What We Learned: Ottawa and the Erik Karlsson question

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Pierre Dorion, please, set this man free, (Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Pierre Dorion, please, set this man free, (Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

At All-Star weekend, presumably while still dressed as a pirate, Erik Karlsson said that while now was not the time to talk about his future with the Senators, he would definitely think a lot about it this summer.

The subtext here, obviously, is that the guy wants out of the toxic situation that has presented itself all too often in his tenure with the club, and it’s difficult to blame him. A player of his caliber — or any caliber, really — shouldn’t have to give over his career in service to a club with no real commitment to winning.

That’s especially true because every dollar Ottawa gives him in the “pay me what I’m worth” negotiations only hurts its outlay elsewhere. And while that’s true of all teams given the league’s cap-based economic system, it’s more problematic for the Senators beause it doesn’t seem particularly likely the club will keep spending all that close to a cap ceiling that will likely rise significantly this summer. They entered the season something like $3 million under the cap ceiling, which is high for them, but if the cap goes up to $80 million, we probably shouldn’t expect the Sens to keep up with that $5 million increase.

So if Karlsson is even likely to leave because the Senators aren’t going to build around him properly, as is his prerogative, then the team has an imperative to trade him as soon as possible. There’s no point in keeping him around this year, given that the team’s playoff chances are already dead, and have been for a while.

They are, apparently, contemplating a significant sell-off. Teams are sniffing around Mike Hoffman, J.G. Pageau, maybe Mark Stone, maybe Cody Ceci. Most of the rumors you read these days from reputable sources indicate pretty much everything hinges on what Karlsson will do when the Senators finally have the power to re-sign him. Waiting that long seems like a very bad idea, in no small part because the value you’d get for two playoff runs with Karlsson and giving the other team exclusive negotiating rights for a full year would be truly incredible.

Simply put, while Pierre Dorion may regret coughing up the old “they traded Gretzky too, y’know” trope when talking about Karlsson a few weeks ago, he really has to consider that trading Karlsson, even mid-season, will likely fetch a Gretzky-worthy haul. The other team gets a guy who is easily a top-five defenseman in the history of the sport for at least 115 games plus two playoff runs.

And more to the point, given that this is a cap league, it’s not like the Senators would have to take on too many big expiring contracts to make the money work. Karlsson is, after all, on just $6.5 million AAV this year and next. There is the issue of Karlsson’s 10-team no-trade list, which he already turned in to management in early December, but how many of those teams would be in the market for Karlsson at this point? Fact is, you’ve got a minimum of 20 teams that could theoretically bid for the best defenseman of his generation. By holding the bidding in-season, when a bunch of teams are still in the playoff race — by my count, 23 teams are either in a playoff spot or within four points of one — is just good business.

How many teams have bad, big-money contracts on the books that Ottawa could take back in exchange for half a team’s farm system and a few picks in the first few rounds? If you’re Ottawa, those bad contracts probably make a lot of sense to take back since if you’re trading Karlsson, you might as well trade everyone and do pretty much a full tear-down, and you gotta pay someone to get to the cap floor.

There are plenty of competitive teams with not-great, older defensemen on big-money contracts (Jay Bouwmeester or Braydon Coburn types, for instance) who might accept a trade to Ottawa who are signed for another two or three years and could make the money work for both sides while also allowing a raft of picks and prospects to come over with them. Ottawa’s currently one contract away from the 50-deal limit, but that’s not remotely the case for next year, so there might be some wiggle room there.

Remember, Karlsson and Craig Anderson were basically the only reason the Senators got into the playoffs last year with basically the same roster. They and Bobby Ryan were the only reason the team got within a goal of the Cup Final. So imagine what Karlsson means, in terms of adding expected wins, in a year where it particularly looks like everything is up for grabs. Four points is a lot of ground to make up if you’re that far out of the playoffs right now, sure, but a borderline playoff team plus Karlsson and minus dead money might get you pretty close to that number. And of course, there are only two teams of the 23 in the playoff conversation who are even that far out.

To be fair, it probably doesn’t help that Karlsson isn’t having a particularly good year — by his standards; by anyone else’s it’s once again phenomenal — but does another 35 games or so for an Ottawa team that is playing out the string and only likely to get worse as other players get traded off help or hurt that value?

One supposes Karlsson is probably insulated from those kinds of short-term perceptions to some extent but there’s only so much he can be expected to do if the Senators are stripped of most of their mid-20s talent.

