The big prize came a day earlier than expected for Erik Karlsson.
He arrived in Las Vegas hoping to become the youngest winner of the Norris Trophy in more than two decades and ended up signing a life-changing US$45.5-million, seven-year contract extension with the Ottawa Senators a day before the awards show was even held.
"It's a special feeling," Karlsson said Tuesday at the Wynn Las Vegas. "I'm very happy we could get it done here while everyone's here. We can talk about it and be happy. Hopefully they're as happy as I am."
The contract makes Karlsson the NHL's sixth highest-paid defenceman and comes as a big reward following a season where his 78 points were 25 more than any other blue-liner in the league. He's a finalist for the Norris Trophy at Wednesday's awards show along with Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.
With the 22-year-old Karlsson set to become a restricted free agent this summer, the Senators weighed the merits of various potential deals. Ultimately, general manager Bryan Murray decided a long-term contract was best since it will cover a couple years where the player could have been eligible for unrestricted free agency.
"He's a cornerstone guy," said Murray. "He's a young man with a great future. I think the way he took off this year tells us that over the next number of years he will continue to improve and be a guy we can build around."
The deal came together quickly after Murray met with Karlsson's agent Craig Ostler on Monday night. A new contract was signed by Tuesday morning.
Not only did it guarantee that Karlsson will leave Las Vegas as a winner no matter what this week, it also ensures he'll face a new level of pressure next season after becoming Ottawa's second highest-paid player behind Jason Spezza.
"It's going to be higher expectations from everyone, especially from you (media) guys," said Karlsson. "That's the way it is. It's not something that kind of snuck up on me. I know how it is and I know how it works.
"I'm going to try and play my best every night. It's all I can do. I'm not happy where I am today, I'm still trying to be a better hockey player."
Karlsson is having an off-season he'll never forget. He's scheduled to marry fiancee, Therese, on July 7.
"It's a lot of things going on this summer," said Karlsson. "It's very exciting — all good things, all positive things. I'm very happy about how the summer's going to be and how's it's been so far."