NHL Column: Karlsson trade gives focus to opposite ends of NHL spectrum

Newly acquired San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson puts on jersey during a news conference held by the NHL hockey team in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

The summer long saga of confusion surrounding the future of one of the NHL’s elite defenseman, Erik Karlsson, finally came to a close last week as the Ottawa Senators traded Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a first round draft pick, a second round pick, Chris Tierney, Josh Norris, Rudolfs Balcers, Dylan DeMelo and other conditional draft picks.

The addition of the former Norris trophy winner gives the Sharks one of the most formidable defensive corps in the league, as Karlsson joins elite blueliners Brent Burns and Marc Edouard Vlasic in San Jose. The Sharks are the first team to possess two former Norris winners simultaneously since the 2008-2009 season. They will look to copy the winning formula of their neighbors, the Golden State Warriors, as they build a superteam of their own.

The Sharks have been swarming with rumors for some of the biggest available names this offseason including top center John Tavares who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in July. While they missed out on the biggest free agent, they managed to reel in the most prized trade chip available in years.

But will Karlsson be enough to propel San Jose to win their first Stanley Cup? The Sharks perpetually fail in the postseason despite finishing near the top of the standings most years. San Jose consistently makes the playoffs with expectations of making a deep run. Yet, the Sharks have made it to the Stanley Cup Final just once, in 2016, where they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

General Manager Doug Wilson and his team believe that Karlsson could be that final piece necessary to reach the pinnacle. But the organization has had a slew of tremendous talent in the past and still failed to win it all. Nonetheless, San Jose’s move was a savvy one, as their patience and delicate manipulation of the situation allowed them to make the acquisition.

They waited deep into the summer and did not panic after losing out on Tavares. Other teams in the conversation for Karlsson, like the Vegas Golden Knights, gave up on hopes of making a trade for the defenseman. Instead, Vegas acquired top winger Max Pacioretty from the Montreal Canadiens. This left the Ottawa Senators with fewer trade partners to work with and little time to make the move. They needed to relinquish Karlsson prior to the start of training camp in order to maximize his value and to avoid a media circus.

San Jose pounced on the opportunity, giving up far fewer assets than Karlsson is worth. While they had to trade some decent prospects and picks, no one they sent to Ottawa is undoubtedly a future great player. Even the draft picks they gave up project to be late in their respective rounds, as San Jose should finish amongst the best in the league over the next couple of years.

They were able to get Karlsson at a discount because the deal was not contingent on an extension from the star. Instead, they will try to woo Karlsson to stay as he begins to enjoy California life and playing on a successful team. If the Sharks do eventually sign the Swedish defender long term, this deal will become even more of an incredible steal.

Most of all, this presents the current dysfunction in Ottawa as fans continue to grow angrier with owner Eugene Melnyk. The team has plummeted since the Senators made it to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017. Some fans are demanding that Melnyk sells the organization, citing the mismanagement of the team and financial failures.

Ottawa was dismal last season, finishing second to last in the Atlantic Division. With these poor results the team began to shift in the direction of a rebuild. They continue to look to move veterans, but still lacks any depth in their prospect pool.

Recently, general manager Pierre Dorion was asked what some of the positives are heading into the season. He paused for a few seconds, seemingly trying to dig up an answer deep from within his mind, and said, “We’re a team.” Yes, at least they have a team.

Rumors continue to pop up about the Senators relocating, as attendance continues to be low in Canada’s capital, but Melnyk denies such ideas.

The trade of Karlsson represents the opposite ends of progress in NHL, as Ottawa is one of the teams farthest away from success, and San Jose will contend for the Cup this year.


Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at dylan.barrett@uconn.edu.