The superstar blueliner will be this summer’s John Tavares… but where will he end up?
The spotlight is shining brightly on pending free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, formerly of the Ottawa Senators this season. So, hockey fans might have forgotten that two-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson is also slated to hit the open market as a free agent this upcoming offseason.
The 28-year-old smooth skating blueliner is putting up another stellar season, despite struggling early in the campaign while adjusting to his new team. Karlsson, of course, was traded to the San Jose Sharks from the Senators last offseason in a blockbuster deal that essentially signaled the End of Days in Ottawa. The moment he was traded to San Jose most fans assumed Karlsson would ink a new long-term deal with the team, but so far, he’s been non-committal about his future in the Bay Area. Will he re-sign? Or will he test the market? If you think you know where he will end up, you could place your bets at college sports betting at 888 Sport.
Here are our top five most likely destinations for Karlsson this upcoming offseason:
San Jose Sharks
This is cheating, right? The truth is… Karlsson is a pretty good fit with the Sharks. Again, despite struggling a bit early in the season, Karlsson has been a terrific addition to the Sharks’ core. He’s likely to hit the 50-point plateau for the eighth time in his career and has developed real chemistry with defensive partner Brent Burns.
The Sharks have managed to make Karlsson’s $6.5 million annual salary fit under the salary cap, but GM Doug Wilson will need to be creative this offseason if he’s to keep Karlsson around long-term. Karlsson could command $10 million per season or more on a new deal and Wilson already has pending UFAs Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Gustav Nyquist to deal with. The Sharks currently have less than $500,000 in cap space, so don’t be surprised if a mid-tier blue liner like Justin Braun and his $3.8 million salary or Brendan Dillon and his $3.27 million salary end up being sacrificed in an effort to sign Karlsson.
Why? Mainly because Swedes are revered in Vancouver (Uh… not you, Loui Eriksson), the Canucks have money to spend and GM Jim Benning loves making a splash in free agency.
There were rumors last offseason that the Canucks were interested in Tavares, despite the team being nowhere near contender status. In previous offseasons the team was linked to Steven Stamkos and P.K. Subban. It’s safe to say that Benning loves to do some big game hunting in the offseason. Assuming Benning is working under the same ideology this upcoming offseason and because the Canucks’ blue line needs some stability moving forward, an EK65 signing in Vancouver isn’t such a farfetched idea.
The Canucks have nearly $9 million in cap space currently and they’ll need to get a deal done for Brock Boeser and Alex Elder before they can think about Karlsson, but if they can manage to rid themselves of Eriksson’s $6 million annual salary, they’ll have plenty left over for Karlsson on a long-term deal.
Vegas Golden Knights
Flashback to the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline and the stars seemed to be aligning for the expansion darlings in Vegas. The team was inexplicably on top of the Western Conference standings and was reportedly on the verge of landing Karlsson from the Sens. As we all know now, the deal fell through, Knights GM George McPhee panicked and overpaid for Tomas Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings and Karlsson played out the season with the lowly Sens.
McPhee again missed out on Karlsson last offseason, but… third time’s the charm? The only problem now is that McPhee has added several high priced contracts to his team’s payroll since first pursuing Karlsson, including Paul Stastny at $6.5 million, Max Pacioretty at $7 million, Marc-Andre Fleury at $7 million and Mark Stone at a reported $9.5 million. Additionally, McPhee locked in blue liners Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore at $5.95 million and $5.2 million, respectively. There’s no doubt that Karlsson would make an excellent addition to an already stacked roster, but does Vegas have the wiggle room to make it work financially?
Karlsson’s namesake William “Wild Bill” Karlsson will need a new contract this offseason. With just under $3 million in cap space and his very little dead money on the payroll, McPhee may have simply priced himself out of the Karlsson Sweepstakes.
Another team rumored to be in on Karlsson trade talks last offseason, the Dallas Stars reportedly refused to part with top prospect Miro Heiskanen in a potential deal for Karlsson and given the youngster’s rookie campaign it’s clear to see why.
Heiskanen has burst onto the scene as a teenager like few other blueliners before him. Now the Stars have a real shot at landing both Heiskanen and Karlsson, without having to sacrifice one or the other. The Stars are currently tight to the cap, but they’ll free up over $10 million this offseason by letting forwards Jason Spezza and Mats Zuccarello walk in free agency.
A defense corps featuring Karlsson, Heiskanen and John Klingberg could give teams in the tough Central Division absolute fits for years to come.
New York Rangers
Because they’re in on every big-name free agent, right? The Rangers shot their shot with 2017’s biggest free agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk when they inked him to a four-year deal worth $6.65 million. Since then they’ve tumbled down the NHL’s standings and the Shattenkirk signing looks unwise, to say the least. So… what’s the plan now? Double down on more big-ticket free agents.
The Rangers have been linked to Panarin, Duchene and Karlsson in rumor reports, just as they have with seemingly every big-name free agent over the past two decades. There’s reason to believe that there are better days ahead for the rebuilding Rangers, but will Karlsson be willing to wait things out? He didn’t seem keen to stick things out in Ottawa, but players throughout history have made bigger sacrifices just to play in New York City… will Karlsson be the next?
Wherever Karlsson ends up next season and beyond, it’s clear he’ll be a very, VERY rich man. He has options and it’ll be interesting to see what his motivations are beyond financial incentive. Does he want to win or simply chase that paper?
The betting odds give the Sharks the inside track, but don’t count out the Canucks, Stars, Golden Knights and Rangers.