Every team in the NHL could use Erik Karlsson.
Who couldn’t find a place for a game-breaking, 101-point defenseman in their line-up?
Of course, it’s not Karlsson’s ability that makes him hard to move, it’s his age, No-Movement Clause, and most of all, that massive contract. The details of the 33-year-old’s pact with the San Jose Sharks are well-chronicled, and I dipped into the unprecedented contract-related ramifications of a potential Karlsson trade yesterday.
Every team in the NHL could use Erik Karlsson, but his contract is problematic for every team in the league to handle.
But where there’s a will, there might be a way.
“Teams get creative and find a way if that’s what they really want,” an NHL scout from outside the San Jose Sharks organization told San Jose Hockey Now.
So here’s my first guess of 10 teams that could really want Karlsson.
All these franchises have these things in common: They’re contenders or on the cusp of winning. I can see a need for an elite, right-handed offensive blueliner in their line-ups. And their salary cap situations aren’t Minnesota Wild-impossible to work around.
Perennial first-round-and-out Wild could surely use a talent like Karlsson on their back-end but they’ve got $14.74 million of dead cap space in each of the next two years because of 2021’s Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts.
We’re going to assume that the San Jose Sharks will retain at least $3 to 5.75 million in each of the remaining four years of Karlsson’s contract. That kind of retention is the only way a trade like this works for both sides, I think.
This maximizes the return for the rebuilding Sharks, and decreases the cap cost for the acquiring team.
I’ve also included four candidates, the Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs, who showed interest in Karlsson in the past season.
Keep in mind that these 10 teams are just speculation – I’ll dig harder into this next week.
This Karlsson trade could be the most challenging trade in league history, so for every reason why a franchise might want to acquire him, there’s a reason for that team to pass.
Let’s start with the usual suspects.
The Oilers were hot-and-heavy on Karlsson this past season, and it looks like they’re still looking for help on the right side, this time the Carolina Hurricanes’ Brett Pesce.
“We know that the Edmonton Oilers are one of those teams in the market also looking to add another top-four defenceman,” Darren Dreger said yesterday.
Karlsson was a more urgent need for the Oilers this year, before they traded Tyson Barrie for Mattias Ekholm. Also, young right-hander Evan Bouchard took the place of Barrie on Edmonton’s vaunted top power play unit without skipping a beat.
After the Barrie trade, the Oilers continued to lead the NHL in Power Play % in both the regular season and the playoffs.
How do the Panthers feel about Aaron Ekblad?
The right-hander is only two years removed from a Norris-caliber campaign, but the 27-year-old was dogged by injuries this season.
If Florida feels good about an Ekblad comeback, that coupled with righty Brandon Montour’s emergence as a top offensive defenseman might take care of the Eastern Conference winner’s needs on Karlsson’s natural side.
“We’ve talked at various times this season about somehow, someway by at some point this summer, don’t be surprised if someone like Erik Karlsson ends up a member of the Florida Panthers,” Jeff Marek said on his eponymous show on Friday.
Maybe new Senators owner Michael Andlauer will want to make a big splash and bring back franchise legend Karlsson?
They also could use a right-handed defender, though Ottawa does already have talented young puckmovers in Thomas Chabot, Jake Sanderson, and recently-acquired Jakob Chychrun.
The Sens were interested in a reunion this past season, per Elliotte Friedman, so this doesn’t seem far-fetched.
Toronto Maple Leafs
According to Elliotte Friedman, Toronto looked into acquiring Karlsson during the Trade Deadline.
Of course, it was a different regime, with Brad Treliving replacing Kyle Dubas as GM last month.
But there’s also no team more desperate to take that next step than the Maple Leafs, and they don’t have a high-end right-handed blueliner right now.
How about teams that haven’t really been attached to Karlsson this year?
Like Edmonton, Buffalo has expressed interest in Pesce.
“Among the teams, I’m told that have already reached out on Brett Pesce,” Pierre LeBrun said yesterday, “the Buffalo Sabres, who have made a priority as [Darren Dreger] has reported before of going out and getting a top-four D.”
Unlike the Oilers, the Sabres are a team on the rise, and haven’t sunk as much money in their defense yet. They do have future Norris Trophy winner Rasmus Dahlin and promising Owen Power on the blueline, so instead of Pesce, could Karlsson be the missing piece between this young group and contention?
For what it’s worth, while the left-handed Dahlin is comfortable playing the right side, Buffalo doesn’t have a clear top right-handed defenseman.
The Dallas defense, of course, is headlined by Miro Heiskanen, but after the Norris Trophy candidate, the Stars are missing firepower from the backend.
It’s worth noting: At this time last summer, Dallas had the chance to pony up for a star right-handed San Jose Sharks defenseman who probably wanted to play for them.
They sure could have used Brent Burns in the Western Conference Finals against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Instead, Dallas sent out a first-round pick for young Nils Lundkvist, who couldn’t crack their shallow defense in the playoffs.
Could Dallas make up for that mistake this off-season? They still have that same hole on the right side that they had last summer.
Detroit Red Wings
Like Ottawa and Buffalo, Detroit is a younger team on the rise.
But unlike the Senators and Sabres, the Red Wings don’t have as much NHL-ready young talent on the blueline.
So Karlsson could fill a general need on the blueline, next to up-and-coming right-hander Moritz Seider.
Los Angeles Kings
This feels like a longshot, but the Kings, taken out by the Oilers in the first round in consecutive playoffs, are a franchise that also seems desperate to take the next step.
Los Angeles is full-up on right-handed rearguards, headlined by Karlsson contemporary Drew Doughty, but the Sharks star offers a dynamism that they’re currently missing from the blueline.
New York Islanders
The Isles are an older roster, but GM Lou Lamoriello doubled down on it by acquiring and extending Bo Horvat this past season.
Could they do the same on defense?
Young star Noah Dobson will be a fixture on the right side on the Island for the next decade, but might Karlsson be an upgrade on solid veteran Ryan Pulock?
It’s easy to forget now, but in the Golden Knights’ Cinderella expansion campaign in 2017-18, they saw Karlsson as a piece to put them over the top and pursued the then-Sen through that Trade Deadline and even into the summer.
The San Jose Sharks, of course, would win that Karlsson derby.
Could second-year Seattle, coming off their first playoff appearance, see Karlsson in the same light?
Their defense is solid from top-to-bottom, but they lack a true No. 1.
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