An entire fan base held its collective breath Wednesday night when Erik Karlsson, star defenseman for the Ottawa Senators, was injured in an ugly play during a game with the Pittsburgh Penguins. After battling for the puck with Penguins pest Matt Cooke, Karlsson went down in a heap and had to be helped off the ice, his Achilles tendon cut by Cooke’s skate.
Before the game ended, TSN had already reported the obvious with the news Karlsson would not return to the ice, then the dreaded “S” word. The Senators announced Karlsson’s torn tendon would require surgery, meaning the team’s best player could be out of the lineup for as long as three to four months. The good news is that the doctors say he’ll be able to fully recover. Cooke’s skate sliced 70 percent of the way through Karlsson’s tendon, a relatively small but very important distinction from 100 percent.
In 14 games this season Karlsson has scored six goals and four assists, numbers that have made him one of the best defensive players in the NHL. He’ll join center Jason Spezza on Ottawa’s list of injured players out for the long term, putting the team’s playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.
The incident – which can be watched below, first in real time and then in a slow motion video – was exacerbated not only by Karlsson’s highlight reel play so far this season but because he was mixed up with Cooke.
The 34-year-old Penguins winger has been involved in a number of ugly NHL injuries in recent years. Cooke is blamed for ending the career of Boston Bruins center Marc Savard after delivering a vicious headshot at center ice. The body check was so brutal, and the consequences so severe, that it inspired a debate over legal contact in the game that looks unlikely to fade anytime soon.
Aside from the reaction of Senators fans – who lit up Twitter with accusations after the injury - most hockey writers agreed that Karlsson’s injury was the product of a simple accident. League disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan agreed, telling both teams that no suspension would be handed out despite the severity of the injury.
“As I told Brendan, it’s not my decision to make that judgment,” said Senators general manager Bryan Murray. “I’m disappointed that Erik got hurt, I’m disappointed for him and our team. It’s dreadful. I was upset at the time. It’s Matt Cooke and there is some history there. It’s one of the best players in the league getting hurt. But I can’t do anybody’s else’s job but my own. And it’s of no value one way or another to the Ottawa Senators if Matt Cooke is suspended or not. We don’t get our player back.”