Are We Witnessing Erik Karlsson's Best Season Yet?
Likely leading the Norris Trophy race, Erik Karlsson is putting on quite the show at the halfway point of the season.
What do you get when the world's best defenseman might be putting on the finest performance of his young career?
Well, you get a pretty lopsided Norris Trophy race, regardless of how many articles there are bringing up the fact that Drew Doughty, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber should win because they've never won before.
Funny how that argument works.
Halfway through the 2015-16 NHL season, Erik Karlsson is dominating like never before. He's leading the entire Eastern Conference in points by five, playing a league-best 28:29 minutes per game, and by season's end, the 25-year-old could possibly be a Hart Trophy candidate.
Did I mention he's leading the entire Eastern Conference by five points? Five points. Five.
Karlsson's production is reaching new heights this year, even his past Norris-winning campaigns fail in comparison. The Swedish sensation is currently on pace for 86 points, which would smash his previous record of 78 in the 2011-12 season.
Karlsson continues to be the only defenseman in the league who is their team's primary offensive provider. And in this day and age, it's truly remarkable.
Sure, there are other defensemen in the NHL that largely contribute to their team's offensive output. Over the past five years, P.K. Subban, Kris Letang and Duncan Keith have all put up phenomenal numbers in that category. But none of them have ever been their team's top scorer.
This is the third season in a row Karlsson has lead the Senators in assists and points, and it looks like it'll be that way in the nation's capital for years to come.
What makes his accomplishments even more impressive this year is the surrounding cast. Ottawa has been lacking a defense corps with depth for some time now, and the latest instalment is nothing short of unstable, to say the least.
Through 41 games, Karlsson is the only defenseman to even come close to positive possession numbers.
Karlsson has the league's highest team relative Corsi (8.3) and Fenwick (8.4) for a defenseman and it isn't particularly close.
And he hasn't even played with a top-pairing calibre partner (he hasn't really seemed to need one over the last little while, but that's beside the point). It seems like the Senators' MVP really only needs a defenseman that can keep up with him in order to manage a successful tandem.
As much as we all like to promote Marc Methot as a solid defender and a great safety net - which he is, there's no doubting that - it was always rather difficult to bring up an unpopular opinion: Karlsson kind of plays better alongside Wiercioch.
And this season has shown that even more. In fact, it's shown that for more than just Wiercioch. It's a small sample size, but Claesson and Karlsson have looked stunning together controlling the offensive zone, and while the top pairing has flourished, the duo of Methot and Mark Borowiecki has been brutal. But we won't put too much blame on Methot for that one.
Regardless of whether or not Ottawa ever brings in another player that can truly play with Karlsson at his level - they really should - he'll be fine either way. If he can win a Norris with half a season of Borowiecki and Chris Phillips, then he can do the same with Methot, Wiercioch, Claesson or whoever may be to his left.
Just the icing on the cake to what's been an outstanding three months for the Senators captain, Karlsson was named an All-Star for the third time in his career on Wednesday afternoon.
The next time he gets a special honour from the league, it'll likely be late June in Las Vegas for the NHL awards. He'll probably be hoisting the Norris once again. Maybe he'll even win the Hart.
Hey, why not both?