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What Kind of Post-Norris Season Can Penguins Expect from Karlsson?



Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson is about to become the third Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman with a Norris Trophy on his resume.

In his case, three of them — earned in 2012 and 2015, while he was with Ottawa, and in 2023, while playing for San Jose.

The other Norris winners who’ve played here are Randy Carlyle who, in 1981, became the only Penguin to win a Norris while actually on their payroll. A few years later, the Penguins acquired Paul Coffey, who was named the NHL’s top defenseman in 1985 and 1986, when he was with Edmonton, and again in 1995, while playing for Detroit.

(Red Kelly, who won the inaugural Norris in 1954, was the second coach in Penguins history, but never played for them.)

While the Penguins aren’t necessarily counting on Karlsson to get his fourth Norris during the four seasons remaining on his contract — he is the only player to earn more than one in the past 10 years, which underscores how rare multiple winners have become — they will be expecting him to be a difference-maker.

Based on his performance after claiming Norris No. 2, Eriksson probably isn’t going to have a letdown.

Although he didn’t repeat as the Norris winner in 2016 — Drew Doughty of Los Angeles got it then — Karlsson had a strong season for the Senators, putting up 16 goals and 66 assists in 82 games. That was five fewer goals — but 21 more assists — than he had gotten on his way to the Norris.

How Karlsson could have fared after his first if he’d stayed healthy will never be known, and the Penguins — specifically, winger Matt Cooke — were responsible for that uncertainty.

Cooke’s skate blade sliced through Karlsson’s left Achilles tendon while the two battled along the boards during a game at Consol Energy Center, causing Karlsson to sit out 31 games while recovering from the surgery needed to repair the damage.

Karlsson finished that season, which already had been shortened by a lockout, with six goals and eight assists in 17 games.

He bounced back nicely from that gruesome injury, however, recording 20 goals and 54 assists in 82 games in 2013-14.

There should be nothing from which Karlsson has to rebound in 2023-24, however, so it’s reasonable for the Pittsburgh Penguins to expect a big season from him. Even if that doesn’t translate to another Norris Trophy.

Let’s Make a Deal. Quickly

It turns out that Jeff Petry’s return to Montreal never really had a chance to last more than a few weeks.

The Penguins sent Petry back to the Canadiens, from whom they had acquired him last summer, as part of the three-team deal that brought Karlsson to Pittsburgh 11 days ago.

Petry had welcomed the trade here in 2022 because he wanted to be closer to his family in Michigan, and made it known to Montreal GM Kent Hughes that he didn’t care to return to the Canadiens.

Hughes, in turn, assured Petry that he would accommodate his desire to play elsewhere and, coincidentally or otherwise, worked out a trade to send Petry to his hometown of Detroit. (That obviously was great for Petry, but might pay off for Hughes in the long term, too. Word gets around when a GM or coach does right by one of his players, and that can be a factor in situations like when a free agent is deciding where to sign.)

Montreal obviously was not negotiating from a position of strength, but the return for Petry — defensive defenseman Gustav Lindstrom and a fourth-round draft choice — seems a bit modest.

How Petry, who is coming off a rather ordinary — though hardly poor — season with the Pittsburgh Penguins performs with his new team will clarify whether Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman pulled of a minor steal or if former Penguins GM Ron Hextall overpaid when he gave the Canadiens Mike Matheson and a fourth-round draft choice for Petry and Ryan Poehling.