Out with #TavaresWatch, in with #KarlssonWatch. So it goes in yet another NHL off-season highlighted by marquee stars looking for a change of scenery.
Fresh off the league-altering news of star centreman John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ontario’s other franchise looks set for a fair bit of roster change as well, as reports out of New York suggest the Ottawa Senators have granted opposing teams permission to speak with Erik Karlsson and his representatives about a potential contract extension.
The two-time Norris Trophy winner has one year remaining on the seven-year contract he signed back in 2012. But with both he and the Senators inching ever closer to a separation, and the potential of a Drew Doughty-esque $11-million-per-year extension looming, it’s looking more and more like that final season will come in a different jersey.
Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch highlighted San Jose, Vegas, Tampa Bay, Washington and the Rangers as a few of the teams who have spoken to GM Pierre Dorion about Karlsson thus far, while The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta added the Islanders and Avalanche to the list of clubs believed to be interested in swinging a deal as well.
That being the case, let’s take a look at how such a deal between these and a few other potential options might come to fruition:
Let’s get the basics down first — what might Dorion be looking for in exchange for his generational star?
Conventional wisdom suggests a first-round pick, a promising prospect, and a roster player will be the starting point, while more picks might work their way into that equation as well. We can find a bit of precedent in Kevin Shattenkirk, who was dealt by the St. Louis Blues as a pending UFA in February 2017 (along with prospect Pheonix Copley) in exchange for a first-round pick, a conditional second-round pick, prospect Zach Sanford and depth forward Brad Malone.
Consider that Karlsson has one year remaining on his contract, unlike Shattenkirk (who was in the final year of his), and is a vastly better talent, and it’s clear the package coming back to Ottawa will be a hefty one — even more so now that teams can speak with Karlsson and ensure he’ll sign long term.
A potential caveat: firstly, the Senators have thus far looked to use the Karlsson deal as a means of offloading Bobby Ryan and his $7.25-million cap hit. If that remains a part of the deal, then trade partners will surely be required to give less in return.
A Karlsson + Ryan deal would likely necessitate another decently paid roster player going back in Ottawa’s direction, given the fact that the club acquiring the pair would need $13.75 million in cap space just to fit in the two players this season, and likely around $19 million beyond that.
On to the potential fits.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Tampa Bay nearly adding Tavares was frightening enough for the rest of the East. Adding Karlsson might be even worse, given the minutes a pairing of Karlsson and fellow Swede Victor Hedman would log in the Bay.
The Lightning have the pieces to make a deal work, in theory. Steve Yzerman has his 2019 first-round pick to offer, as well as a bevy of prospects to include, starting with Anthony Cirelli, Cal Foote, or Taylor Raddysh. Salary constraints would be the biggest issue — the club would likely need to offload the likes of Tyler Johnson or Ryan Callahan, both carrying cap hits over $5 million. However, in terms of enticing Dorion, it would likely be younger names like Mikhail Sergachev or Brayden Point getting the trade wheels turning.
Is that a worthy loss for Yzerman? Limiting his club’s offensive depth wouldn’t be ideal. That said, the prospect of adding Karlsson to a club that already includes Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Hedman — along with a capable netminder in Andrei Vasilevskiy — may be too great to pass up, as Karlsson could very well be the piece that pushes the Lightning from a strong contender to an all-out Cup favourite.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
The Golden Knights kicked off their existence by nearly rolling all the way to a Stanley Cup parade, so we’d expect nothing less than GM George McPhee continuing the magic by bringing Karlsson to Vegas.
In fact, McPhee already nearly did just that. He came close to acquiring Karlsson at the trade deadline, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, but refused to include prospect Cody Glass in the deal. Should Vegas’ Cup Final loss spur a change of heart from McPhee, it seems a deal was already close enough that reviving it may not take much. Key to consider is the fact that Vegas also has plenty of cap space to work with (roughly $18.8 million), meaning it can opt for the Karlsson + Ryan option, taking on the winger’s contract and potentially benefitting from his offensive contributions as well.
Following up Vegas’ inaugural campaign won’t be an easy task for the club’s front office, but adding Karlsson essentially quashes that issue in one fell swoop, as the smooth-skating blueliner would make up for any lagging interest that potentially comes from regressing performances or a less dominant season.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
The Sharks made it known they’re in the market for a game-changer with their efforts to lure Tavares to California. Though they missed out on No. 91, bringing back centres Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl instead, that swing-and-miss means the Sharks still have room to fit Karlsson in, financially.
San Jose is without its first-round pick for 2019, which sets it back a bit compared to the rest of the field. But the Sharks do have two second-rounders to work with, and a blue-chip trade piece in Timo Meier — the prospect-turned-20-goal-scorer. Finding room for Karlsson’s long-term extension seems the most tricky aspect of any potential Sharks pitch. They have $25 million in projected cap space next season, but a long list of free agents to address, starting with captain Joe Pavelski.
Adding Karlsson to a blue line that already features offensive dynamo Brent Burns could help San Jose finally climb out of the pretender category, but there would seemingly need to be another move or two to make it possible. However, with the club’s core nearing the end of the line, the addition of Karlsson could help usher in the next era at SAP Center.
