Here we go again.
One week after half a dozen teams flew to Los Angles in hopes of wooing free agent star John Tavares, an even bigger feeding frenzy is underway for Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson.
This one is a bit trickier. While Karlsson does not become a free agent until next summer, he was given permission to talk to other teams after rejecting a contract extension from the Senators earlier this week. Karlsson is looking for a deal similar to the eight year, US$88-million extension that Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty signed on July 1.
But before he gets paid, the Senators will have to get theirs in the form of a first-round pick in 2019 (to replace the one they traded to Colorado in exchange for Matt Duchene), a top prospect and a roster player.
According to the Ottawa Sun, several teams have reached out to the Senators. Some, like Vegas and San Jose, appear to be likely options. Others, such as Tampa Bay and Toronto, are total longshots.
Here’s what they could be offering the Senators and how they can make Karlsson’s potential salary fit.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Why do they want him? The Golden Knights added centre Paul Stastny in free agency, but the team’s big weak spot is on the backend. That is, unless you believe Nate Schmidt is a legitimate No. 1 defenceman who is capable of logging 25 minutes a night.
What can they offer? Vegas didn’t have a first-round selection in this year’s draft, but they did have three high picks in 2017. Ottawa will want one of them, whether it’s centre Cody Glass (sixth), winger Nick Suzuki (13th) or defenceman Erik Brannstrom (15th). Toss in Shea Theodore or winger Alex Tuch — both are 22 — and next year’s first-round pick and you could have a deal.
Could they make it fit? With more than $18 million in cap space, Vegas would have no issue paying Karlsson. If Ottawa wants to shed extra salary, the Golden Knights could also swallow the remaining four years and $29 million on Bobby Ryan’s contract. Of course, doing so would diminish the Senators’ return.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Why do they want him? The Sharks missed out on Tavares, but Karlsson is the rare defenceman who could put up just as many points as the Leafs centre — more if he sees time on the power play with Burns, who has scored 68 goals in the past three years.
What can they offer? San Jose will not want to give up 24-year-old Tomas Hertl, who just signed a four-year deal worth $22.5 million, while Evander Kane, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski all have no-trade clauses. So look for the Sharks to dangle 21-year-old Timo Meier, who scored 21 goals last season, as well as prospects such as 2018 first-round pick Ryan Merkley, an offensive defenceman with a Karlsson-esque skill-set.
Could they make it fit? Pavelski and Joe Thornton are on expiring contracts that carry a combined $11 million in salary, so re-signing Karlsson shouldn’t be an issue as long as they don’t plan on bringing either player back.
Why do they want him? Marc Methot would like nothing more than to reunite with his old defence partner, but Dallas’ desire to add Karlsson probably has more to do with helping out a defence where 25-year-old John Klingberg was at times on an island by himself this past season.
What can they offer? Miro Heiskanen, who was selected third overall in 2017, would have to be the centrepiece of any deal. He might be the only piece. Then again, Ottawa’s insistence on acquiring him could end up being a deal-breaker. That’s how highly regarded the Finnish defenceman is as a prospect.
Could they make it fit? With 18 players signed and only $10 million remaining in cap space, the Stars don’t have much wiggle room to add Karlsson. Though Jason Spezza’s contract comes off the books next year, any money saved will go to Tyler Seguin, who is in the final year of his contract and is due a significant raise from the $5.75 million he is currently earning.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Why do they want him? For the same reason the Golden State Warriors keep adding all-stars: the Lightning can’t seem to have enough award winners. Partnering Karlsson with Victor Hedman would be the first time that two Norris Trophy winners were paired together since Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
What can they offer? Any deal would have to include 20-year-old defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, who had 40 points in his rookie season. But with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point needing new contracts next summer, you have to wonder if one of them gets dangled instead.
Could they make it fit? There is no state income tax in Florida, so the Lightning don’t necessarily have to offer Karlsson the same $11-milllion cap hit that Doughty received. But even with a cap hit of $9 million, someone of substance will have to go to make room.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Why do they want him? The Leafs have arguably the deepest trio of centres in the NHL in Tavares, Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri, but they are not nearly as deep on the backend. Putting Karlsson on one defence pairing and Morgan Rielly on the other would instantly fix that problem.
What can they offer? There is little to no way that the Senators would trade Karlsson within the division, much less the province. That being said, their minds could change if the Leafs are willing to offer William Nylander and a prospect on defence, such as 2017 first-round pick Timothy Liljegren.
Could they make it fit? This one will take a lot of creativity. Even after adding Tavares, the Leafs have a ton of cap space. Well, this season they do. The space will shrink in a hurry once Matthews and Mitch Marner get new contracts next summer. But that’s also around the same time that Jake Gardiner ($4 million) and Ron Hainsey ($3 million) become UFAs.
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