If it weren’t a 100 percent certainty before the draft that Erik Karlsson is going to be traded, it is now. And that’s why Ottawa Senators fans should not only prepare to lose the best player they’ve ever had – yeah, better than Daniel Alfredsson – they should also be prepared to accept a less-than-ideal return for him.
Think about it. The Senators have publicly disclosed that they’ve offered Erik Karlsson a contract. They’ve done it in the most ham-handed way possible, the same way they’ve handled virtually every other aspect of the Karlsson saga. Note to teams: the next time you’re facing a delicate and potentially confrontational situation with your franchise player, just look at what the Senators did in this case and do exactly the opposite.
So the Senators have offered Karlsson a contract. The fact that he didn’t accept it without the Senators giving other teams the permission to negotiate a deal with him means he is history in Ottawa. Had he wanted to come back to Ottawa, he would have signed the deal. And if the offer is not in the Drew Doughty range of eight years and $88 million, that simply makes it a token offer designed to save face and it’s not even worth Karlsson’s consideration. If it is in that range and Karlsson hasn’t accepted it…well, he’s not going to get any more money elsewhere so it’s a pretty clear indication he’s made up his mind and wants to move on.
So with that in mind, let’s start to try to gain some perspective on what the Senators can expect in return for Karlsson. Well, that all depends on the parameters of the deal. If it’s Karlsson alone, expect it to be a massive haul. But it will largely be in the form of futures, which may or may not turn out well for Ottawa. Young players, even ones that are excelling at other levels, are still unproven and even the highest draft picks sometimes fail. History tells us that when a team trades a superstar during or just after his prime, the return is almost always not equal. The Senators may very well be able to turn the page by making this deal and it will undoubtedly be a watershed moment for the franchise, but do not be surprised if in the end this deal ends up being a wash or the Senators actually get less value than everyone hoped.
And if indeed the Bobby Ryan contract is part of this deal, the Senators can dispense with the hopes of getting much of anything in return. Because what they’d be getting in return is out from under an onerous contract for an underperforming player that they signed of their own volition. In the salary cap era, GMs have come to understand, and it’s taken a while, that cap space is an asset, every bit as important as players and coaches are. And if you’re moving Karlsson along with Ryan, the team taking on those players is looking at tying up two players long-term at about $18.25 million per season - $7.25 million for Ryan and $11 million for Karlsson. Any team willing to take that kind of cap space off the Senators’ hands is not going to be willing to surrender a whole lot more.
It’s much the same situation as when the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Phil Kessel in 2015. With the exception of Nick Spaling, the Maple Leafs did not receive one established NHL player in that trade. What they got were futures in the form of a first-round pick that they packaged to Anaheim to get goalie Fredrik Andersen and Kasperi Kapanen, who will be either their third- or fourth-line right winger this coming season.
The other thing that can’t be discounted is that trading Karlsson could truly prove disastrous. The Senators are already a good bet to finish at the bottom of the standings with him in the lineup and might be a shoo-in without him. That would give them the best odds of winning the draft lottery, where they would have to hand over the rights to the first overall pick to the Colorado Avalanche. The early frontrunner to fill that spot is Jack Hughes, who is en route to breaking all the offensive records with the U.S. National Team Development Program. That’s the same under-17 and under-18 teams that produced Patrick Kane and Jack Eichel, by the way.
No matter which way this goes, there is a world of pain in store for the Senators and their fans. So they might as well rip the Band-Aid off right now and that starts with the inevitable move of shipping Erik Karlsson out of town.
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