The trade deadline wasn’t over for more than 24 hours when Erik Karlsson and the New York Rangers were linked to one another ... again.
Not hard evidence, of course, just speculation — but speculation that came from people who know things. People who don’t just say things without at least having something to back it up.
Bob McKenzie has been one of the people linking the Rangers and Karlsson together, even if it is just a “due diligence” link. Elliotte Friedman has also mentioned the Rangers as being a team that’s more than likely to make a run at Karlsson. The link between the two is something we discussed briefly on the podcast two weeks ago as well.
Let me make something clear: Karlsson is an electric player, one of the most exciting men in the game, and is easily the most advanced offensive defenseman out there. I think it speaks volumes that this past year was a “down” year for him, and he still put up 62 points in 71 games. He has some of the most impressive offensive production from the back in this generation, and could make an immense and immediate impact on Broadway.
My issues with Karlsson are twofold. The first is how much it would cost to get him. The second, is how much it would cost to keep him.
Karlsson was on the market leading up to the trade deadline, something that I feel impacted Jeff Gorton’s eventual deal with Tampa for Ryan McDonagh. The Senators are supposedly trying to make an acquiring team take on the contract of Bobby Ryan (which is a disaster) in return for Karlsson — which had admittedly tanked more than a few talks. The Rangers, flush with cap space, could probably work this in (especially if Ottawa eats 50% of his salary) but it would still cost an arm and a leg and you’d be taking on an awful contract in return. That’s a lot, especially for a team that still has a relatively bare cupboard of prospects. That and the fact that the first round picks the Rangers do have this year — even the two late picks — have a ton of inherent value to allowing the organization to take swings on higher-upside players to find that elite talent they’re missing.
But let’s suspend reality for a moment and assume the Rangers do find a deal that works, and Karlsson dons the royal blue of New York. Then what?
Karlsson will be 28 in a month, meaning he will be 29 when the final year on his current contract ends, making him a UFA. Karlsson would be the first generational player in recent memory to hit the free agency block an unchained man, and the calls would come from everywhere. Is Connor McDavid’s $12.5-million cap hit off the table for Karlsson? What about Johnathan Toews or Patrik Kane’s twin $10.5-million cap hits?
Oh, Karlsson will be worth whatever you pay him that first year. Maybe he’ll be worth it through year four on that contract. Per the Ottawa Sun last year Karlsson had a procedure that removed part of his ankle bone and replaced it with an artificial tendon. He’s a guy who thrives on his unreal skating and movement, and he’s going to be 29-years-old when he would sign the eight-year extension with the Rangers (assuming they get him, of course). The risk with a Karlsson extension is the back half of that contract, where a $10.5-million cap hit can be a disaster of epic proportions.
This is exactly why Karlsson doesn’t make sense for the re-building Rangers. He’s going to cost major assets the team can’t afford to lose, and he’s going to be on the wrong side of 30 once his big extension kicks in.
If the Rangers are prepping for a major splash this summer, there’s another defenseman on the block who they should be inquiring about: Dougie Hamilton.
Hamilton was rumored to be on the move in Calgary earlier in the year, and while those rumors have died down, Calgary wants a 1st round pick in this year’s draft and they’re looking to shake things up. They just fired their coaching staff, and Brian Burke has always been a believe in the bigger and tougher side of the game — something Hamilton admittedly doesn’t have.
But who cares about that? Hamilton has other things! Like being good at hockey, for example.
This year Hamilton put up a 17-27-44 line in 82 games. Last year he had 50 points in 81 games, and the year before that 43 in 82. He’s an elite-level puck-mover, who drives possession, and, maybe best of all, is only 24 years of age. He has three more years of a $5.75-million cap hit that will take him up to his 28th birthday, where he will be free to sign his next extension.
Hamilton’s numbers, funny enough, compare very well to Karlsson, too. The below is a SKATR comparison of the two from 2016-2018.
Along with Kevin Shattenkirk, Hamilton would provide a second elite puck-mover to move onto the power play and provide 5v5 offense. Hamilton had 17 goals last year, while Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Sproul, Neal Pionk, Marc Staal, and Brendan Smith all combined for 20 goals. Yeah, that’s not good.
Whether Hamilton is actually available this summer is a different conversation, but if Gorton is looking to make a bigger splash, he should go for Hamilton, not Karlsson. (Mike and I discussed the Rangers maybe making a splash based on Jim Dolan’s comments on our Patron only podcast this week.)