It goes without saying that Erik Karlsson the player would be a perfect asset for nearly every team in the NHL. In a world free of a salary cap, he’d be the player that general managers and coaches find a way to fit into their lineup, regardless of who they may already have in place.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in that kind of world.
So it was a little surprising when Joey Alfieri of NBC Sports had this bold prediction as the calendar flipped to 2018:
“Erik Karlsson will be a member of the Dallas Stars before the calendar shifts to 2019: I realize that saying Karlsson won’t be a Senator isn’t exactly bold, but picking the team he’s going to is! The Stars could use a boost on defense and landing the best one in the game is as good as it gets. Marc Methot and Karlsson will be reunited in Big D!”
Let’s look at the logic of why Karlsson could be on the move before we dive into the idea of Dallas being the destination.
Karlsson has one season past this one left on a contract that carries a cap hit of $6.5 million. For his next contract, Karlsson has already stated that he will not sign for less than he is worth (can you blame him? He’s elite and should be paid accordingly.) “When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going,” Karlsson told the Ottawa Sun in early December.
That doesn’t exactly fit with the Ottawa Senators organization. Owner Eugene Melnyk, prior to the Senators’ outdoor game last month, had a lot to say about the financial status of the organization as a whole, as well as whether a relocation in the future is imminent as he continues to try to figure out an arena deal in downtown Ottawa. The short of it is that the Senators have already cut a lot of costs in terms of staff in the front office, and noted that he will not be a cap team if the financial situation doesn’t improve.
So it seems that if Karlsson will be looking for market value on his next contract, the Senators may not be in a position to give it to him.
The team feels like it’s at a critical point. They’re currently 12 points out of a Wild Card berth, and are sitting at just a 0.7% chance to make the playoffs according to Sports Club Stats. If they’re evaluating where they are and decided that some type of retooling is needed, the Senators very well may have to consider the future of its biggest star.
Trading Erik Karlsson either at the trade deadline or this summer, with term left on his contract, is likely to net them a bigger return than if they hang onto him and try to deal him at next season’s deadline as a rental. If the organization is going to make that kind of move, is Dallas a logical trade partner?
It’s no secret the Stars made moves to put themselves into contender status this summer, shoring up their defense (installing a coach known for defensive success, signing a well-respected two way player in Martin Hanzal, and trading for defenseman Marc Methot to add some veteran leadership to a relatively inexperienced blueline) and improving their weakest position (goaltending, by trading for and then signing an extension with Ben Bishop).
Then they won the opportunity to pick third in the draft lottery and secured a mobile puck-moving defenseman in Miro Heiskanen when they drafted him, shoring up a hole in the organizational depth for the future.
You’d have to think that the Stars would consider trading for Karlsson if they believe he is the last piece of the puzzle for them to contend today, because he may not fit the organization long-term due to the cap and due to the defense coming up behind him in the organization.
Let’s look at the cap situation first.
Dallas is projected to have approximately $2.6 million in cap space at the trade deadline, according to Cap Friendly. So any deal to fit Karlsson’s contract under the cap, even on a pro-rated basis at the trade deadline, would require some kind of money going back the other direction (or going out in a separate deal).
But the trickiest part wouldn’t necessarily be fitting Karlsson’s contract in under this season’s cap ceiling, but fitting his contract in next season. As you can see below, the Stars will have a number of free agents to re-sign or players to bring in to fill in for unrestricted free agent departures at the end of the season. Adding Karlsson’s $6.5 million to the already $57.3 million in committed salary for next year would give general manager Jim Nill only about $15 million to accomplish all of that with, assuming the cap ceiling increases to ~$78 million next year.
The money is probably one of the biggest obstacles for the Stars in acquiring Karlsson. But it’s not the only one.
As it stands now, and without any corresponding moves that would have an impact on the future blueline, Dallas is looking at a top six for next season that resembles something like this, listed in pairings that I think (hope) they might try to maximize each pairing’s abilities and obviously written down in the most erasable pencil ever:
Miro Heiskanen - John Klingberg
Marc Methot - Julius Honka
Esa Lindell - Stephen Johns
If Ottawa is going to trade Karlsson, Stars fans would have to come to terms with the fact that at minimum one of Heiskanen, Honka, or Klingberg would no longer be a Stars player. If the Senators decide a retool is in order, they’ll want a cost-controlled blueliner in the mold of Karlsson that could grow with the team and be ready when they’re rounding back into contention to replace the actual Karlsson they’d be losing.
A trade package for a player of Karlsson’s caliber, with term left on his contract, would likely be centered around Heiskanen with at least one good young forward (think Radek Faksa), a high draft pick or two (think first and second round picks in the next two years’ drafts), and another prospect or two.
That’s a lot to give up for a player you’re likely to only have for about one full season (since the chances of re-signing a Karlsson and a Seguin to contracts they are worth is pretty slim).
The thing is, Dallas could have an effective, quality blueline next season without Karlsson that would be very cost efficient. Acquiring a Karlsson is not what the Stars really need to put them over the edge and into true contention this season. What they really need is legitimate scoring from the wing that is not a Jamie Benn or Alexander Radulov that can play top six minutes.
So if I woke up on February 26th, the day of the NHL’s trade deadline this season, and was magically the general manager of the Dallas Stars, Karlsson wouldn’t be my trade target from the Ottawa Senators. I’d be looking for one of their top six forwards (like Mike Hoffman) or trying to make a trade with a different team in the league to acquire a top six winger to help this season while protecting my pipeline for the future.