said in a statement. “As one of the cornerstones of our franchise, Erik will be a large part of the future success that Senators fans can look forward to.”
Karlsson, of course, was a big reason the Senators exceeded expectations this past season, qualifying for the playoffs after many picked them to finish in the Eastern Conference basement. Finishing 25 points ahead of the next highest-scoring defenceman, the team’s first-round pick from 2008 will go up against Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators and Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins for the Norris on Wednesday night.
While some speculated a Norris win would raise Karlsson’s price, neither side has to worry about factoring that into the equation after this deal.
With Karlsson now earning big bucks, he knows he’ll be in the spotlight.
“Obviously, there are going to be higher expectations of me,” Karlsson said. “That’s something that comes with a (new deal). But I know how it’s going to be. I’m just going to do my best every game and be the best hockey player I can be.”
That’s a concern for another day, however. Tuesday, Karlsson said, goes down as “one of the top days” of his career.
“I’m very happy and very grateful for the commitment that Ottawa gave to me,” he said.