No, he isn’t. Yes, that title is misleading. It’s a hook, you are hooked!
Karlsson is nowhere near being healthy and will probably miss the playoffs entirely. I’m referring instead to Jared Cowen.
But I didn't just want to grab your attention with that headline; in all seriousness it is possible that Cowen could be more valuable to the Sens than Karlsson (although I don't really think that). You see, Karlsson would be replacing the role taken up by Gonchar/Phillips/Benoit/Wiercioch. That group has been taking over parts of Karlsson’s void such as puck movement, PP, quarterbacking, etc. Only Gonchar has really been comparable, but the team is not completely suffering from a lack of these assets. Where has the team been struggling? In the defensive end. Methot has been good, but this role usually takes 2-3 defensemen. And who is the second defensive defensemen? Professional backwards skater Eric Gryba.
I love Eric Gryba, and I think he’s stepped up for the team despite a lack of pure skill. He has hockey sense and works hard. But he is not a good defenseman. How bad is he? He has a Relative Corsi of -20.9 and a Corsi On of -12.16. That means over 60min we would have 21 less shots than the opponent with Grybo on the ice compared to what we would generate with him off the ice. How much does Karlsson contribute? 20.2 shots. These stats don’t tell the whole story, Gryba has a slight skew to defensive starts and plays tougher competition. Nevertheless, these are slight skews, he really is just an average AHL player out of his league.
Now, Cowen didn't have a positive Relative Corsi last year either, but the difference is about 18 shots, or 16 shots if you compare 'Corsi On'. Cowen’s minutes were a bit more sheltered from competition and Offensive Zone starts, but if he progressed as expected it’s easy to imagine he would have a similar impact to Karlsson by just replacing Gryba’s terrible numbers. Keep in mind Karlsson’s stats were much better this year largely because he wasn’t great for the first 1/3 of last season. Cowen had the same improvement and his playoff stats show that he was probably as valuable as Karlsson because he faced top competition mostly in the defensive end and still generated lots of shots (Rel Corsi of 2.4).
Now, from actual observation anyone can see Karlsson means more to the team than Cowen. He runs the play whenever he’s on the ice. But Cowen is a beast. And he can eat up the weakest 20 minutes of defense we're putting on the ice every game. Even if Gryba sticks around, you can place him in sheltered minutes, take a few minutes from the rest of the top defensemen and remove another weak link like Wiercioch. Think about all those terrible break out passes caused by exhaustion, the missed coverage, the extended defensive zone pressure we see every game.
So was the whole point of this article to elevate Cowen to Karlsson’s level? No, it was to point out that if Cowen does come back and is 100% (somewhat unlikely), we could have a serious threat on our hands. We’re currently not a playoff competitor, unable to beat top teams and sitting on a mediocre Fenwick of about 50 (indicates a completely average team). Cowen is a piece that could improve the team to an above average squad. If we miraculously add Spezza, Michalek, and Anderson, we might have a true playoff contender.
"Dare to Dream" - Jason Spezza