The Pittsburgh Penguins are still reportedly talking to the San Jose Sharks about three-tine (and reigning) Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, and seem to be one of the two “finalists” along with the Carolina Hurricanes.
There are a lot of obstacles into getting this type of deal completed, ranging from making the salary cap work to fit in Karlsson’s $11 million per year contract, to having the appropriate trade capital to get San Jose to want to deal him here.
Honestly, the compensation figures to be the least of the obstacles. Trade packages never turn out to be quite what you expect, and if Karlsson decides Pittsburgh is where he wants to be, the Sharks are probably going to do right by him.
There is another question to be asked here with all of that said.
What if the Penguins are not able to complete this trade for one reason or another?
Is there a Plan B for them to focus on?
If there is, I am not entirely sure what it would be. Or if it would even be worth it. This might truly be a Karlsson-or-bust situation..
The only other defenseman on the trade market that has been even remotely with the Penguins — or a trade in general — is Calgary’s Noah Hanifin. And that doesn’t really seem to be something that would move the needle in any meaningful way.
Hanifin is younger and SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper, only having one year and $4.9 million remaining on his current contract. He would also probably take significantly less trade assets to acquire. But there is a reason for all of that — he is not nearly as good, and he would probably only be a one-year stop-gap. The Penguins’ signing of Ryan Graves seemingly put an end to the need for a player like Hanifin.
I am also not even entirely sure how good Hanifin actually is.
He plays a lot of minutes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is worthy of playing those minutes or that he plays them exceptionally well or at a game-changing level.
He seems to be another Graves-Marcus Pettersson type of player. Which is fine. But the appeal to a player like Karlsson is that he is a potential game-changer, and one that could meaningfully shift the short-and medium-term direction of the franchise.
Karlsson is not only a future Hall of Fame talent, he is still really dominant.
He is coming off the NHL’s first 100-point season for a defenseman in three decades, and could significantly impact the Penguins’ inconsistent and struggling power play.
I know there is concern about his defensive play and the fact he was a minus-26 this season in San Jose, but those concerns are way overblown. With Karlsson on the ice during 5-on-5 play and with a goalie in the net, the Sharks were actually even for the season. When he was not on the ice, they were a minus-53. Karlsson’s minus total was due entirely to empty-net situations and a handful of shorthanded goals against. He is just fine defensively.
Adding a talent like him to the roster is simply a rare opportunity that does not come along very often, and if you combined that with the addition of Graves you really might have the makings of a really strong blue line. If you assume that Jeff Petry moves, either back to San Jose as part of the trade or in another corresponding deal, you suddenly have a top-four that consists of Kris Letang and Graves and Karlsson and Marcus Pettersson.
That is significant, and it looks a lot more game-changing than the status quo, or by swapping out Karlsson for somebody like Hanifin.
The free agent market is also completely empty, at least as far as unrestricted free agents are concerned.
The Penguins also do not really have the opportunity to explore offer sheet possibilities, either, because they do not have their third-round pick next season as that was traded to Anaheim as part of the Brock McGinn trade. So that completely eliminates the possibility of taking a run at somebody like Edmonton Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard or Seattle Kraken defenseman Vince Dunn.
The only other option would be shifting the focus away from a defenseman to adding another forward, but even that seems unlikely given the possible options that would be available. The Penguins seem pretty set at forward — for better or worse — after their free agent signings to restructure their bottom-six group. The top-six is already set with Reilly Smith coming in to replace Jason Zucker, and they already spent big money this summer on bringing in Noel Acciari, Lars Eller and Matt Nieto to join Drew O’Connor and company on the third-and fourth-lines.
It just really seems at this point that if the Penguins are going to make another significant move this offseason it is going to be Karlsson or nothing.
If they can not get him, this might be pretty close to your opening night roster.
If they can get him, it would be the most significant move the team has made since acquiring Phil Kessel prior to the 2015-16 season.