A month ago, you'd be hard pressed to find an Ottawa Senators fan who knew who Matt Carkner was. Now, he's a fan-favourite hardnosed defenseman that has a two-year deal worth $1.4 million, or a $700K cap hit per season .
Quite a ride for a 28-year old that most figured was a career AHLer. Carkner, in true journeyman fashion, simply said, "I'm thrilled. This has been a great day." The feel-good story of the Ottawa Senators' season so far? I think so.
|2009 - Matt Carkner||1||1||2||6||19|
Carkner found a sport for himself on the squad to start the year by offering a big physical presence that was not found on the blueline past the top pairing of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. He turned that into a two-year contract with a simple-yet-effective style that helped him become second on the team in both plus/minus and blocked shots. He's also been an outstanding penalty killer -- particularly on the lengthy 5-on-3 against Montreal on Saturday -- and won the hearts of fans with a tremendous work ethic and by pummeling Steve Downie into submission. Trucu... you get the picture.
Still, it seems awfully early - just seven games into the season - to give a guy with such limited NHL experience a two-year, one-way contract. Not to mention this guy is turning 29 next week. Will his gritty, fearless play stop now that he has a guaranteed contract? Is he going to sit back and coast now? Carkner doesn't strike me as the type - he's waited this long for his chance to play in the big leagues, and you have to think he's going to cherish every minute of it.
What this also means is that the Ottawa blue-line is getting very, very crowded. With Phillips, Erik Karlsson, and Filip Kubaalready under contract for next season, plus Volchenkov, Brian Lee, Chris Campoli, and Alex Picard all looking for new contracts, Bryan Murray has a lot of decisions to make over the coming year. And that's not even factoring in prospect Jared Cowen, who will certainly be pushing for a spot on the blue-line.
I've like Carkner's play a lot so far and he's had a tremendous presence on the team. It's definitely a bit of a gamble by Bryan Murray, but one that's worth taking. If Carkner keeps playing the way he did in the first 7 games, then the contract is a very good one, and Murray looks like a genius for locking him up before his price goes up as a UFA. However, if Carkner starts playing like the AHLer many thought he was, then he simply becomes another story of a premature one-way contract that has to be traded or buried in the minors. At 700K/year for two years, it's not very high-risk at all.