The Karlsson Conundrum
(Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com)
Erik Karlsson, a name that has found its way to the forefront of the NHL trade rumour mill. Very rarely do we see a star the likes of Karlsson on the verge of being traded. It’s simply not the NHL way. Almost every superstar since the establishment of the NHL has stuck around with the teams they’re drafted by because of the unwritten rule of loyalty, which a player must abide by or be crucified on every means of social media by the millions of keyboard warriors in search for sports justice.
However, this distaste is never reciprocated when the story is written the other way around. LeBron James said it himself: “When a player gets traded, they were doing what’s best for the franchise, but when a player decides to leave, he’s not loyal”, and it has been very apparent that the Senators are trying to move Karlsson to prepare themselves for the inevitable rebuild after a colossal tire fire of a season.
Now one question that comes to mind is: why the sudden need to rebuild? After being a single goal away from the Stanley Cup finals, with a roster that is roughly 85% intact from the miracle run they had, that a rebuild is now the way to go for the Senators franchise. Is it ownership putting pressure on the management to rid themselves of the players that will control a big chunk of the salary next season, so that they remain the ‘budget team’ they’ve been known to be since their reestablishment in the league? Or has Karlsson voiced his displeasure of the franchise to management? At the end of the day, we can speculate all we want, but the truth will never find the light of day. All we know for sure is this: Karlsson’s days with the Senators are numbered.
With that being said, what is the likely scenario? A lot of speculation has come out about Karlsson being dealt at the deadline, but the price tag on Karlsson may not give as many teams the flexibility to make the deal happen. Tampa Bay is still the team that most expect to make the deal happen as they have the right pieces to tether the trade. The package that seems to be floating around is a 2018 1st round pick, a 2019 1st round pick, rookie defender Mikhail Sergachev, Tyler Johnson and another high profile prospect (i.e. Taylor Raddysh No.58 pick of the 2016 draft).
This trade does seem to be a good fit for both teams. The Lightning would be getting the NHL’s most dynamic defenceman and arguably a top five player in the league, as well as the flexibility to re-sign Karlsson at the end of the 2019 season because they would be eliminating Johnson’s contract. Paired up with an already stud defenceman in Victor Hedman, this trade would make the lightning a shoo-in for the Stanley Cup Finals. It goes without question that this trade would make sense for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Now let's delve into the Ottawa Senators' return. The piece that draws the most attention is Mikhail Sergachev. The rookie defenceman has shown thus far that he can make an impact in the NHL. After being dealt to the Lighting in the 2017 off-season from the Montreal Canadiens for forward Jonathan Drouin, Sergachev has made an immediate impact on the Lightning’s top four defence core. Granted, he’s been sheltered by the likes of Hedman, Stralman and veteran Dan Girardi, he has still managed to be a solid defenceman for the powerhouse team. He would be a great immediate replacement for Karlsson, and be the key piece to the beginning of the rebuild. The Senators possess a good young defence core in Ceci, Claesson, Chabot and Harpur, and Sergachev could easily be slotted in as a top four d-man. The other two physical pieces of the trade would allow the Senators to fill the roster right away with Tyler Johnson, a player who has shown he can be an x-factor when needed and will more than likely be slotted into the second line centre position, and Taylor Raddysh, a second round prospect that will help in the overhaul of the team.
Raddysh had a respectable World Juniors, notching 5 points in 7 games, and had a stellar 2016/2017 season, with the Erie Otters, scoring 109 points in 58 games. Following in the steps of former World Junior, Mark Stone, Raddysh could look to Stone for leadership and potentially slide into the Senators top two forward lines in the seasons to come. As for the two first round picks, they will most likely be bottom 5 picks, but will inevitably play a role in the rebuild of the Senator’s roster.
This trade ultimately makes the most sense for the Senators to make at the deadline because of the max return they would receive. Allowing the Bolts to have Karlsson for two potential Stanley Cup runs, grants them all the pieces mentioned above.
However, if Karlsson fails to be moved at the deadline, the story arc is drastically changed. Karlsson is now a true rental player. Teams now have a one shot opportunity to make a run for a championship with the NHL’s best defenceman. What this means, is the Ottawa Senators return for Karlsson is lessened. Despite this being the obvious, what this does mean is more teams are now in the conversation for the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes.
At that point it is hard to pinpoint who would have the advantage in snagging the generational defenceman, but this is without question; come 3pm February 26th, if Erik Karlsson is still an Ottawa Senator, all eyes and cameras will be on Pierre Dorion to see what he will do prior to the 2018 NHL draft in Dallas.