Well, it finally happened.
Just days after the bizarre Eugene Melnyk pledge to ice a near-unrecognizable lineup, All-World defenseman Erik Karlsson is a San Jose Shark, and the Ottawa Senators could be now one of the worst teams in recent NHL history.
The various spin-outs from this one trade have huge implications all across the league, not just for these two teams.
First and foremost, though, we need to talk about the Sharks, who for the second time this summer fleeced the Senators by exploiting what was known to be untenable positions with both Karlsson and Mike Hoffman. Funny that they got the guys on both sides of the controversy that apparently ripped the Sens’ room apart, but Doug Wilson has long made a habit of ripping off GMs walking down the midway with a wad of cash visibly clutched in their hands.
This is a deal laden with conditions that, if everything works out the Senators’ way here, could result in them getting three of San Jose’s first-round picks in the next three or four drafts. But obviously the most important thing is how good acquiring the best defenseman in the world instantly makes the Sharks.
They are very much in win-now mode given the age of their best players — mostly ranging from their late 20s to late 30s — and if you get a chance to acquire a player like Karlsson at a cut-rate price, you have to take it. This would be true of any team in the league, but that Karlsson and Brent Burns (two of the last four Norris winners, and Karlsson got screwed out of one in that span as well) are now both on the same team, playing the same side of the ice, they have a chance to do something truly special.
There has been one time in recent memory when two defensemen this good were on the same team: When the Ducks had Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. They obviously won a Cup that first year, because there were almost no minutes that whole season when both of them were on the bench at the same time. When you have two defensemen who dominate play like that these two do, and both play 25 or 26 minutes a night, well, the only person that’s bad news for is the Sharks’ third right-shot defenseman, Justin Braun. He’s gonna see his ice time drop from 21 minutes a night to, well, substantially less than that.
Regardless of Braun’s personal issues here, though, this is good news for everyone else on the Sharks. While you might see Burns’s or Karlsson’s production drop off a bit — there’s only one puck, especially on that first power play unit — the idea that they’re going to be able to match up against literally any team gives the Sharks a huge edge that we really haven’t seen in the past decade.
And if that production dips? Well, only two defensemen in the last five seasons have cleared 0.8 points per game. Both of them now play the right side for the Sharks, so they have a little room to give.
That matchup advantage doesn’t even take into account the fact that Peter DeBoer (who’s about to look like a genius for 82 games) also has Marc-Edouard Vlasic to deploy selectively in a shutdown role with either of these guys, or with Braun, when the going gets particularly tough in protecting, say, one-goal leads.
Even with the significant improvements Vegas has made, San Jose now has to be the favorite to win the Pacific and might even be edging up into the Nashville/Winnipeg/Tampa/Boston/Toronto conversation at the top of the league. They’re probably a small step below that, but because of the overwhelming power of the Burns/Karlsson tandem, it ain’t by much. This is a team to fear, playing in a weak division with only one other legitimately good club.
The Sharks should rip through the Pacific like a Burns slap shot through wet construction paper. This is why they spent all summer with a ton of cap space; they wanted to land a big fish, and boy did they ever. It’s gonna be a fun year in San Jose.
And the fact is the Sharks didn’t really give up anyone of any particular consequence. Chris Tierney almost doubled his career high in points last year, sure, but he has 104 career points in three-and-a-half seasons so he’s not a guy who’s gonna move the needle for Ottawa. Dylan DeMelo didn’t score a goal last season and has just 32 career points across parts of three seasons. “Well he’s young!” you might say, but he’s seven months older than Cody Ceci, having turned 25 in May, so maybe not.
The real return in this deal for Ottawa is, of course, the raft of picks and prospects the Senators got in addition to the two NHLers who were mostly needed to balance the books on San Jose’s end. Reports of exactly what they got are still a little hazy right now, so bear with me.
They for-sure got a second-round pick in the upcoming draft, pretty-good-but-not-great-or-anything 19-year-old University of Michigan center Josh Norris (“He’s Brady Tkachuk’s best friend,” is a phrase you’ll hear a lot in the next few days), and 21-year-old Latvian winger Rudolfs Balcers who put up pretty good numbers in his AHL rookie season. Both are solid prospects who are probably middle-six guys going forward. The Sens have an awful lot of those already, and you can get them just about anywhere for pretty cheap, so, yikes.
After that, the picks get real conditional real fast. A first-round pick in either 2019 or 2020 — probably the latter because San Jose’s first for 2019 is promised to Buffalo as part of the Evander Kane trade, if the Sharks make the playoffs, which is as sure a thing as you get in this sport. Then a second-round pick for 2021 that becomes a first-round pick if the Sharks re-sign Karlsson AND they make the 2019 Cup Final, which is less of a sure thing. Then a first-round pick in either 2021 or 2022 if the Sharks flip Karlsson to an Eastern Conference team this year, which is a condition that seems to exist just to make sure Wilson doesn’t humiliate Pierre Dorion again like he did in June.
It’s a not-great return. Potentially as little as one first-round pick, not even this season. And as you’ll recall, the Senators don’t even have their own pick for 2019, having traded it to Colorado, so they’re about to give the Avs a real good shot at No. 1 overall for doing very, very little. Joe Sakic might be the No. 2 beneficiary of this deal, depending upon how you feel about Karlsson’s situation.
It’s not an ideal way for Ottawa to tank, obviously, but maybe the Sens have more irons in the fire, trade-wise, right now. At least, god, you’d hope so right?
Because look, the rumored issue with the Hoffman trade was that the Senators didn’t want to send him to the East, and with Karlsson going to San Jose, that might have been a priority here, too. That’s literally cutting half the teams that could potentially offer better trade returns out of the picture, and honestly what does it matter either way? You’re gonna near-historically bad whether he’s in the East or the West, so you might as well try to maximize the number of bidders and get a better price than whatever you want to call this.
The good news if you’re the Sens, I guess, is that now all that stuff about “Cody Ceci could be our best defenseman” is finally gonna come true. But few have ever been damned by praise this faint; it’s the worst blue line I can literally ever remember seeing. If I’m Craig Anderson, I demand a trade right this second. Hell, I do the same thing if I’m Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan, or Matt Duchene.
In fact, you’d be doing the Senators a favor. What better way to roster 10 rookies than to trade every veteran you have available before your first exhibition game? The rule that you have to dress a certain number of veterans in every preseason game might actually be the only thing keeping Dorion from just gutting the entire roster today.
Anyway, you didn’t need me to tell you the Sharks won this trade in a walk. You didn’t need me to tell you that this Sens rebuild is already off to a rather poor start. But swap out “the Sharks” and plug in any team in the league and you could have predicted “[Insert team here] robs Dorion blind” with ease.
But that it finally happened, and that it happened to this extent, and that it happened with the team that already dunked on Ottawa once this summer? That’s newsworthy.
Or, because it’s the Senators, maybe it isn’t.
All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.