Opinion: I believe Erik Karlsson will add to any team, just hopefully it’s not Dallas
Erik Karlsson is a generational talent, a defenseman who has all the tools a team could want. But, the Stars seem to be swinging at a pitch that could either strike them out or put them over top, and I argue the first option is the likely outcome.
Being born and bred in Texas is to have a lifelong attachment to all of the stereotypes that are thrown our way. The chief among them: that we appreciate all things big, typifying the age old adage that “everything is bigger in Texas.” So it is only natural that when NHL free agency and trades come up, I want the Dallas Stars to think and act big. Do whatever it takes to field a team that can win a Stanley Cup.
However, there is a limit, and the Stars are flirting with that limit as I write this piece.
Stars fans were frantically scrolling through Twitter on Tuesday at the news that the club had emerged as the front runner to trade for superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson. The news surely got my attention. The news also triggered one thought in my mind instantly: the Ottawa Senators are going to want Miro Heiskanen. I instantly tweeted this:
I will yell to the heavens my objections if the Stars trade Miro.— Robert McClay III (@McClayR21) July 4, 2018
Now, to watch Erik Karlsson is to know that you are watching a truly special player. He skates effortlessly, he handles the puck as if it’s attached to his stick by a string, and he sees the game at an unmatched level. He’s special, and special players are to be appreciated, to be fawned over, and to be very expensive. Karlsson checks all of those boxes. The Dallas Stars would be better for having a player of his caliber on the backend, but not for the price the Senators are likely trying to get in return for him.
One cannot fault the Senators for commanding a high price for their disgruntled captain. He truly is a generational talent, and they have every right to dictate the terms. It is also clear that the Senators have thrown up their hands and need to tear the thing down to the studs.
The Senators would love to add a Heiskanen to center a rebuild around, and if you’re thinking about the present and the future of the Dallas Stars, that price is just too high.
The main concern for trading Heiskanen is that many believe he is going to be a top four defenseman at the break of training camp. He has been touted as the best defenseman in Europe, dominating in the Finnish Liiga, one of the best leagues in the world. Heiskanen is a beast at 18, and he is likely to get exponentially better before he hits his prime (a full six years from now by conventional wisdom). The Stars currently have their best prospect arguably since Mike Modano in 1988. I say that with a straight face. The best since Modano.
You do not trade that type of player, even for Erik Karlsson.
It also gives me quite a bit of pause when I think about the ramifications that trading for a player like Karlsson today could have on the future.
Karlsson is a dominant player and he has been since he came into the league. In 627 games played, Karlsson has 126 goals and 392 (518 points), eclipsing 70 points in a season four times, and has won two Norris trophies. He has been incredible, and it is completely possible that he has played the majority of his best hockey in Ottawa. Now, there is no doubt that Karlsson would be an impact player for the Stars for the first couple of years of his new deal (which we will discuss shortly), but why take the chance when the Stars have a player like Heiskanen, who is ten years younger, and by all reports can be an impact player right away?
There is also the issue of Karlsson’s injury history.
Karlsson is 28 years old, the same age as new Maple Leaf John Tavares, and this puts him squarely in his athletic prime. He has at least three or four elite-level seasons left in theory, but in a sport like hockey, who really knows. Unlike Tavares, who only has an ACL on his record, Karlsson has a troubling and gruesome history that includes a severed achilles tendon in 2013, which he has seemingly recovered from. However, the injury history is troubling in the present, as Karlsson is literally missing part of his ankle bone. He also seemingly recovered from this issue as well, but with feet and ankles, they both can worsen over time.
Finally, let’s look at his next contract.
Erik Karlsson is going to be extremely expensive to acquire and then extremely expensive to retain (if the Stars can retain him, which is part of the discussions between the teams when setting a trade price). Drew Doughty recently signed an eight year, $88 million deal. That is ten million more than John Tavares earned over the weekend, and would dramatically impact the cap for the Stars going forward.
Do the Stars really want to burden themselves with a cap hit that is $11 to $12 million when they also have to sign Tyler Seguin to a mega-deal?
The Seguin extension and the Karlsson extension would kick in at the same time. In no way do I like that, and in every way I believe it hurts the franchise over the long-term. Enter Miro Heiskanen, who will be on his entry-level contract, and I expect can produce for the Stars alongside incumbent #1 John Klingberg.
Stars fans also need to take into account that the Karlsson deal would come off at his age 36 season and the Stars would be hard-pressed to move that kind of contract when Karlsson starts to decline near the end of it (made even more complicated by the next labor lockout, too).
Enter Heiskanen once again, who would come off of his ELC in three years, be a restricted free agent, and who would presumably receive a sizable extension to lock him up during his prime. This sets up well for the present and the future of the franchise, a franchise that looks to win now and in the future.
I completely understand the desire to win now from Stars fans. When I tune in 82 times a year for the boys in Victory Green, I am as locked in as anyone. I want the Stars to win a Stanley Cup yesterday, and tomorrow, and the day after that. It would be the most meaningful sports moment of my sports life. However, when I look at the team and the future of the team objectively, I cannot bring myself to like a trade for Erik Karlsson.
I can’t believe I am writing that, but I know it’s true.
Karlsson would be an incredible addition for the present and has the potential to turn into an incredible burden in the future. He will be an aging player in a position that is physically demanding in terms of ice-time and physical punishment doled out by opponents. The move could give the Stars an improved shot at a playoff berth this season, but to say it locks the Stars into Cup contention is premature.
This club still needs help in the top six and still needs to lock up their number one center to put themselves in that conversation. The Stars also have a young, and by all accounts, world-class defenseman already. Klingberg could easily take a key role in leading the Stars to a championship in the next three years — and on a team-friendly contract, too. That makes Karlsson less of a glaring need than it would otherwise.