The Karlsson Canundrum

With all of the recent talk of the coming of E. Karlsson, Ottawa’s #1 selection in last years entry draft, I thought I’d take a moment to point out some of the facts around his current situation vis-a-vis his potential of playing in NA next season.

As it stands, contractually, Karlsson remains the property of the Frolunda Indians, of the Swedish Elite League (SEL).  He is not signed by the Senators, and apart from their having exclusive NHL rights to negotiate with him, he has no actual status with the Senators at this moment.  Basically, he is a free agent anywhere but the NHL, where should he wish to play, he must first negotiate with Ottawa, exclusively.  He can play anywhere he wishes in Europe, Eurasia or even NA.

As it stands Murray cannot even talk contract with Karlsson until his current contract expires (I believe in June) or until they receive permission from Frolunda to do so.  Based upon recent reports, this may already be the case.

As NHL teams are restricted to 50 active pro contracts, it is important for the Sens to determine how likely it is that Karlsson would play in the AHL, now in or the future, should he fail to make the NHL.  No doubt Karlsson will be under tremendous pressure to return to his SEL club, where it is predicted he may in return be given a significant role both on and off the ice.  Politically speaking, there is a great deal of turmoil and angst among the various leagues when it comes to European players coming to NA.  There have been various reports written defending European development of players vs. the AHL, but ultimately, it comes down to the wishes of the individual player, and how committed he is to play in the NHL.  Most NHL clubs prefer to see top prospects play in the AHL as they then have more access to the player, and more control over their development regime and playing situations.  There is also the whole issue of cultural acclimation, again, both on and off the ice.

Dispel a couple myths.

1. If Karlsson should sign a pro NHL contract, he would be eligible to play in the AHL next season, even though he would only be 19.  Some believe a player must be 20 to play in the AHL, but this is not the case.  Only CHL signed players are held to an age or CHL experience condition for AHL eligibility restriction.  As Karlsson has not played in the CHL, he is available to play in the AHL.

2. If Karlsson should sign a 2-way pro NHL contract, he could (would) be compensated at a rate above that which he would receive playing in the SEL.  Unlike the KHL, the SEL has an experiential pay scale, which, depending upon the NHL contract, could be exceeded financially while playing in Bingo.  Obviously, even at the league minimum, it would be much more lucrative to play in the NHL.

So, the question is, what would be the best route for Karlsson?  The SEL?  The AHL?  The NHL?

Undoubtedly that is the question being explored at this very moment.  If I had to bet, I suspect Karlsson will soon be signed to a pro NHL contract, and should he fail to make the NHL club this upcoming season, will be returned to the SEL for another year of seasoning ahead of playing in the AHL.  This may not suit every-ones wishes, but at 19, and still being physically undersized, it is fair to believe a year playing vs. men in the less physical SEL will do more to further his development then being tossed around on the small ice of the AHL, while trying to adjust to life in a foreign country, all at the age of 19.  He is considered mature for his age, but let’s be reasonable here, and recognize the myriad of examples of young players suffering as a result of rushed development.

In 2010/11 however, all bets are off, and should he still not make the NHL, it is likely the Sens management team would want him to play in the AHL, and be available for call-ups as required.

With Bell (should he re-sign), Picard, Lee, and Campoli already available, it is unlikely an undersized, 19 yr old, NA inexperienced Karlsson would do much to improve the Sens offensive ability on the blueline by next season.  He will however be given the opportunity to prove otherwise, and should he do so, great, but to expect it is a little too optimistic at this point in his development.

The future however remains extremely bright, and that above all else must remain the number one goal of the Senators…to do right by their best prospect since Spezza.



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