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Rumour Roundup: What’s Happening to Erik Karlsson?

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The Erik Karlsson trade rumours are bigger than ever. How did we get here?

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has been said about Erik Karlsson in the last few days. With the trade deadline only three days away, the Sens’ captain has been the hot topic for potential trade discussions. New information has been pouring in at a rapid pace, making the entire situation a knotted mess.

Below I’ve included a bunch of articles, tweets, interviews and more that should provide as much information known about this situation as possible. Be sure to click on the links for more context in each source.

How on earth did we get here?

Rumours around a Karlsson trade have been buzzing around for a while, stemming from his “I’m going to get what I’m worth” comment, to Melnyk’s infamous NHL 100 interview where he stated he could be cutting player salaries, to the more recent statement from Melnyk proceeding the contract extension for general manager Pierre Dorion.

“Today’s announcement reflects a renewed commitment to scouting, drafting and development. It may require changes to our lineup. Rest assured, we will only tolerate pain with an endgame in mind: building an organization that wins - at all levels - year in and year out.”

Lineup changes were inevitable under Melnyk’s frugal leadership, and we’ve already seen the beginning with the Dion Phaneuf trade saving Ottawa $4.75 million over the next four seasons including this one. Players like Brassard, Hoffman, Pageau, Oduya and Smith are the names being floated that presumably fit the bill, but suddenly.... Karlsson?

Talks first started to get serious following a tweet from CTV’s sports director Terry Marcotte:

This revealed a couple new things:

  1. Erik Karlsson is officially on the trade market. Although he provided the front office with his ten-team no-trade list in December along with the rest of the team (what Dorion called “due diligence”), there was no word that Dorion would even consider dealing the captain.
  2. A potential trade would likely have to involve Bobby Ryan (more on this later).

That still left Karlsson’s odds of being traded at a low level, with the term “aggressive listening” being used by the insider panel at TSN.

Where There’s Smoke...

Of course, once the ball started rolling, things started to pick up quickly. On Wednesday, a day after the panel that still called a Karlsson trade unlikely, a couple articles were published that gave a whole new layer of development.

The biggest is from trusted and respected insider Bob McKenzie, whose article says that the possibility of a trade is now closer to 50/50, listing the Tampa Bay Lightning as a potential landing spot.

“To the best of our knowledge, the Senators have not received formal offers on Karlsson. The discussions that have taken place thus far were more Dorion laying out the general parameters of what a Karlsson deal would need to look like from Ottawa’s end.”

“My sense is that in the next 24-to-48 hours it will become quite apparent to the Senators whether there’s a chance to make a deal by Monday. In other words, the short-term market for Karlsson will either shrivel up and die a rather quick death — especially if the Sens’ asking price is perceived as outlandish — or it will sprout so many legs so quickly as to take off and virtually fly to the conclusion of a trade before Monday’s deadline. To be honest, the former still feels more likely than the latter but anything seems possible now.”

Giving some more reason behind the rise in probability is Travis Yost, who has been a key member in covering the inner-workings of the Sens’ front office for years. He posted on his private blog an article that shares his thoughts on the Karlsson situation, and reasons why he may be parting ways with the Sens.

I highly recommend you read the full post (as well as McKenzie’s), although the key points revolve around the disconnect between the player and the owner — Erik Karlsson and Eugene Melnyk. It confirms that the main motive behind the move would be to save money from his upcoming extension, and that Karlsson has ultimately not been satisfied with the organization.

“I don’t think Erik Karlsson wants out of Ottawa. I do think he wants out of the Ottawa Senators organization. He is, to quote multiple sources close to the situation, “unhappy”.”

Recent Developments

This has all devolved into a period of keeping a close watch. Which teams are interested? Has Dorion or Melnyk changed their stance? Some answers have started to be revealed, mostly for the former question.

As mentioned in McKenzie’s article, Tampa Bay has shown interest. With the league-leading team a definite Cup contender, acquiring Karlsson to play with fellow countryman Victor Hedman would surely put them over the top. With Karlsson due for an extension in the 2019 off-season, acquiring him now would give them two playoff runs with the Swede, instead of just one if they were to make a trade over the summer.

More recently, coming from The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, is the possibility of the Nashville Predators as a trading partner (paywall), as they’ve “chatted” about the possibility. Yost also mentioned the Vegas Golden Knights as a team that would make sense as a trading partner, although that’s purely speculative. Another three team trade, a la Matt Duchene, would also be possible, although would only add more complexity to a deal that would need to be completed in the next few days.

The fact of the matter is, it’s very rare a player of Karlsson’s caliber gets as far into the trade market as he has. These opportunities don’t come by often, so it would make perfect sense if every team in the NHL did their due diligence to contact Dorion. As Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch posited during yesterday’s first intermission against the Lightning, at least six teams have called, although the number is likely much higher because of the magnitude of the situation.

We also have to consider what the Sens might receive in return for the superstar. This is all media speculation at this point, although it would likely include plenty of high picks, top prospects and possibly a big roster player (from Garrioch and TSN’s Darren Dreger). Either way, it’ll be a lot of future assets, as Karlsson’s value will only depreciate once the trade deadline passes.

Bobby Ryan

As reported in the original tweet from Marcotte, Bobby Ryan is supposedly part of any trade that will involve Karlsson. Although as later clarified in McKenzie’s article, it appears to only be an option which would give a discount of sorts to the trading team. Ryan’s on the books for four more seasons after this one with a cap hit of $7.25 million, and with the 30-year-old’s play already declining (combined with a long history of hand injuries), the Senators are certainly looking to get out of his contract.

The problem that arises, as is often the case when trying to make trades in the NHL, is cap space. The trading partner would have to take on the $13.75 million in cap space that Karlsson and Ryan provide just by themselves, with Karlsson due for a massive raise in 2019. Very few teams would be able to facilitate that large of a cap raise, especially if there’s minimal salary coming the other way. This is where the option of including a third team may make some sense.

Concluding Thoughts

As obvious as they may seem, there are some extreme ramifications that come with trading the face of the franchise. Not only will it make the team significantly worse, but it will surely lose a large amount of the fanbase. With ticket sales already a struggle for the Senators, expelling the player that many pay to see could end up resulting in a net loss financially in the long-term.

The background behind this debacle plays a large part in it too — the goal of a Karlsson trade is not to make the team better, but to provide financial relief to an owner who has openly blamed fans for poor attendance and threatened to relocate the franchise.

Now it’s led to Ottawa’s most beloved athlete landing at #1 on TSN’s trade bait list, and Sens fans are getting anxious. The trade deadline February 26th at 3:00 p.m., only three days away, and Erik Karlsson may be on the move.