Perhaps the biggest move of the off-season was completed earlier today, when Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson was traded by the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks. The return: two-way NHL forward Chris Tierney, rookie forward Rudolfs Balcers, collegiate center and 2017 first-round pick Josh Norris, young depth defenseman Dylan DeMelo, and four draft picks. While the Senators don’t know for sure how the likes of Norris and Balcers will pan out, the players acquired in this deal are somewhat identifiable assets with ascertainable ceilings. The picks carry far more potential; however they also each carry conditions. The earliest possible pick chronologically would be a 2019 first-round pick. The Sharks owe the Buffalo Sabres their first round pick in the next NHL Draft as a condition for re-signing winger Evander Kane, but with the additional condition that they make the playoffs. Should they miss the playoffs – a catastrophic result for a team that now has meteoric expectations – the team could opt to send that pick to Ottawa and their 2020 first-rounder to Buffalo if they so choose. If not, and the Sharks make the playoffs as expected, the Senators will land that 2020 first-round pick.
Ottawa will still have an early pick from San Jose in June though, perhaps even earlier than expected. The condition on that pick is that it is the highest of the second-round picks owned by the Sharks: their own and the Florida Panthers’, which ironically was part of the return from the Sharks’ flip of former Ottawa forward Mike Hoffman earlier this year. Florida is expected to improve this season, but playing in the Atlantic Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, and Toronto Maple Leafs means the Panthers face an uphill battle to make the playoffs and could easily end up with a draft slot in the first half of the second round. Whereas, the Sharks should by all accounts be a playoff team and more in the coming season.
Speaking of Hoffman, the Senators learned from that experience with Sharks GM Doug Wilson. As Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston notes, Ottawa threw in what may as well be a “Mike Hoffman Clause”. After San Jose traded for Hoffman only to trade him hours later to one of the Senators’ division rivals, GM Pierre Dorion added a conditional future first-round pick if Karlsson is traded back to the Eastern Conference this season. The pick must be exchanged by 2022 at the latest.
Finally, the Sharks sent a 2021 second-round pick to the Senators that carries two conditions. The pick itself is conditional upon San Jose re-signing Karlsson, whose current contract expires at the end of the season. If the Sharks both appear in the Stanley Cup Final this year and extend Karlsson, that pick becomes a first-rounder. In summary, at worst the Senators will receive a second-rounder in 2019 and the Sharks’ first-rounder in 2020 and at best they receive three first-round picks between now and 2022 and potentially a first-round and early second-round pick next year.
- One condition that is already looking good for the Senators is the one that hinges on Karlsson re-signing in San Jose. Although there has been no word from the star defenseman’s camp on his future or thoughts on a contract extension, Wilson already has the future in mind. Although the relatively underwhelming return for a player of Karlsson’s caliber reflects the risk of just one year remaining on his salary, Wilson made the deal with hopes of keeping him around for much longer. Wilson told the gathered media this afternoon that “It’s a long-term approach and we think Erik fits for now and for a long time.” While Karlsson has been clear that he wants to be the highest paid defenseman in the NHL and that would be best served on the open market, the Sharks have the salary cap composition moving forward to meet his contract demands. If the season goes according to plan and the Sharks win or come close to winning the Stanley Cup, with Karlsson playing a key role for what on paper looks like the best defense in the league, he could be tempted to skip free agency and re-sign in San Jose.
- Although the Karlsson trade was between just two teams, there is no way to truly evaluate the reverberations of this trade without discussing the Colorado Avalanche. The Senators have changed the tone of their public relations approach following this trade, being clear that they have entered a rebuild. However, the fact remains that the Senators don’t own their first-round pick next season. That selection belongs to the Avs as part of the Matt Duchene trade. With Karlsson’s departure, the team that many pegged to be the worst in the league has now lost their best player and have an even better chance of finishing the season in 31st place. This would also give them the best odds in the NHL Draft Lottery and the best odds of drafting projected franchise center Jack Hughes. However, that fate belongs to Colorado, who now stand a very high chance of seeing an already lopsided return for Duchene reach its maximum value. The 2018-19 Senators season will now likely matter more to Avalanche fans than it does to their own. To make matters worse, publicly committing to a rebuild could mean that Duchene, an impending unrestricted free agent, doesn’t even last the season on the Ottawa roster.