Update from Murray in the Citizen is that Karlsson isn't going anywhere for the time being and the ten game mark has no bearing on his job. Karlsson is going to get his chance. Stand by your man, as they say.
Alright, so it has already garnered much debate in Hockey Country, but let's take a more objective view at the season ahead for superhero Erik Karlsson. Here's a kid that we took 15th overall two years ago that came with a fair amount of hype, though some of that was because the draft was in Ottawa and we all wanted a look at the new kid. We knew he was a skater but we also knew he was tiny. The excitement really picked up during last winter's World junior tournament (again, helps to have it in Ottawa) when he won Best Defenceman honours.
Enter this summer, when Bryan Murray brings the kid back over from Sweden and signs him to a 3-year entry level contract. We aren't sure if he'll crack the roster, go to Bingo, or get cut and go back to the Swedish Elite League (sorry, we've been burned by the Russians...). Murray squashes the discussion and says early and often that they expect the kid to make the team.
So we're now five games into the season and Karlsson has been average. What else could we have expected of a 19-year old who is living halfway around the world from home and playing 7 days a week against players that are bigger, stronger, and faster than anything he's ever seen? The fact that he's held his own is a testament to how good this kid will be for us for the next 15-18 years (just don't give him a NMC).
Now what? He's spotted one assist and is tied with Kovalev at the bottom with a minus-4. Again, I'm not picking on him, just pointing out the stats. The Kuba injury has left him without a mentor on the ice and that has been a factor, no question. But what do we do with him approaching his ten-game mark?
When I first saw the discussion about sending him down after nine games, I thought that it only applied to players being returned to junior hockey. For those that don't know, a player on an entry-level contract that signed at 18 or 19 years old can be sent down before playing their 10th NHL game and it won't count against a year of that entry level deal.
Quoted from CBA Section 9.1(d)(i): In the event that an 18 year old or 19 year old Player signs an SPC with a Club but does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the first season under that SPC, the term of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for a period of one (1) year, except that this automatic extension will not apply to a Player who is 19 according to Section 9.2 by virtue of turning 20 between September 16 and December 31 in the year in which he first signs an SPC.
-- Summary: any player signing their ELC at age 18 or 19 will have their contract extended a year if they do not play in at least 10 NHL games. Players originally signed at 18 can be extended a 2nd time [at age 19] if they do not play in 10 NHL games again the second year. Once a player reaches the 10 NHL game threshold their contract cannot be extended in a future season. e.g. an 18 year old signs and plays 20 NHL games, then the next season at age 19 he plays zero NHL games: the contract cannot be extended. This rule is not restricted to only players returned to the CHL juniors, for example a USHL 18 year old player could be signed and assigned to the AHL. Teams can also use this rule to give draftees a taste of the NHL at the end of the season. For example Phoenix signed Kyle Turris out of college to play the last 3 games of the 07-08 NHL season. Because Turris didn't meet the 10 NHL game threshold his 3 year ELC contract originally signed for 2007-2008 through 2009-2010 was extended until 2010-2011.
I actually did read somewhere that it might hurt his ego/confidence as he'd see it as a demotion if he were sent to Binghamton. I actually agree with this - he is very confident and he would take this hard. But this isn't a new path for rookies. Last year, Phoenix gambled by bringing all of their kids up to the big boy squad with mixed results. They hung around in the West for a while but in the end, the kids weren't ready for the full season. This year, Don Moloney (under guidance from nobody, I guess) made the decision to bring in some vets like Vrbata, again, and Aucoin and they've sent Kyle Turris (19 years old) and Viktor Tikhonov (21 years old) back to the AHL. The team is doing fine and they're telling those two players to work hard, listen to your coaches, and we'll see you when you're good and ready for full-time duty.
Back to our kid - how do we handle this? From a contractual standpoint, there is merit in sending him down before the 10 game mark as it keeps him on the ELC for another year. From a performance standpoint, we might miss the offensive game that we all know he will find sooner or later. From a development standpoint, will he grow more in Ottawa with the big boys throwing him around, or in the AHL where he could dominate and adapt to the North American style? There are certainly strong arguments for both sides.
My opinion is to give him until the 9 game mark, including one or two paired with Kuba. If he still looks like he's a ways off, then have Bryan sit him down for a man-t0-man talk about how critical he is to the future of this team, and then give him a list of things to work on in upstate New York. I love the kid and know that he'll be a top pairing player for us in the near future. But for every Matt Ryan there is in the NFL, there's three Alex Smiths. Let the kid work his way up the system and we'll be better in the long run. In the meantime, let's enjoy the four more games we're guaranteed to see him. And hopefully Bibi and the boys pack some tupperware of Swedish meatballs for him to take on the road, because I don't think Binghamton is IKEA worthy just yet.