It is therefore crucial that Ottawa make him part of that sell-off sooner than later. There’s no point in waiting. Let’s say Karlsson gets to July 1 and, as we all anticipate, he tells the Sens he wants out. They can absolutely trade him at that point, but then what was the point of keeping him for the extra three or four months in another lost season?

I guess, like a lot of things to do with the Senators these days, there wouldn’t have really been much of a point at all.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Yeah if you’re having a tough time figuring out what’s going on with the Ducks halfway through the season, it’s hard to blame you.

Arizona Coyotes: I guess when you have the opportunity to golf pretty much all the time, bowling is a good way to blow off steam.

Boston Bruins: It is established that I love Brad Marchand and believe he is one of the best players at his position in the world, and has been for some time. However, it is truly a sign of how dumb this league is that he’s suspended for five games but also goofing around at All-Star weekend.

Buffalo Sabres: Yeah hmm I wonder why Jack Eichel is in a good mood given that he’s not playing for the Sabres for a little while and traded Buffalo-in-late-January for Tampa.

Calgary Flames: So long to Jaromir Jagr. What a bummer, especially given that it’s ending this way.

Carolina Hurricanes: Please stop talking like the new owner is good. He isn’t. Thanks.

Chicago Blackhawks: A lot of the points in this 10-point plan seem altogether too hopeful and at loggerheads with each other. “Go on a big run” and also “hope Crawford comes back before the season ends” seem diametrically opposed because it’s hard to go on a big run without an elite goalie.

Colorado Avalanche: Much like MMA, this kind of take is apparently legal.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Getting Cam Atkinson back after an extended absence is probably a good thing for Columbus, for a number of reasons. Do not look at Alex Wennberg’s WOWYs without him.

Dallas Stars: Tyler Seguin is now advising young players at the All-Star Game, presumably about the best kinds of trash to put in the dryer.

Detroit Red Wings: This take, to me, should have been written in 2016.

Edmonton Oilers: What did Sweden ever do to the NHL?

Florida Panthers: Haha come on man.


Los Angeles Kings: They asked Drew Doughty about going to the Olympics and he gave the answer you’d expect.

Minnesota Wild: Yeah the Wild should absolutely trade Eric Staal. That shouldn’t even be a question.

Montreal Canadiens: Oh are we starting up the Carey Price trade rumors again? Already? Alright.

Nashville Predators: The team is good. And wow, they’re gonna trade Roman Josi, picks, and prospects for Erik Karlsson! Wow!

New Jersey Devils: Everyone loves Brian Boyle, and they should. The idea to put him in the All-Star Game in Tampa, where he was already beloved, was brilliant.

New York Islanders: The media spent a lot of All-Star weekend talking about a potential Tavares trade? You don’t say!

New York Rangers: The answer to the question in this headline is “Everyone without a no-trade.”

Ottawa Senators: Please set this man free!

Philadelphia Flyers: Sprint? There’s two and a half months of season left!

Pittsburgh Penguins: Seems weird that almost no one is talking about Sid Crosby having 20 points in his last 11 games but here we are and he’s well above a point a game again.

San Jose Sharks: Most of the next several years are just gonna be a string of “Well this team is _____ years old now” All-Star Games, right?

St. Louis Blues: Ironic that Alex Pietrangelo won the passing event at the Skills Competition because “passing” is what every Norris voter should do when it comes to putting his name on the ballot. And the good news is that joke wasn’t overwrought at all.

Tampa Bay Lightning: This seems about right.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Now this? This is a take.

Vancouver Canucks: To me this kid is good. I know there are a lot of people out there who think Brock Boeser isn’t good but he is.

Vegas Golden Knights: Hard to disagree with the point here but when has the Army ever avoided a pointless conflict in the desert?

Washington Capitals: I guess 101 miles an hour is a hard shot but with all the technology these days, is it really that hard? With the technology, I mean.

Winnipeg Jets: I definitely predicted Connor Hellebuyck would one day be an All-Star. Do not erase me.

Play of the Weekend

I loved the save streak competition. It was so dumb and fun.

Gold Star Award

I 10,000 percent love that the NHL had a lot of trouble finding people who would face Connor McDavid in the fastest skater contest. Like why bother?

Minus of the Weekend

Don’t do this stuff. Bring back Devin Dark!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “nystromshairstylist” is moving some things around.

To ARI: - both first round picks in 2018 - Brock Nelson - Thomas Hickey - Adam Pelech - Alan Quine - Shane Prince - Josh Ho-Sang To NYI: - Oliver Ekman-Larsen - Niklas Hjalmarson

Signoff

I thought we were having steamed clams.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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