Another Tavares suitor who has shifted attention to the off-season’s other marquee name, the Stars emerged Tuesday as a potential landing spot for Karlsson as well. They might in fact be the frontrunner at the moment, according to a report from The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro.
The Stars’ cap space is limited ($10.7 million currently), so Dallas would be hard-pressed to take Ryan back as part of the deal. That means its offer has to impress. However, it houses a strong crop of prospects to offer up, with blueliner Julius Honka serving as a worthy starting point. This wouldn’t be the first time GM Jim Nill pulled off a franchise-altering gamble. It was he who brought in Tyler Seguin, giving Dallas a strong enough starring duo up front to take the next step, and Nill again rolled the dice with the Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp acquisitions, though they didn’t pan out as he hoped.
Speaking of Spezza, the Stars find themselves in a unique position given the number of connections their roster offers for Karlsson. The veteran centreman suited up with Karlsson for five seasons. Then there’s Marc Methot, Karlsson’s former blue-line partner from Ottawa, and John Klingberg, his fellow countryman. The Stars seem like a team a key piece away from climbing the ladder in the West. Ben Bishop brought them one step closer to contender status — Karlsson seals the deal.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The Islanders and their fanbase are in mourning after the loss of Tavares — their captain, lone superstar, and the focal point of their on-ice product. There’s no getting around the fact that there’s a significant hole in the roster with Tavares out of the picture, and hoping Mathew Barzal can pick up and carry the load is a risky game.
After suffering a significant L in his first move as Islanders GM, Lou Lamoriello is in dire need of a managerial coup to level things out. How about answering the loss of Long Island’s generational star with the addition of another one? Cap space won’t be an issue, with Karlsson’s long-term extension essentially taking the place of Tavares’. As for prospects, there’s one marquee name in the system who’s already run into his fair share of friction with the organization — Joshua Ho-Sang. Perhaps a change of scenery is the best option, and there’s no question he has the talent to thrive in a new environment.
The Islanders’ needs on the blue line make this even more pressing, the club having allowed the most shots-against in the league last season. They have a couple decent options in Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, but finding a true, long-term No. 1 remains a clear need.
Despite reaching the Stanley Cup summit and inking near-UFA John Carlson to a new long-term deal, the Capitals are among the teams Garrioch reported as having shown interest in adding Karlsson to the fold.
Washington has some interesting prospects to dangle in Jakub Vrana and netminder Ilya Samsonov. The bigger issue will be the financials, as the Capitals would need to move out significant salary to make room for a Karlsson extension. They only have a few forwards with top-end cap hits, meaning losing blueliners like Matt Niskanen ($5.75-million cap hit) or Dmitry Orlov ($5.1-million cap hit) may be more likely.
It wouldn’t be an easy deal to carry out, but adding Karlsson to the Capitals’ already strong roster might just be the move that helps the club match the rival Penguins in the back-to-back Cups category. And if a power play featuring Alex Ovechkin wasn’t terrifying enough, one with both him and Karlsson would be downright unbeatable.
The Avalanche and Senators are clearly amicable trade partners, as the clubs already completed one recent blockbuster — the deal that saw Matt Duchene move from Colorado to Ottawa in a three-team swap. Might Dorion and GM Joe Sakic link up again for Round 2?
Colorado has some workable young talent — namely Tyson Jost and Cale Makar — and enough cap space to fit in a Karlsson extension. But they also have something that leaves them uniquely positioned to entice Dorion: the Senators’ first- and third-round picks in 2019, relinquished in the Duchene trade. The first of those is key — Ottawa opted to keep its 2018 first-round pick (selecting Brady Tkachuk fourth-overall) meaning Colorado holds the Senators’ 2019 first-rounder, which looks destined to be lottery-bound. Reclaiming that potentially high pick could allow Dorion to add another key future piece, and the Senators could add a prospect or two along the way.
For the Avalanche, bringing Karlsson aboard would grant them something they’ve sorely lacked for the past decade — a bona fide game-changer from the back end. Tyson Barrie has emerged as a key contributor, and Erik Johnson has performed well, but neither are close to Karlsson’s level. With Nathan MacKinnon leading the Avalanche out of the basement in 2017-18, Karlsson could be the piece that helps them truly take the next step.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Much like Colorado, the Devils are in the midst of an identity shift, going from perennially underwhelming to rising Eastern star — and home to newly crowned MVP Taylor Hall.
We know Devils GM Ray Shero isn’t shy about swinging big in the trade market. He did acquire Hall, after all, and has years of similar deals under his belt as well — Sami Vatanen, James Neal, and Marian Hossa all among the rest of the crop. Shero has a roster full of young talent to offer up — perhaps led by 19-year-old Jesper Bratt — with everyone but Hall and Nico Hischier likely potentially available if Karlsson is the prize. Cap space is a non-issue, and New Jersey is equipped to take on Ryan’s contract should that sweeten the deal.
Acquiring Hall was a franchise-altering move for Shero, with the young winger putting up a Herculean effort to drag his team back to the post-season in 2018. An ascent is clearly coming for the Devils, but to truly move forward, the club needs that genuine No. 1 on the back end to match the promise it’s shown up front. Karlsson is undoubtedly the best-case scenario in that regard.