At first glance, Senators fans shouldn't be surprised at Erik Karlsson's new deal. Both the length (seven years) and amount (cap hit of $6.5M per year) are right in line with general manager Bryan Murray's track record during his tenure in Ottawa. In short, if he feels a player is a cornerstone of the franchise, he is going to make a significant commitment to them.
It was Murray who bought out captain Daniel Alfredsson's existing contract in order to sign him to what was technically an extension, but that extension was front-loaded so it paid out 71% of the total $19.5M in the first two years, and 94.8% of it in the first three years. And due to the rules of buyouts, Alfredsson was paid an extra $700K each year. Essentially, Murray paid Alfredsson $2.1M to let him accept a contract that put as much money in his pocket as possible.
This move followed contracts for a 24-year-old Jason Spezza, coming off a 92-point season, and 26-year-old Dany Heatley, coming off an 82-point season. Spezza's contract? Seven years, $49M. A cap hit of $7M per year. Heatley's? Six years, $45M--$7.5M cap hit. Both contracts were front-loaded, like Alfredsson's, with Heatley's paying him $10M in the first year.
The speed with which the contract was completed almost makes it feel like both sides got what they wanted: Karlsson got the number he was looking for, and Murray got the term he was looking for. Both sides must have felt the other's numbers were reasonable, even though they gave up something in the process: Murray committed a significant amount of money to a young player, but had the cap room to absorb it, and Karlsson gives up several years of unrestricted free agency (where he almost certainly could earn more money) but gets to continue playing under a coach that lets him use his skills in a way that helps the team.
Who might the parties have compared Karlsson with when negotiating?
The league's premier puck-moving defenseman for a number of years, Redden signed a 6-year, $39M contract after putting up 38P (6G, 32A) with Ottawa in his final year. Despite his declining level of play, Redden was still coveted in the free agent market, with many believing his slipping numbers were the result of a deteriorating Ottawa team, and not the player--
Okay, I'm just making this one up. The only comparable number between Karlsson and Redden is their identical cap hit.
Flow level: Minimal
Green, of course, is the player most commonly compared with Karlsson. Green parlayed a 56-point season into a four-year, $21M deal with a cap hit of $5.25M per year. He immediately paid dividends on that deal, churning out back-to-back 70+ point seasons and earning two nominations for the Norris Trophy. There were rumors that Karlsson's side was looking for a contract similar to Green's, but considering he reached similar numbers more quickly than Green did, it's no surprise the final number was higher.
Flow level: Medium; fauxhawk.
Keith is an interesting comparable. Also a very fluid skater, he put up an outstanding 69 points during the 2009-10 season. Not coincidentally, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup that year. Keith's entry-level deal expired with some impressive hardware, as he also won the Norris Trophy that season. The primary difference between Keith and Karlsson is that Keith has also established himself as an effective shutdown defenseman. The Blackhawks had no choice but to throw money at him in a 13-year, $72M deal. A specious deal at best, the contract gives Keith a cap hit of just $5.5M a year, but even if the Senators could get Karlsson to agree to a similar deal, it's unlikely it would survive league scrutiny, to say nothing of possible ramifications from the next collective bargaining agreement.
Flow level: Average
Yandle is an outstanding defenseman who doesn't get much recognition because he plays in the Western Conference on a small-market team. After playing well through his entry-level deal, the Coyotes signed him to a two-year extension for just $1.2M per year. It was essentially a "prove it" deal. In the final year of the deal, Yandle did just that, putting up 59 points while helping to lead the resurgence of the team. He cashed in with a 5-year deal, giving him the exact same cap hit as Mike Green. If Murray were looking to get Karlsson to look at a term that overlapped with unrestricted years, it's very possible he might have used a young player like Yandle as a starting point.
Flow level: Non-existant
Doughty absolutely destroyed his entry-level deal, and he knew it. The Kings probably knew it, too, but did their best to avoid paying him. That didn't work, and he held out. The Kings were behind the 8-ball without Doughty on the team, and eventually, acknowledging that, broke the bank for him with an 8-year, $56M deal. This could have been the starting point for Karlsson's side: the consequences of a nightmare scenario. Given the sound bites from Murray and Karlsson, it's highly unlikely threats needed to be made, since both sides were open and communicative throughout the process.
Flow level: Atrocious
In the end, this is a deal that makes sense for both sides. Karlsson deserved a major raise, and the Senators wanted to secure their future as they become less of a spend-to-the-cap team. There's no way of knowing if the negotiations even referenced any of the players above, but it's worth noting they illustrate that while Karlsson had an outstanding year, it's not quite as magnificent as Sens fans portray it. Karlsson did not necessarily redefine the position--he's just really good, and he got paid like it.
Either that, or it's a dollar for every time he'll say, "I mean," over the next seven years.