Leaning on insight from Jason Bukala, our in-house expert with years of NHL front office and scouting experience, Sportsnet will take a closer look at a number of prime trade candidates leading up to the March 3 trade deadline.
If the NHL had a Comeback Player of the Year award, Erik Karlsson wouldn’t just win it, he’d force the league to rename the trophy in his honour. In fact, calling what Karlsson is doing this season a comeback is like saying Tom Brady played quarterback at a high level longer than you’d expect.
Just slightly underselling things there.
Karlsson has 73 points with nearly 30 games left in his season. Only 10 defencemen in the past 20 years have posted 73 points or more in a full season. Karlsson’s 54 even-strength points give him a five-point lead over right winger Matthew Tkachuk for tops in the league. The next defencemen on the list are Josh Morrissey and Adam Fox, who are tied for 42nd.
The two defencemen most associated with outrageous offence are Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey. At his current clip, Karlsson will push into that club and become just the third D-man ever to register 105 points in a season. Only three other D-men — Al MacInnis, Brian Leetch and Denis Potvin — have hit the century mark.
What’s he’s doing this season would be remarkable under any circumstances. But the fact it comes in his age-32 season on a rebuilding team when it felt like the ship had sailed on him being a game-changing player makes it all the more incredible. This is Year 5 for Karlsson in San Jose and his tenure there has been defined by extended injury-induced absences and the fact the club has basically been in steady decline with an aging roster full of bloated contracts.
Ah, yes, contracts. Even with all he’s done this season, the number we often hear first about in any conversation about Karlsson is his $11.5-million cap hit that’s on the books for four more seasons. It’s a monster number, especially for a guy who has not been the best health bet.
Then again, the way he’s playing, you know teams are wondering just what it would take to get him and have likely locked their capologist in a room with instructions to stay there until he or she figures out the math to squeeze him under the cap.
My role at Sportsnet is to try to realistically project organizational needs, potential trade targets, free agents who can fill roles with teams and analyze prospects for the entry draft.
I am not an insider.
I’m a scout by trade.
With that in mind, here are my thoughts about what is floating around the hockey universe in relation to a team or teams looking to acquire Karlsson.
I’m imagining Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland coming to me and asking how we can acquire Karlsson. He tells me he really wants the player but also wants to gauge what the cost could be (not to mention how to convince San Jose to retain as much salary as possible in the deal).
I really like some of IKEA’s products. What I don’t like is trying to figure out how to put them together. I also would like to have a Ferrari in my garage, but I’m not willing to take out a second mortgage on my house to make the purchase!
I’m trying to paint a picture. Assembling a Karlsson deal is not a comfortable ask and I know well in advance of my conclusion that the cost associated with the deal could be very expensive.
Without boring you too much, consider the following:
1. Karlsson turns 33 on May 31, and by the time his contract expires, he’ll be 37.
2. Karlsson has a full no-move clause. If you acquire him, he might not want to be moved again down the line and you will be inheriting the full four years left on his contract.
3. Karlsson scored 63 points in 71 games his last season in Ottawa (2017-18)
4. In his first 211 games in San Jose before this season, he scored 28 goals and 115 assists for 143 points.
5. He’s on pace to score over 100 points this season.
Let all of the above sink in for 30 seconds.
I honestly believe the only team interested in Karlsson, at this trade deadline, is the Oilers. If his contract looked different (say he was expiring after this season), there would be a lineup around the block for his services.
The Oilers have two of the top players on the planet knocking on Holland’s door asking him to, at least, investigate adding a puck-moving defenceman to their roster — and they would really like that Karlsson guy from San Jose if he can pull it off.
(Note: For added cost perspective, the Columbus Blue Jackets are apparently asking teams for a first-, third- and fourth-round pick for Vladislav Gavrikov.)
Edmonton Oilers Get:
Erik Karlsson: $11.5 million cap hit; contract expires after 2026-27 season
(40 per cent salary retained: $4.6 million through 2026-27)
Remaining cap hit for Karlsson: $6.9 million through 2026-27
(Reminder: Karlsson deal has full no-movement clause)
5th-round pick in 2024
San Jose Sharks Get:
Tyson Barrie: $4.5 million cap hit; contract expires after 2023-24 season
Warren Foegele: $2.75 million cap hit; contract expires after 2023-24 season
Evan Bouchard: $864,000 cap hit; pending RFA this summer
Edmonton’s 1st-round pick in 2023 NHL Draft
Edmonton’s 2nd-round pick in 2024 NHL Draft
(Note: The Oilers have Jason Demers and Markus Niemelainen available for recall from Bakersfield.)
Are Other Teams in the Mix?
Short answer: I’m confident saying NO.
The reasons go beyond the cost of acquiring Karlsson. Sure, Buffalo or Ottawa could afford to make a trade of this magnitude, but I don’t see the player waiving his no-trade to go to a rebuilding outfit.
Almost Final Thoughts
Nobody knows Erik Karlsson the way Erik Karlsson knows Erik Karlsson. (It’s a mouthful, I know!)
He’s caught lightning in a bottle at the age 32. This could realistically be his Mount Everest of seasons. He’s reached his ultimate peak. He knows he is playing at a historically absurd level and producing offense like never before.
That said, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Karlsson have definitely spoken openly about how great it would be to win a Stanley Cup. They know that if Karlsson came to Edmonton playing at his peak ability, the Oilers’ chances of another deep playoff run increase.
I do think it’s safe to assume former Shark Evander Kane has reached out to Karlsson. Kane could play a wild-card role in the process of convincing Karlsson to waive his no-trade clause.
Would I make this trade? No.
It’s too expensive and I don’t trust that Karlsson’s play is sustainable beyond this season in relation to the expense for the Oilers.
If the Oil are that concerned about acquiring a puck-moving defenseman — a two-way, transitional type — I would engage with Arizona on Jakob Chychrun instead. It will still be expensive, but he’s young, affordable and hasn’t reached his peak yet.