There’s no question the biggest fish available at the trade deadline was Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson. A two-time Norris Trophy winner, Karlsson is one of the best players in the game today and carries an entirely manageable $6.5 million cap hit through the 2018-19 season.
At the end of his current contract he’ll be UFA-eligible and, considering the salary cap is about to rise, he could become the highest-paid player in the NHL at that time.
“When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going,” Karlsson told the Ottawa Sun in December. That was prompted by a Drew Doughty quote in which the Kings defender said he would discuss the market with Karlsson, since the two high-end blueliners will be UFA-eligible in the same off-season.
Even after the rumours raged on Saturday and speculation persisted through the day on Monday, Karlsson wasn’t traded by the 3 p.m. ET deadline. But if you thought the relationship between team and player was beyond repair and a split was inevitable, Karlsson poured a little cold water on that theory Tuesday.
“I never wanted to leave. I never had any say in that,” Karlsson said Tuesday. “That’s a different part of the business I can’t control. Hearing your name being thrown around as much as it was is very stressful and not something that I enjoyed going through. I love it here, I’ve always loved it here. I think the city of Ottawa has really made it home for me. I love everything about it, I love the fans. I’m pleased with where I’m at and I signed a long-term deal for a reason.”
After winning his first Norris in 2011-12, Karlsson signed a seven-year extension with the Senators worth $45.5 million. Since then he’s won a second Norris, led the team to a conference final, gotten married, bought a house and now his first child (a boy) is on the way.
“Obviously you hear a lot of different things,” Karlsson continued. “From my experience, what I’ve learned for the most part is not even half of it is true. But when it involves yourself you seem to take it a little more seriously, which is something I haven’t experienced before. And I think whether I thought I was going to leave or not I was not too worried about anything else other than hoping I was going to stay here.”
The defenceman said he didn’t know the full details about the direction the Senators are going in, or if he’s viewed as a part of that future. The team traded away Derick Brassard to Pittsburgh and the recently acquired Nick Shore to Calgary. Rumours swirled around not just Karlsson, but also Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman and none of them were moved. Stone is an RFA this summer, while Karlsson can sign an extension (if one is in the cards) as soon as July 1, 2018.
“I think that once this season is over we’re going to sit down,” Karlsson said. “There’s been a lot of changes made here recently and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more as we head to the summer.”
Karlsson’s comments echo Max Pacioretty’s in Montreal, another star player and captain in a Canadian market who is one year away from free agency and a rumour-mill regular for months. Pacioretty also remained with the Habs and he relayed his relief that he wasn’t leaving the city he calls home 12 months of the year.
“I have three kids and you always prepare for the worst, just in case, and actually Max Jr. went to school today with a Habs jersey on and I said we want to pick him up and feel good about walking through the school with that jersey. I mean, it’s just little stuff like that that you worry about your family. And at the end of the day we’re all human, right?
“I want to be a part of this group. It’s obvious that given my contract, given where I stand on the team that there’s holes to plug in this lineup and I could be a candidate to fill those holes, but I hope that’s not the case and maybe making it through the trade deadline, with some conversations I kind of already started in the sense where trying to get on the same page and trying to work through this together as a group, hopefully we can figure out a way to keep this group intact and win hockey games building up to next year.”