What Should an Erik Karlsson Trade Look Like?

After getting one lucky bounce away from a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals last spring, the Ottawa Senators have been one of the NHL’s worst teams through two months of the 2017-18 campaign. The team is currently in the middle of a 1-10-2 stretch, bringing their record 9-13-17 on the season, good for 7th in the Atlantic Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference, and 29th in the league-wide standings. Ottawa’s regression back to the outside of the playoffs was to be expected given their lackluster roster, but battling it out with the perennially basement dwelling Buffalo Sabres and laughably incompetent Florida Panthers organization that Dale Tallon managed to single handedly destroy is a shock.

To try and rectify their situation, the Senators are taking action. The team has reportedly asked all ten of their players with no-trade clauses for a list of teams they would accept a move to. Of those ten players, most of them shouldn’t interest the Rangers. Seeing Jeff Gorton pursue a player like Alexandre Burrows or Nate Thompson (yes, they actually have no-trade clauses) wouldn’t be unexpected, but one can only hope that the Rangers would opt to look elsewhere if they feel a need to improve their forward depth. The most appealing player on Ottawa’s roster would be their franchise defenseman, Erik Karlsson.

In spite of a rough start to the 17-18 season, Karlsson on his worst day is one of the best defenseman in the NHL. Over the last four plus seasons, out of the 235 who have skated 1,500 minutes or more at 5 on 5, no defenseman puts up points at a higher rate than Karlsson’s 1.36 Points/60, while only Brent Burns outpaces Karlsson’s primary point production of 0.88/60. The Swedish superstar’s analytical numbers are outstanding as well, as Karlsson is among the league’s best in even strength Relative Corsi For%, (+4.39, 5th best) even strength Expected Goals For%, (+2.19, 35th best) Wins Above Replacement, (6.13, 3rd) and Wins Above Replacement/82 (1.44, 5th). Critics of Karlsson are quick to point out what appear to be defensive deficiencies in his game, citing his -16 rating and 441 giveaways, but the more concrete numbers bear out the fact that Karlsson is at worst an average defender. To say Karlsson is one of the league’s most dynamic players is an understatement. Just ask Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown:

Now that we’ve established that Karlsson is a player that all 30 teams in the league should be looking to acquire, let’s examine what it would take to get a deal done and what the Rangers could be getting. Karlsson is under contract until the end of summer of 2019 with a cap hit of $6.5 million, a bargain rate for one of the NHL’s most explosive playmakers. When Karlsson hits the market, he’s already stated his intentions to sign for market value and not settle for anything less. Ken Warren of the Ottawa Sun heard from Karlsson directly, and what he said gives Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk and the rest of the team’s fanbase plenty to worry about:

“When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going,” Karlsson said following the club’s practice here Thursday, as the Senators aim to end a seven-game losing streak Friday against the New York Islanders.

“That’s the business part of it. That’s the way every player has been treated ever since this league has started, and I think the players have been a little bit on the other side of things when it comes to negotiations. I think it’s time to realize that when we go to the table, it’s business on both parts, not just (owners).”

Yikes. For a organization rumored to have an internal cap and a reputation for making bad hockey trades for the sake of saving money here and there, those aren’t encouraging words from their captain. Given Ottawa’s history of sub-par trades, it’s difficult any scenario where they trade away their best player and come out as winners. The Rangers have had dealing with the Senators as recently as the summer of 2016, so a relationship between Gorton and Senators general manager and former Rangers’ amateur scout Pierre Dorion is there.

If the Senators decide to part ways with Karlsson, the first thing they would likely expect back is a young, high upside, cost controlled defenseman. Brady Skjei might not have the superstar potential that other team’s defensive prospects could have, but Skjei has already established himself as a capable second pairing defenseman with room to grow. As a pending restricted free agent, Ottawa would held most of the leverage in contract negotiations, as they can evaluate whether Skjei is worth the risk of a long term contract, or if they’d like to see how he fits in Guy Boucher’s system and opt for a bridge contract. Ottawa also owes the Colorado Avalanche their 2018 1st round pick due to the Matt Duchene acquisition, but the selection is Top 10 protected and will be deferred to 2019 if the Senators’ pick lands in that range. As such, Skjei and a 2019 1st Round pick seems like a reasonable starting point.

From there, a quick look at Ottawa’s organizational depth chart reveals one glaring hole. Craig Anderson was one of the NHL’s best goaltenders last season and has quietly been one of Ottawa’s bright spots over the last two seasons, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s 36 years old. 27 year old Mike Condon currently serves as his backup and has gotten extended runs as a starter with Ottawa and Montreal in the past, but nothing in his first 106 career NHL games indicates he’s a top 30 goaltender in the league. With both goalies set to enter free agency in 2020 and a dearth of goaltending prospects in their system, the Senators appear in desperate need to add somebody with NHL potential. For the Rangers, a perfect fit could be made with Igor Shestyorkin.

Shestyorkin has been one of the KHL’s best goalies this season and was recently named an All-Star. As the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist, trading Shestyorkin would force the Rangers to re-evaluate their goaltending situation in the years down the road, or pray that one of their lesser prospects such Adam Huska or Tyler Wall can emerge as a player with a future in the NHL. Another middle of the draft selection or mid-tier prospect such as Sean Day or Tim Gettinger should be enough to make the deal even from a value perspective, but the Rangers should do everything in their power to keep Shestyorkin out of a deal. If they can’t, than Skjei, Shestyorkin, Day, and a 1st Round Pick should be enough to bring Karlsson to Broadway.

If Jeff Gorton deems Shestyorkin untouchable, than New York would likely have to pony

up more from a value perspective. Lias Andersson is the team’s second best trade chip not currently on the roster, and his status as the 7th overall selection last June still carries weight. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Ottawa’s biggest strength of their prospect pool is down the middle. The Senators have spent their last three first round picks attempting to bolster their center depth by taking Colin White, Logan Brown, and Shane Bowers at 21st, 11th, and 28th overall respectively.  With plans to extend Matt Duchene likely and Ottawa native Derick Brassard under contract through next season, the franchise has no shortage of center options in the short and long term.

If Skjei, Andersson, and a 1st are the core of a package for Karlsson, the Senators add value but fail to add a goaltender into their prospect pipeline. Between Huska and Wall, Alexandar Georgiev, Chris Nell, and Brandon Halverson, New York has surplus of mid-tier goaltending prospects to take something of a quantity over quality approach with Dorion. One of those goalies would be a must to include, and one or two other pieces would need to be included for value salary purposes. Dumping Brendan Smith’s $17.4 million albatross would be a boon for New York, but moving him two months into a four year contract is unlikely. The most realistic option would be sending Michael Grabner and another mid-tier prospect or draft pick to Ottawa, and making a separate deal with another team to free up the required cap space.

Are the Senators likely to move their captain because of two rough months and one controversial soundbite? Probably not, but weirder things have happened in the NHL. If Karlsson truly is available, Jeff Gorton should be calling Pierre Dorion non-stop until he can hammer out a deal to land the superstar defenseman. After all, all a trade needs is a team looking to buy, a team looking to sell, and two hockey men who can make it work.

Would you trade Brady Skjei, Igor Shestyorkin, Sean Day, and a 2019 First Round Pick for Erik Karlsson?