I do not think it is disputed that Erik Karlsson is the best defenseman in the NHL. Some would even say he’s been one of the best defenceman over the past decade. Personally, I think he may be up there with Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque as one of the best of all time (in terms of natural skill). He consistently posts 1st line forward point totals as a defenseman, and his corsi for statistics have always been positive throughout his career (with a career average of 53.0%). It goes without saying that Karlsson, the Captain of the Ottawa Senators, is a superstar. The 27-year-old Swede’s contract expires after the 2018-19 season, and his cap hit is currently $6.5 million, and to most, it would be obvious to re-sign Karlsson. However, there are some key points to mention:
- The Ottawa Senators are a mediocre hockey team
They currently sit in 7th place (out of 8 teams) in the weak Atlantic Division. The only teams worse than them in the NHL are the Buffalo Sabres, who have been bad for a while, and the Arizona Coyotes, who have a first year head coach and are openly tanking. One may think this season has been a fluke since the Senators made it to the Eastern Conference Final last season, eventually bowing out to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but one could also argue that the real fluke was last season’s playoff run. Perhaps the Senators tricked themselves into thinking they were better than they actually are (and why they traded for Matt Duchene).
2. Karlsson has no help
For this segment, I will ignore the forwards. However, in terms of defencemen, these are the other skaters Karlsson has shared the majority of game time with Dion Phaneuf, Johnny Oduya, Frederik Claesson, Cody Ceci, Thomas Chabot, and Mark Borowiecki. Out of all these defencemen, Karlsson is the only player with a Corsi above 50.0%, and you could argue his would be higher if it weren’t being dragged down by the lack in defensive quality in this Senators team. Chabot is the only other defenseman who comes close, and he is still getting outshot when on the ice.
3. The Senators’ owner is lost
The Senators are owned by Eugene Melnyk, who has repeatedly said he will move the team if things go worse for the Senators. Former Senator Kyle Turris, who was part of the Duchene deal which sent Turris to Nashville, said that Melnyk was the reason he was “paved out” of Ottawa. Additionally, Melnyk seems unwilling to pay players what they are actually worth, which leads to my final point.
4. Karlsson has said he will leave to get market value
“When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth,” was the quote given from Karlsson. Officially, the Senators and Karlsson can start negotiations in the summer of 2018, but given the Senators’ team outlook, and Melnyk’s unwillingness to give contracts reflective of value, the Senators and Karlsson appear to be reaching an impasse, one that may ultimately separate the two.
So, where does that leave us? It appears as if Karlsson may simply let his contract expire and test the market come the 2019-20 NHL season, however, this would result in absolutely no gain on part of the Senators. So, that begs the question: if it is for certain Karlsson will not resign, will the Senators look to trade him? The logical answer would be yes, however, in reality, the situation is far more complicated. For a team to acquire Karlsson, they would need the cap space necessary to accommodate his 6.5-million-dollar cap hit and have the funds to re-sign him when that deal expires. Additionally, Karlsson has a no-trade clause, meaning there are 10 teams Karlsson has said he will not accept a trade to. The teams Karlsson has provided are unknown, however, provided any team on the list is not present, this leaves the following teams as potential landing spots for the Swede. I try to give a short summary as to whether a deal would work:
Nashville: I like this move a lot. The Predators are a legitimate cup contender and are in that win now mindset that it takes to sign Karlsson. He would fit in well with the Predators top 4 of Josi, Ekholm, Subban, and Ellis.
Columbus: I don’t want this move to happen because I don’t trust John Tortorella with managing players, however, it does work. The Blue Jackets have a good, young forward core, led by Artemi Panarin, and Karlsson would help complement Seth Jones. It makes perfect sense for a team looking to take a step up.
Winnipeg: If any team truly needed Karlsson, and could most benefit from his arrival, it would be the Jets. Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, and Mark Scheifele have been productive all season, and the Jets currently sit atop the Central Division. Karlsson would help the Jets be able to make a deep playoff run and would help complement a potential defensive partner like Tyler Myers or Dustin Byfuglien who haven’t put up amazing Corsi numbers this year.
New Jersey: The Devils would be an interesting location for Karlsson. They are a team with a glut of young forward talent, however, with a lack of a solid defenseman (besides Sami Vatanen who they traded for). The only draw from this is that I don’t know if the Devils would want to give up a young roster player. Additionally, they will have to give their young guys on entry level deals like Hischier new deals in the near future.
Colorado: I would have laughed at this last year. However, now, the Avs are one point out of a wild-card spot, and they have a forward trio in Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Rantanen who are killing it right now. With plenty of cap space available, the Avalanche could maybe turn out to be a dark horse in the race for Karlsson.
Is it possible that no teams trade for Karlsson and they all have a mad scramble to sign him in free agency? Yes, absolutely. That could ultimately be what happens, and it would provide an incredibly interesting offseason for the first time since the late 1990’s. However, we the hockey-loving public will have to wait and see what happens to the Senators, and to Erik Karlsson.
Photo Courtesy of Dan4th Nicholas