There’s nothing to spice up the dog days of the NHL off-season quite like continued trade rumors involving the best defenseman in the league.
After a long silence on the Erik Karlsson trade front, the Ottawa Senators defenseman found himself back in the rumor mill when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that trade talks had “picked up” earlier in the week. And while it had long been considered that Tampa Bay was one of the clear-cut frontrunners, if not leading the pack, Friedman noted that the most likely destination now appeared to be a Western Conference club.
Following Friedman’s report, speculation grew and with three teams moving to the fore as the most likely landing spots for the two-time Norris Trophy-winning blueliner: the Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks.
That Vegas is mentioned among the most prominent Karlsson trade partners comes as little surprise. When rumors first began to surface of a possible Karlsson deal leading up to the trade deadline, the Golden Knights were a fixture. They remain in the mix, too, with a combination of interest, need and cap space. Vegas has more than $8.5 million in spending room under the salary cap — albeit with RFA blueliner Shea Theodore unsigned — and shuffling around some money would allow them to take on Karlsson’s $6.5-million cap hit without much issue. Beyond that, Karlsson probably has his best shot at earning top dollar with the Golden Knights given the organization is projected to have upwards of $25 million in cap space and Vegas’ only truly major free-agent concern next summer is a potential high-paying deal for William Karlsson.
The Golden Knights aren’t alone in having cap space to possibly extend the 28-year-old long-term, mind you. The Stars, while somewhat new to the field, could also bring Karlsson aboard and ink him well into the future given they have almost $30 million coming off the books next summer. The issue there, however, is that about one-third of that money will go to retaining star center Tyler Seguin. If another $10 million then goes to Karlsson, that would give Dallas roughly $10 million to lock up the likes of Marc Methot, Esa Lindell, Julius Honka, Mattias Janmark, Brett Ritchie and Gemel Smith, all of whom become free agents of one kind or another next summer. That could create a sticky situation in Dallas.
The Sharks, meanwhile, would have to clear the biggest hurdle if they wanted to not only acquire but retain Karlsson. Not only would San Jose have to clear about $2 million in salary in the acquisition — which isn’t all that far-fetched given Ottawa would certainly want a roster player as part of the return — but the Sharks would have to find a way to use their cap space, projected to be less than $22 million under a flat cap, to retain Karlsson, captain Joe Pavelski and six RFAs, including Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc. As far as intrigue goes, though, San Jose might be the prime destination for Karlsson. The Sharks' defense corps would then conceivably consist of Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Karlsson. How’s that for a top-three on the blueline?
Of course, none of this is to say the Lightning are necessarily out of the mix. Tampa Bay has arguably been the party with the longest-standing interest in acquiring Karlsson, and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has shown time and again the ability to get creative in bolstering his roster. However, Tampa Bay’s cap situation is considerably more difficult to navigate moving forward if trading for and then signing Karlsson is the plan.
With the signing of Nikita Kucherov to an eight-year extension worth $9.5 million annually, the Bolts are currently projected to have less than $14 million in cap space next off-season. And while that may not account for increases in the upper limit, it also doesn’t account for Tampa Bay needing to re-sign Yanni Gourde, Brayden Point and Anton Stralman, among others, come next summer. So, while Tampa Bay was once considered among the most likely landing spots, it appears they may have shuffled back in the pack with Western Conference suitors leaping out front.
CANUCKS NOT IN THE MIX
One of the more intriguing teams to crop up in Karlsson trade talk was Vancouver. When Friedman reported interested parties had begun making renewed efforts to push to land the stud defenseman, he noted that the Canucks were among those who had “stepped in” to discussions. As soon as talk of Vancouver crept to the surface, however, it was almost immediately squashed.
In speaking with Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Canucks GM Jim Benning said there was “no truth” to the Canucks’ actively pursuing Karlsson. Granted, that’s exactly what any GM would say. There is a bit more weight behind Benning’s assertion, though, given he asserted that he would not be moving any of Vancouver’s 2019 draft selections when speaking with TSN 1040. And beyond the picks, it also wouldn’t make even a lick of sense for the Canucks to give up what the Senators would likely be asking in any deal involving Karlsson.
Chances are that Ottawa would be after one of Vancouver’s top prospects if the two were to become trade partners, but it’s almost impossible to fathom a scenario in which a rebuilding Canucks team, one that is at least a few years away from truly contending in the Western Conference, would give up any of their promising young talents. And with the inclusion of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Olli Juolevi or Thatcher Demko almost certainly out of the question, it’s tough to see any way the two sides could find a fit.
OPEN TO CONTRACT IN CANADA?
As rumors continued to swirl, with the top suitors located in American markets, it was reported that Karlsson had made it clear he was uninterested in signing an extension with a Canadian team, that he didn’t see himself signing a long-term deal north of the 49th. Talk of that was only allowed to be batted around for the better part of a day, however, as Karlsson has come out and cleared up that talk. Early Friday, Friedman reported that Karlsson had reached out to say there was no truth to the report that he wouldn’t sign long term with a Canadian outfit.
However, it would seem as though the only Canadian team that makes sense for Karlsson on a long-term pact would be the Senators. Regardless of the consistent trade rumors, he has remained steadfast in saying he would remain with the organization, and reports have surfaced that he would truly consider re-upping in Ottawa if there was a change in ownership. That said, there are no indications that current Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has any plans on selling the team at any point in the near future.