NHL awards: Sens celebrate Karlsson deal

LAS VEGAS -- For the fourth year, the annual NHL awards machinery has descended on Sin City to hand out the league's hardware.

The biggest news of the day involved Norris trophy nominee Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators inking a seven-year deal with the Senators worth $6.5 million annually.

Karlsson, who was the top-scoring defenseman by a country mile this past season with 78 points -- 25 more than the second-highest scoring defender -- and 10th overall in the league, was set to become a restricted free agent.

He is also set to get married next month, so the new contract is an early present even if it will mean higher expectations for him.

“I mean, obviously it's going to be higher expectations from everyone, especially from you guys," Karlsson said. "That's the way it is. It's something that comes with this work, something that I know about. It's not something that's kind of snuck up on me. I know how it works. I'm going to try to play my best every night.

“I'm not happy with where I am today. I'm still trying to be a better hockey player. I'm becoming a better person as well.”

The Karlsson signing was greeted with delight by coach Paul MacLean, who is nominated for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year after the Senators were a surprise playoff team, taking the top-seeded New York Rangers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs before losing.

“I’m as happy as anybody is about [the contract]," MacLean said. "I thought it was a real great piece of work by [GM] Bryan Murray and his staff and [agent] Donnie Meehan and his staff to get together and come up with a number that’s equitable to everybody and the term. I just think it’s great for our organization, our franchise to have him under contract and ready to go.”

Not only do the Senators get their cornerstone defenseman under contract for the long term, but it sends a message to the rest of the team that the franchise is serious about returning to contender status.

“I think it’s important that we’re sending the right message to our team that we’re serious about winning and we want to win, and if you’re an important player on our team, we’re going to take the steps that are necessary to do it, and I think Bryan has historically has done that over the years,” MacLean said.

“This is just another indication of his will to win and also [owner] Eugene Melnyk’s willingness to spend what we need to in the right ways in order to give ourselves a chance to win.”

Now, MacLean is hoping Karlsson can convince captain Daniel Alfredsson to come back for one more year.

“Can’t hurt,” the coach said.

One of the challenges for the Senators next season will be in not assuming that this past season's successes will be duplicated simply because they were a surprise playoff team.

“I think starting last year we had no expectations because we were supposed to be the worst team in the league, if not the East, then in the whole league, so that’s a pretty easy place to start from,” MacLean said. "Now we start from a different place.

“One thing about expectations, it means that you’ve accomplished something, and when something’s expected of you, it’s way easier to get prepared for it and now you know what you have to do. We have a base that we built last year. We have a place to come back to at training camp and start, but we also know there are no guarantees just because we were in the playoffs last year that we’re going to make the playoffs this year. We made it as the eighth seed, so there’s an awfully long way to go still to be the team that we want to be so that we’re challenging.”

MacLean is up against two former Cup winners in Ken Hitchcock (Blues) and John Tortorella (Rangers).

“For me, sitting here with these two guys, it’s like I’m the rookie of the year compared to them with their coaching records they have and what they’ve done. I just hope I can live up to nomination at the end of the day,” MacLean said.