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Erik Karlsson wants to join a contender ASAP. How can the Edmonton Oilers make it work?

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Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
8 months ago
There’s one goal in mind for Erik Karlsson: winning a Stanley Cup championship.
The journeyman rearguard saw a major career resurgence this past season scoring career highs in goals, 25, assists, 76, and points, 101, while playing for one of the worst teams in the league, the San Jose Sharks.
His name has cropped up heavily in trade circles this past year and there were strong links between him and the Edmonton Oilers during last season. The Oilers, however, opted to trade for Mattias Ekholm — a move that greatly benefitted the team.
But now, whether it’s to Edmonton or anywhere else, all Karlsson wants to do is win and he wants to do it as soon as possible.
“Time is running out,” Karlsson told media ahead of Monday’s NHL Awards ceremony, where he’s a top candidate for his third Norris Trophy. “I played with too many guys throughout my career, amazing players and should be winners and should have won, that never did. I don’t want to be that guy. I want to win.
“I’m the best when you need to be the best. But if I don’t have the chance to get to the place where you need to play the big games, then I might as well not do it. I could go through 82 games a year and be good, but I want to play when it matters.”
Trade request or not, those comments from Karlsson make it clear that he can’t be with the team much longer.
The biggest caveat continues to be his hefty contract that has four years and $46-million left on it. His $11.5-million cap hit will be difficult for nearly any true contender to fit on their books, but one has to wonder if the Sharks’ stance on retaining salary has, or will, shift.
San Jose has $14-million in cap space right now, but would they be willing to eat 50 percent of his salary to the tune of $5.75-million per year, for the next four years? That’s been what GM Mike Grier and co. have been pondering for some time.
Is there a world where the Oilers could still acquire him? Sure. Let’s go through a little exercise to see what the Edmonton Oilers’ offseason could look like if they wanted to acquire Karlsson and push their chips all in chasing the 2024 Stanley Cup.
Between Kailer Yamamoto and Cody Ceci, there’s $6.35-million in cap space the Oilers could move out. Karlsson at 50 percent retained and those two moved out would leave the Oilers with an additional $600,000 in cap space. The problem? It likely wouldn’t be enough for the team to afford some of the other things they need to do this offseason like re-sign Ryan McLeod, Evan Bouchard, and potentially Klim Kostin, as well as fill out depth roles on the roster.
All the talk of Connor Brown potentially coming to Edmonton would obviously help with making some of these things happen. He is eligible to sign a league minimum, bonus-laden contract that would keep his money on the books this year light. He would be able to slide in and replace Yamamoto in the top-six easily.
Moving out Ceci, meanwhile, would open a spot on the right side of the Oilers’ defence for Karlsson. Your six defencemen next year would see Darnell Nurse, Mattias Ekholm and Brett Kulak on the left side. The latter of the three would be paired with Vincent Desharnais on the third pairing, while Karlsson and Evan Bouchard could play with either Nurse or Ekholm.
After the Oilers acquired Ekholm last year, they played him and Nurse a nearly identical amount against elite competition, according to PuckIq. Nurse saw 94.4 minutes, or 25.9 percent of his ice time while saw Ekholm 93.1 minutes, or 26.2 percent of his ice time. Even if Karlsson doesn’t join the Oilers, I think that is something that carries into next season in terms of how they split up the ice time.

Making it happen…

For the sake of this Armchair GM exercise, the Oilers trade out Yamamoto, Ceci, Xavier Bourgault, Phil Kemp and second-round picks this year and next. Actual results may vary and would likely see a first-round pick involved, but in this scenario, Edmonton hopes this bundle of players, picks and prospects gets the job done. The 2024 first-round pick is still needed by the team in this scenario.
Bouchard is re-signed to a one-year, $3.983-million contract, McLeod re-signs to a one-year, $1.323-million deal and Kostin inks a one-year, $1.065-million deal — all contracts projected by Evolving Hockey over that term. The Oilers make agreements with them both that another raise will follow next year when the salary cap increases significantly by $4-million. RFA’s Raphael Lavoie and Olivier Rodrigue sign one-year, $925,000 contracts to play in the AHL, although the former could be on the big club at any point this season and would fit under the current salary cap guise.
That leaves the Oilers with a scant -$713,500 in cap space with a wing spot on the fourth line and two press box seats to fill. The money isn’t adding up, so there needs to be more subtractions. The limited options are kept to either Warren Foegele or Jack Campbell being moved out via trade. In Foegele’s case, his $2.75-million salary being dumped for magic beans would offer the Oilers a hair over $2-million in cap space. Not enough to do what the team needs to fill their roster out properly, and Foegele is a very effective player on the third line.
So, that leads to Campbell needing to be traded after just one, albeit miserable year in Edmonton. The sage Allan Mitchell proposed in a blog post Monday morning also looking at offseason changes that if the Oilers were to move Campbell, they could theoretically do so by trading the 2024 first-round pick with him to the Chicago Blackhawks for Taylor Raddysh.
The Oilers clear cap space and add a valuable depth forward. Count me in, as the Oilers now have $3.528-million to play with. Dipping into free agency, the Oilers sign veteran goaltender James Reimer to a one-year, $1.592-million contract, as projected by Evolving Hockey. He’s been great on some very bad teams for years now and the Oilers crease suddenly looks a lot better. The Campbell trade, in a sense, is he and the first for Raddysh and Reimer. Not bad, all in all.
Then, the floor is yours, Ken Holland. You have $1.936-million to sign two press box forwards. For the sake of this exercise, we’ll make one of them Andrew Cogliano, who signs a one-year, $925,200 contract, as projected by Evolving Hockey, to return to where it all started to chase another Stanley Cup ring. Who doesn’t love a feel-good story about one the Oilers let get away coming home to win?
The second will be Zach Sanford, a big winger who spent last year in the Nashville Predators organization. He scored two goals and three points in 16 NHL games adding another 12 tallies and 28 points in 45 AHL games. His projected one-year, $914,400 deal fits him right under the Oilers’ salary cap.
All in all, this is what the moves are, and what the Oilers roster looks like.
What do you think of the way this roster shaped up?

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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