OTTAWA — Erik Karlsson says he’d be glad to take on the added responsibility that comes with being the new captain of the Ottawa Senators.
He’d also be perfectly happy if the team decides to go in another direction.
“Obviously it’s something I wouldn’t say no to (but) it’s not something I’m going to ask for,” the star defenceman said Monday. “I think whoever takes that decision is going to make the right one and whether it’s me or someone else I think it’s going to be good for the team and good for the organization.”
The Senators are once again in search of a new captain as Jason Spezza — who replaced longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson — was traded to the Dallas Stars this past summer. Spezza wore the “C” for just one season before requesting a trade from Senators management.
"As a friend point of view it's sad to see him go and I wish him all the best," Karlsson said. "It's part of the business unfortunately. He's been here for a long time and felt that he needed to move on. It's just one of those things you learn to deal with as a professional athlete."
Despite the loss of Spezza's leadership and offensive abilities, Karlsson thinks the team can improve from last season's 11th place finish in the Eastern Conference.
"It's going to be a change, but at the same time I think the group we have is developing," Karlsson said. "Even though we kind of had a bad year last year I think we're going to be a better team this year with or without (Spezza). I think everyone is motivated coming back and someone is going to have to step up, but that's part of the business as well. You have to give the new guys the opportunity to shine and hopefully someone will take it."
Karlsson finished last season with 20 goals and 74 points through 82 games, but was far from satisfied with his performance. He worked hard during the off-season, made longer by the fact the Senators missed the playoffs, and says he feels great and is looking forward to getting back on the ice.
"This summer's been really good for me," he said. "Sad to say the long summer's probably done me good for my own interest and I've made a lot of progress from last year. I feel way better now than I did at this point last year and I really feel that everything is starting to connect more."
The 24-year-old admitted he didn't feel good about his game last season and wants to try and return to the form that saw him win the Norris Trophy in 2013.
"I'm extremely excited about my own game and the team's game and where it's going to take us," Karlsson said. "Right now I feel fresh and I feel like I'm in a place in my life, on and off the ice, where I'm happy about myself and I'm excited moving forward and there's a lot of small things that I know I need to take care of on the ice to be a better player and I think I'm up to date on what I need to do."
Karlsson seemed more at peace and confident with himself, and it appears a tumultuous season last year helped the young defenceman mature.
Last season saw Karlsson dealing with a divorce, the loss of Alfredsson, as well as close friends Peter Regin and Jakob Silfverberg, and recovering from the Achilles injury.
"Everything bad comes with some good right, that's normally what they say," Karlsson said. "I've learned a lot from last year and there's a lot of things you don't want to go through again and some things that take some time to pick up what you need to do better. I think last year in the long run is going to do us good."
While Karlsson was already considered a star, he will likely come under even closer scrutiny this season with Spezza's departure. In the end it was that scrutiny that proved to be too much for Spezza, but Karlsson says he's ready and willing to accept it.
"That's how it is playing on a Canadian team and that's what you have to take," Karlsson said. "It comes with its ups and downs and it's a great feeling playing for a city where everybody cares so much. It's going to be hard at times and people are going to analyze you for whatever you do."
Karlsson admitted there are times he doesn't enjoy the scrutiny, but understands it comes with the territory and says he's learned not to take it too personally.
Notes: The Ottawa Senators signed defenceman Mark Borowiecki to a three-year contract extension Monday. The deal has an average annual value of $1.1 million ($1.0 million in 2015-16, $1.1 million in 2016-17 and $1.2 million in 2017-18). Borowiecki played 13 games for the Senators last season and is expected to bring a physical dimension to the Ottawa blue-line.