We're approaching the middle-July portion of the NHL schedule. For the unfamiliar, this is the time when things start to slow down and eventually grind to a halt in terms of NHL news. One main summer issue remains unresolved however: Erik Karlsson in San Jose. He's getting traded sometime this summer, likely before the 2023-2024 season begins. I highlighted a potential trading partner on this site once before, but it appears that Toronto has taken themselves out of the race (pending some unforeseen trickery).
The current rumor is that Carolina and Pittsburgh are in a two-horse race for Karlsson's services. Carolina offers some more interesting prospects, but less of a maneuverable cap, while Pittsburgh doesn't have very many high-end pieces to dangle, but does have some surprisingly mobile cap.
Why This Trade Makes Sense for Erik Karlsson
So as before, this trade must make sense for both organizations and for Erik Karlsson. We've covered Karlsson before in the Toronto trade. He is looking for a contender during the twilight of his career. Pittsburgh is the ultimate ride-into-the-sunset trading partner for Erik Karlsson. They have two still elite forwards under team control for 2-3 years in Crosby and Malkin. They have Kris Letang as another part of an aging core that can still put up excellent numbers. They have enough good players around their core to compete for the cup.
These players want another shot at the cup, and it seems like the Penguins, under new leadership with Kyle Dubas, are desperate to give it to them and Pittsburgh fans. I think it's an immediate yes from Erik's perspective when asked to waive his no-movement clause and pack his bags to the East Coast.
Why This Trade Makes Sense for Pittsburgh
I want to bold this for effect. Kyle Dubas wants to rub a Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup win in Toronto's face so fucking bad right now. That honestly should be the highlight, middle-tangent and footnote of any Erik Karlsson to Pittsburgh article you read.
Dubas spent years meticulously crafting a team around superstars like Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. He acquired piece after piece after piece after trade-deadline piece and the core he was essentially gifted couldn't get it done. Veteran leadership, gritty fourth liners, puck-moving defensemen, goaltenders, stay-at-home defenders, scoring wingers...it simply did not matter. Toronto, for whatever reason, could not get over the hump. They could barely even get the front wheels onto the hump.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, under his leadership, were losers. It has been litigated and argued to death. Is that really his fault? I'd argue no, but many would argue yes. Rightly or wrongly, Toronto eventually came to a...confused conclusion that...maybe...it was his fault and they mutually agreed to end things. Dubas then was insta-hired by the Penguins, a clear indication that they want a win-now GM/president of hockey ops, whatever he wants to be called.
And guess what Dubas was gifted when he was hired? A core that is not only Stanley Cup worthy, but one that has PROVEN it can win the damn thing, something his last team couldn't. So how is Dubas going to win the Stanley Cup while Crosby and Malkin are still Crosby and Malkining? It starts with a revamp of Pittsburgh's defense.
Letang and Petry were the only two defenders for Pittsburgh to cross 30 points this year, scoring 41 and 31, respectively. They're, for lack of a better term, old, at 36 and 35. The decline for Petry has already started. They don't have any real #1 defenders stepping in from their prospect pool, and their forward and goaltending cores are mostly fine. Jarry and DeSmith are serviceable at least, and they certainly aren't going big-game hunting there with Jarry just signing an extension.
They have some big-producers on offense still in the aforementioned Crosby and Malkin, but Guentzel, Rakell, Smith and Rust round out a top 6 that is solid all around. They acquired Eller, Nieto, Acciari for some scoring depth, and Jeff Carter should be able to pot some goals in a limited role. Overall their forward depth is decent, and the issue rests in two things: Petry isn't a top pairing defensemen, and Granlund makes too much money.
Luckily Granlund is an easy fix. He's coming back in an Erik Karlsson deal no matter what. He has no trade protection, he wasn't acquired by Dubas, and he was abysmal in Pittsburgh after his trade there. He's gone as soon as Dubas can send the taxi.
Petry has a 15 team NTC, an NTC that may very well have San Jose on it. I wouldn't jump immediately to a deal including him, however I think with how much smoke there is surrounding this trade, that both him and Granlund could be on the move. The money simply doesn't work too well unless both are included. It's still possible, but not as likely, unless San Jose has come down on the retention ask.
So there's a positional need for Pittsburgh, and money to move. Does it make sense for San Jose?
Why This Trade Makes Sense For San Jose
I mean, I, a lifelong Sharks fan, will be a bit pissed that we're trying to give the Penguins another cup. However I also am totally over the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals. I promise. I swear. No bad-blood here. Don't you even think about it.
No, no, I fully recognize that getting the best return for Karlsson is the most important thing for the Sharks. Trading him to a bunch of no-good, cheatin', rotten, dumb-logo'd, stinkin' Penguins? It's fine. I'm fine. YOU'RE FINE.
I'm fine. The Sharks should move Karlsson to the Penguins. He represents a changing of the guard in San Jose and the sooner we move him, the sooner we can start this franchise over. I'm so very ready for this past 15 years to be over, and for any intention of competitive Sharks hockey to be left by the way-side.
The Sharks are looking to retain little on Karlsson, but take on some bad contracts it appears. They're also looking to not move Karlsson for nothing. I believe the Penguins can finagle that deal for the Sharks, and include some draft/prospect capital along the way. Here's how it would look.
Erik Karlsson is sent at 2 million retention, making his contract 9.5M x 4 years. Sharks get what they want there. That level of retention won't hold back the Sharks from acquiring who they want in this transition phase and rebuilding this team. Macdonald gets sent as a fill-in roster guy who can step into multiple positions if needed due to injuries and his minimum salary.
Coming back is Petry, with a contract of 6.25M AAV x 2 years, but in terms of real-money, only 9.5M over the next two seasons for the Sharks. I think the Sharks actually welcome a guy who can be on their powerplay over the next two seasons, as their defense is not very offensively gifted beyond Karlsson. Perhaps the Sharks can do a little rehab on him, maybe even flip him this deadline or next to a contender. Either way, it isn't an issue for the Sharks to take on his salary, and it's a big issue for the Penguins to keep him while trying to compete.
Granlund has a 5M AAV x 2 years remaining. I think the Sharks will actively try to get out from this contract at some point over its lifespan, but they can deal with that later. For now Pittsburgh has to move him given his caphit and level of production. This is the deal to do so.
The 1st, 2nd, 4th, Pickering, Blomqvist, Andonovski and Jarventie portions of this trade are mostly guesses from my end. I think Pickering, a tall mobile defender, is someone the Sharks will covet and likely demand in a deal. I think PO Joseph is another option, but is also too valuable on his ELC/bridge deal for the Penguins to move. Andonovski has a ton of motor, something the Sharks like. Blomqvist is a decent goaltending prospect, and the Sharks still haven't really restocked that pipeline either after losing Strauss Mann and Ben Gaudreau recently. Jarventie is just another dart on the dart board.
Overall the deal has a basic outline: a 2024 1st, Granlund, Petry + prospects/picks for Erik Karlsson at around 2-3 million retention. It may seem a little light given all the salary brought back by the Sharks PLUS retention, but this seems to be the way it's going to go down for Mike Grier. I've said this repeatedly on the SJHN Podcast, but the cap is the ONLY thing that matters right now for NHL GMs. Teams are not lining up to take Karlsson at his cap hit, and Sharks fans are undoubtedly going to be underwhelmed by the return because of this.
Let's hope Mike Grier can pull this one off.