“You climb to reach the summit, but once there, discover that all roads lead down.”
-- Stanislaw Lem
John Carlson isn’t the best defenseman named “Carlson” in his draft class, the 2010 draft being the one in which newly minted San Jose Shark Erik Karlsson was drafted. But John Carlson has something Erik Karlsson does not – a Stanley Cup. And Carlson (John) was no bit player in that effort. He was one of 29 defensemen to appear in all 82 games, and he was a top-ten finisher among defensemen in goals (15/T-8th), assists (53/T-3rd, with Erik), points (68/1st), points per game (0.83/T-3rd), power play assists (28/1st), power play points (32/2nd), game-winning goals (4/T-4th), power play ice time (303 minutes/1st).
There was also something of a grittership component to Carlson’s game as well. Thirteen defensemen played in at least 50 games, averaged at least 0.50 hits per game, averaged at least 1.5 blocked shots per game, and averaged at least 2.50 shots on goal per game. Carlson was one of them, joining what amounts to defenseman royalty – Drew Doughty, Mark Giordano, Seth Jones, Roman Josi, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Alex Pietrangelo, among others.
And he closed like a freight train. In his last 30 games he was 8-20-28. Only Victor Hedman and Shayne Gostisbehere had more points (28 apiece), and only Tyson Barrie had more power play points (18 to 14 for Carlson).
He was not done in the regular season. Carlson became just the fourth defenseman since 2005-2006 to record 20 or more points in a single postseason. He obliterated the team record for points in a single postseason (12, held by Carlson, Kevin Hatcher and Scott Stevens). In fact, his was the best postseason in franchise history for a defenseman as far as offensive numbers are concerned. He is the only defenseman in team history to appear in ten games, record five or more goals and record 15 or more points.
That Carlson finished fifth in the Norris Trophy voting might have been a bit of a surprise, but voting for trophies in the NHL does have its reputational component. Not that Drew Doughty or P.K. Subban, who finished second and third in the voting, had obviously inferior years to Carlson, but those two are at a stage in their respective careers where one, the other, or both are going to be in the finalists group.
Odd Carlson Fact…
John Carlson was the only defenseman in the league last season to log more than 300 power play minutes and more than 200 penalty killing minutes. He is the only defenseman to do it since Oliver Ekman-Larsson did it in 2014-2015.
Bonus Carlson Fact…
John Carlson played in all 82 games last season and did not skate less than 20 minutes in any of them. He has logged 20 or more minutes in 96 consecutive regular season games dating back to March 4, 2017, when he skated 19:43 in a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Including postseason games, Carlson has logged 20 or more minutes in 108 consecutive games dating back to Game 5 of last year’s second round loss to Pittsburgh when he skated 19:54 in a 4-2 win over the Penguins.
John Carlson climbed up the ladder in a lot of franchise all-time categories in 2017-2018. He jumped into the top ten in games played among defensemen, finishing the season in seventh place in games played (608), seventh in career goals (77), sixth in assists (256), seventh in points (333), eighth in plus-minus (plus-59), eighth in power play goals (22), and fourth in game-winning goals (17). No defenseman appearing in at least 100 games for the Caps since 2005-2006 has averaged more ice time per game than Carlson (23:00).
Carlson sure liked his home cooking. He was a point a game player at Capital One Arena (9-32-41), while going just 6-21-27 on the road. That’s generally true over his career, over which he is 48-130-178, plus-47 at home and 29-126-155, plus-12 on the road. And while he was something of a minutes-eater on the blue line, that was not always a good thing. The Caps were just 14-9-2 in the 25 games in which he logged over 26 minutes.
- 400 career points (he needs 67)
- 200 career penalty minutes (he needs 2)
- 20 career game-winning goals (he needs 3)
- 15,000 minutes played (he needs 1,014)
The Big Question… Has John Carlson peaked in his career development arc?
When you set career highs in goals, assists, points, even strength goals, power play assists, power play points, minutes played, and shots on goals, it would be reasonable to ask, “is there another summit to reach?” Carlson will be 29 in January. Since the 2005-2006 season, only three defensemen have reached their 29th birthday season and: a) played in every game, b) recorded at least 15 goals, and c) recorded at least 60 points. Brent Burns did it three times, while Dan Boyle and Nicklas Lidstrom did it once (Lidstrom accomplishing the feat at age 40). It would be a rare feat for Carlson to do this and more or less duplicate his 2017-2018 results.
That is a pretty high standard, though, especially for playing in every game. Bumping the thresholds down a bit, say to 75 games, 12 goals, and 50 points, and it is not a bridge too far to cross. There have been 21 defensemen since 2005-2006 to hit those marks having reached their 29th birthday. Over the past five seasons Carlson has averaged 12-40-52 per 82 games. It would not be a stretch for him to join this company.
In the end…
John Carlson is a part of hockey royalty in one respect. In his eight seasons since becoming a full-time member of the Capitals, Carlson is one of only ten defensemen in the league to have appeared in at least 500 games (he has 586), scored at least 75 goals (76), recorded at least 300 points (327). His plus-48 is fourth best on that list. He has been durable (six times in eight seasons dressing for every regular season game) and productive. One can argue that he has reached the pinnacle of his profession. Consider that group of ten defenseman of which he is a part, referenced above, that set some rather high standards of play over the last eight seasons. It is the rarefied air made more so for the fact that only three of those defensemen – Dustin Byfuglien, Drew Doughty, and Carlson – have won Stanley Cups. It isn’t a bad summit on which to stand. It would be fine to spend some more time on this one before heading back down the trail.
Projection: 80 games, 13-49-62, plus-2
Photo: Getty Images North America