That Karlsson Deal

Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
1 year ago
To borrow a little automotive jargon from the showroom floor, it’s no secret that the Edmonton Oilers and GM Ken Holland have been kicking the tires on San Jose Sharks defenceman Erik Karlsson for a while now.
That’s completely understandable when you consider Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner, is right back on top of his game again. At 32, and with 18-55-73 in 54 games, Karlsson is on pace to enjoy the best offensive season of his stellar career. He hasn’t been as prolific as this in half-a-dozen years.
Even with the money he makes – Karlsson has an $11.5-million AAV through 2026-27 – he’d be a fit on a lot of bluelines around the NHL, as long as there was a way to massage the money, which is far easier said than done. That said, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl right in their prime years and the Oilers in win-now mode, it’s Holland’s job to take a look, to kick those tires. Why wouldn’t fans be all over that? It’s not their money.
If it was as straightforward as that, San Jose GM Mike Grier and Holland could do the paperwork right now, but it’s not – not the way I see it. Sticking with the car lingo, the Oilers will be paying sticker-plus for a player they could have had at a discount just two years ago. They’re buying high. As shiny as Karlsson looks now, there are some tough clicks on the odometer. He hasn’t played more than 56 games in a season since 2017-18.


Feb 12, 2023; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) shoots the puck against the Washington Capitals in the second period at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
I can understand why Oilers fans want to see a deal for Karlsson, I just don’t see it making sense and getting done. Here’s why:
THE MONEY: When the money just doesn’t work, it’s in vogue for people to talk retained salary to pitch a deal they like. You know, “25 per cent retained” or “40 per cent retained” rolls off the tip of their tongues easy as pie. I’ve seen up to 50 per cent retained from fans on my Twitter timeline. Do tell, why would the Sharks eat $4 million or more a season for four years to move Karlsson? No team has retained that much money for that long that I can find. Anybody?
THE ASSETS: We’ve heard a laundry list of names that San Jose might want back in a trade for Karlsson. In January, Elliott Friedman and others talked about the Sharks looking for three first-round picks and only being willing to retain 18 per cent of his salary. So, with the Oilers, what would it take for the Sharks to double the amount retained? Tyson Barrie, Jesse Puljujarvi or Warren Foegele and a first-round pick won’t get the deal done. No chance. So, who else goes? Evan Bouchard? Philip Broberg?
THE RISK: Karlsson played just 50 games with the Sharks in 2021-22 and a chunk of that time missed was because of surgery to repair a muscle tear in his forearm. He missed time in 2020-21 with a groin injury, playing 52 games. Karlsson broke his thumb in February of the 2019-20 season and played just 56 games. He had surgery to repair a groin injury in 2018-19 and missed 29 games. Nine years ago today, Feb. 14, 2013, Karlsson had surgery to repair a torn Achilles. Karlsson is healthy now and at the top of his game, but you can’t ignore the accumulated wear and tear.
THE NEED: Karlsson is an unquestionably talented offensive player, but is he what the high-scoring Oilers need as an addition to the blue line right now? I understand why McDavid and Draisaitl would love to have a puck-mover like Karlsson on the back end, but that’s more a matter of want than need, isn’t it? This is not to say Karlsson is a poor defensive player because he’s not, but is it worth the salary cap and roster gymnastics to get him when his calling card is producing offense? 


The buzz about Holland making a deal to put the Oilers over the top after a trip to the Western Conference final last season is a lot of fun and it makes for great debate as the March 3 trade deadline gets closer. I’m just not sure Karlsson is the only way to make that happen or even that he’s the player who gets it done. 
I’m also not buying what people trying to make it sound like McDavid and Draisaitl will be out of here if Holland doesn’t bring in Karlsson are selling. McDavid and Draisaitl want to win They want to know their GM is willing to explore options and do what it takes to make that happen. That does not begin and end with Karlsson. 

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