Very few players have been as good as Erik Karlsson to start the 2022-23 season. Many thought the San Jose Sharks defenseman was on the decline after a number of down seasons, but he is quickly proving that when healthy, he remains one of the games best.
Through 19 games, Karlsson’s 11 goals and 28 points lead all NHL defensemen. He looks like the elite player he was during his time with the Ottawa Senators, and it has turned plenty of heads.
This offseason, rumors surfaced that the Sharks wanted to move Karlsson, but the market wasn’t there given that his contract, which carries an $11.5 million cap hit, doesn’t expire until after the 2026-27 season. This season, he’s making himself tradeable, which the Sharks would certainly want to do to help speed up their rebuild.
Despite his stellar play, moving Karlsson won’t be an easy feat. With him being 32-years-old, teams that aren’t contenders don’t have any interest in acquiring him and while several contending teams would love to have him on their team, most are already cap-strapped. However, general manager (GM) Mike Grier said he would be open to discussing the idea with any willing team. With that said, here are three teams that could make an offer for the two-time Norris Trophy winner.
Similar to the Sharks, the Dallas Stars find themselves in a tricky cap situation as well. The difference between the two, however, is that the Stars are a very competitive team, ranked first in the Central Division with a 9-5-2 record. That said, the one area of need is a top-end, right-handed defenseman, which they lost when John Klingberg chose to leave via free agency this summer.
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Much has been about some of the team’s bad contracts, especially Jamie Benn’s. While the veteran forward is having himself a solid start to the season, he plays on a team that boasts plenty of firepower up front, but lacks much for blue line talent.
From the Sharks’ perspective, re-acquiring Benn makes sense as he only has two seasons after 2022-23 remaining on his deal. That would give them more financial flexibility sooner than if they kept Karlsson. The issue, of course, is that Benn has a full no-movement clause, meaning he would have to be willing to accept a deal to the Sharks. But, if Stars GM Jim Nill were somehow able to convince him, this move would make sense for both clubs.
Naturally, the team that has been talked about most in terms of landing Karlsson over the past few days is the Senators. The fans want him back given all the magical seasons he had as a member of the Sens organization. Although it would be difficult to pull this off from a cap perspective, the two teams have reportedly been talking.
The issue for the Senators is that Alex DeBrincat is on an expiring deal, and by all accounts, they want to lock him up long-term. But he won’t come cheap, and adding Karlsson would make re-signing the goal-scoring winger all the more difficult. That said, if they can find a third team to take on some of Karlsson’s cap hit, or the Sharks are willing to retain a good chunk of it, this deal could work.
Cap issues aside, it would make a ton of sense for the Senators to bring back Karlsson. Their right-handed defensemen – Travis Hamonic, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and Jacob Larsson – leave plenty to be desired and have played a role in the team’s disappointing start. While some argue that this deal will never happen, some pretty credible insiders seem to think otherwise.
Plenty would have to give for the Seattle Kraken to acquire Karlsson, but there is no denying their blue line could use a serious upgrade. However, the Kraken are off to a very solid start and appear to be on the rise after what was a rather disappointing debut season.
Like many other teams, the best time for the Kraken to acquire Karlsson would be in the offseason, when they would have a bit more cap flexibility. The Kraken also have a few contracts they would like to move off the books, the main being Philippe Grubauer. The 30-year-old has struggled immensely since joining the Kraken and has a cap hit of $5.9 million through the 2026-27 season. Sure, that contract would not be ideal for the Sharks, but they will likely have to take on another bad deal to move Karlsson anyway.
What may make this work is that San Jose doesn’t have a clear cut number one goaltender for next season, as James Reimer is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2022-23. Grubauer could fit that role, and perhaps a change of scenery could allow him to get back to the goaltender he was during his time with the Colorado Avalanche. Even if he doesn’t get back to that level, his cap hit would be much more manageable than Karlsson’s.
Moving Karlsson No Easy Feat
Unfortunately, while Karlsson’s great start has turned heads, moving him will be extremely difficult. Even if he had maintained his elite-level play during the last few seasons, trading a player with an $11.5 million cap hit is tough to do in today’s NHL. Fans will also have to live with the fact that Grier likely won’t get anything significant in terms of picks or prospects in return; getting his contract off the books will be the win here. That said, there is beginning to be some traction here, and while a midseason trade might be unlikely, there should be a market for the Swedish rearguard this summer. If so, one of these three teams would make for an ideal trading partner.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.