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The Erik Karlsson rumors just won’t go away

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There are still those who believe EK65 will end up in a Rangers jersey

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Colorado Avalanche at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday night Sportsnet insider Chris Johnston went on the radio and shared his belief that San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson could end up in New York with the Rangers or in Tampa Bay with the Lightning. For the moment, it appears unlikely that Karlsson will re-sign with the San Jose Sharks, although it’s worth noting that Elliotte Friedman stated on Sunday that the Sharks haven’t given up on extending him just yet.

Of course, Karlsson won’t end up in Tampa Bay unless the Lightning make room — and a lot of it — for him and pending restricted free agent Brayden Point. If Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois wants to fit both of them under the cap he’s going to have to trim a lot of fat in trades and, potentially, buy out a contract or two. The fact that Florida doesn’t have a state tax will help, but some surgery would still be necessary.

Johnston considers the Rangers to be the most likely destination for Karlsson because they have the money and they are in a desirable position with their youth. Johnston also noted that Karlsson and Henrik Lundqvist met for dinner during the All-Star Weekend in San Jose and during that meeting Lundqvist tried to sell the idea of playing in New York to the fellow Swede. And it isn’t all that surprising given the relationship the two have.

If you weren’t aware that all of this needs to be taken with a large grain of salt, this is me telling you to do just that.

The Sharks and Karlsson’s agent, Don Meehan of Newport Sports, entered into extension talks in January, but it appears that those discussions failed to bear fruit. That is why Johnston believes that Karlsson will be this offseason’s John Tavares.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

On July 1, teams are going to be tripping over each other to woo Karlsson and his family, and that makes a lot of sense. After all, he is a truly elite defenseman and has proven that again this year. However, it’s up for debate whether or not Karlsson would be a good fit for the Rangers.

Karlsson will be 29 on July 1 and unfortunately has an alarming injury history. And although the rumors of the decline in his play have been greatly exaggerated, there are a few of things to consider here.

First and foremost, the Rangers already have too much money tied up in their blue line. A buyout of Brendan Smith and a Kevin Shattenkirk trade could change that, but its hard to say what new team president John Davidson thinks about swinging for the fences on Karlsson — or Artemi Panarin, for that matter.

Here’s what Smith’s buyout would look like.

Cap Friendly

The Rangers are also just over two weeks removed from acquiring Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes and then signing him to an entry-level contract. Some believe that the Fox trade has already taken the Rangers out of the hunt for pending RFA Jacob Trouba. After all, the Rangers now have Shattenkirk, Fox, and pending RFAs Tony DeAngelo and Neal Pionk on the right side and that doesn’t even include Smith.

So, where is the room for Karlsson?

Of course, it’s unlikely that the Rangers are married to any of their current defenders with the exception of Brady Skjei, but making room for Karlsson would require a lot more than a Thanos snap. Most believe that Karlsson’s contract could come in somewhere between P.K. Subban’s $9 million AAV and Drew Doughty’s $11 million AAV. Jeff Gorton would almost certainly have to sell low on a Shattenkirk trade to make it work, which might require the Rangers to retain some of his contract.

The real question here is whether or not Gorton and the Rangers would be willing to risk their pursuit of Panarin to go for Karlsson? Panarin is younger and has a lot more tread on his tires. In other words, he’s the safer bet. And when you’re going to hand out a contract worth over $70 million, you definitely want to make the safer bet.

The Rangers can’t officially talk to Panarin until the free agent interview window in June, but it is fair to say that J.D. has a sense of what it would take financially, and whether or not his heart is pulling him toward Florida. Depending on what J.D. knows, it could make the Rangers’ intentions a lot clearer in the coming weeks.

At the end of the day the Rangers will be attached to almost every big ticket free agent because they’re the Rangers. And, because they are the Rangers, it would not be surprising to hear that they plan to meet with Karlsson. However, it would be surprising to see them prioritize Karlsson over Panarin in free agency given just how much is at stake.

All salary information courtesy of CapFriendly.com.