Erik Karlsson made it crystal clear that he will be paid top dollar in the summer of 2019, whether that’s by the Ottawa Senators or one of the NHL’s other 30 clubs.
“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 Thursday in Brooklyn.
Questions about the two-time Norris Trophy winner’s unrestricted free agency, which looms in the summer of 2019, were spurred by an interview fellow star defenceman Drew Doughty gave to The Athletic‘s Craig Custance earlier this week.
Both decorated D-men are represented by Newport Sports Management. Both should eclipse P.K. Subban’s league-high cap hit of $9 million at the position, regardless where they sign in 19 months.
“I know I’m going to talk to Karlsson back and forth, kind of see what money he’s looking for,” Doughty told Custance. “I’ll kind of look at what money I’m looking for. I don’t know if he’s going to re-sign with Ottawa. I don’t know if I’ll re-sign with L.A. You just never know what’s going to happen.”
Karlsson’s assertion that he won’t be taking a hometown discount to remain with the club he led to the 2017 Eastern Conference final comes at a nervous time for Senators fans.
Ottawa is mired in a seven-game losing streak, and Karlsson — who is still recovering from ankle surgery — has failed to register a point during that slump.
The small-market Senators, who operate on a budget below the league’s cap, already traded away No. 1 centre Kyle Turris this season in part because they didn’t believe they could match Turris’s asking price in free agency.
“I think it’s time to realize that when we go to the table, it’s business on both parts, not just [owners],” Karlsson said. “That’s the business part of it. That’s the way every player has been treated ever since this league has started, and I think the players have been a little bit on the other side of things when it comes to negotiations.”
Karlsson, 27, has two more seasons remaining on his current six-year, $45.5-million contract. He currently carries the 11th-highest cap hit among all NHL defencemen at $6.5 million.
Since the NHL instituted a hard cap, players of Karlsson’s talent don’t hit the open market in their prime. The right-shot defenceman has 473 points through 574 games.
Karlsson’s contract does not include trade protection. In theory, the Senators could extend their captain for eight more years as early as July 1, 2018, but they also need to re-sign star forward Mark Stone (RFA) this summer.
The team simply cannot afford to let a player of Karlsson’s calibre walk away for no return.
“I like it here, I’m comfortable here, I’ve been here my whole career,” Karlsson said. “It’s something that I invested all my time in and something I would like to see all the way through. But at the end of the day, when it comes down to it, if it’s not the right fit and it’s not going to work out business-wise, then you’re going to have to look elsewhere because that’s what [owners] are going to do, as well.”
Ottawa faces arena uncertainty, rumours (denied by CEO and president Tom Anselmi) of a potential ownership change, and the club covered 1,500 seats at Canadian Tire Centre this summer due to lack of ticket demand.
Karlsson agreed that he would converse with Doughty before making a decision on his asking price for 2019-20 and beyond.
“We’re in a fairly similar boat, and again, when it comes down to it, I’m sure we’re going to have discussions about what we’re thinking and what we’re going to do,” Karlsson said.
“We [need to] get treated like we’re a business, and we’re going to treat everybody else like it’s a business, too.”