Hot Lap: Erik Karlsson to San Jose

The San Jose Sharks made a splash today, acquiring the biggest prize on the market, Erik Karlsson (along with Francis Perron) in exchange for Chris Tierney, Dylan Demelo, Rudolfs Balcers, Josh Norris, the higher of San Jose’s two 2nd round picks, a conditional 2020 1st round pick and a conditional 2021 2nd round pick.

San Jose’s Perspective:

Currently the Sharks have the best defense in hockey. Whenever you can alternate two of the three best right handed shot blueliners in the NHL, you’re deep. Not even Nashville or Tampa has the ability to do that at this point. Moreover, Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are also amazing defensemen in their own right. That is a formidable top 4 defensive set (even though they will likely be partnered across three pairings)!

It’s easy to see why the team made this move. The Sharks window is likely closing soon, as Burns, Vlasic, Braun, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are all on the wrong side of 30. In addition, Couture, Kane, Melker Karlsson, and Erik Karlsson are all older than 27. Therefore, the time to win is now, especially since the Sharks have experienced lackluster returns for over a decade as far as playoff performance. San Jose is always one of the top teams in the Western Conference, but just can’t seem to get it together in the postseason. They made the Stanley Cup Finals once in 2016, losing unceremoniously to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have to be looking at the Washington Capitals as a model for winning a Cup when no one expects you to, even with the pressure of being a top team in the league. This trade certainly goes a long way towards doing that.

The problem becomes meshing Karlsson and Burns. Both are big right shots and Burns already gets tons of playing time on the powerplay (almost 4 minutes per game). Is Karlsson going to put up 70 points with the Sharks? Probably not, especially with his leg. It will definitely affect his value. I doubt he sees Doughty’s deal when free agency hits unless he somehow signs an extension with the cash strapped Sharks.

But on the plus, Karlsson gets out of the drama in Ottawa, goes to a wide open Pacific (full of good, but not top tier teams, aside from Vegas), which contrasts with the Atlantic division and the powerhouses in Tampa, Toronto, and Boston. He also gets another run at a Cup.

How Karlsson does in the regular season won’t matter. This move is all about the playoffs. The Sharks have always found ways to put up 98+ points and this team is no different. But ask the Anaheim Ducks how having two top 5 defensemen playing together works out. The Sharks are hoping to recapture that, especially as the pressure has mounted with their rivals winning the Stanley Cup 3 times and Vegas going to the Finals in their first year.

Depth wise, this move doesn’t really hurt them either. San Jose is in win now mode, so Balcers, Norris, and picks aren’t going to be missed. DeMelo’s production is more than replaceable compared to Karlsson and the only real loss off the roster is Chris Tierney. But, between Thornton, Pavelski, Couture, and Hertl, the Sharks have more than enough options at center.

San Jose also kept its best younger pieces in Hertl, Donskoi, LaBanc, and Meier and each of them should play a major role this season.

Grade: A+

Ottawa’s Perspective:

Not having a first round pick means the Sens can’t full on rebuild. And this deal accomplishes exact what they  shouldn’t have done. Tierney, Norris, and Balcers are all going to be good NHLers. But the only question is how much will they help right now when the Sens need it the most?

Tierney had a career year producing 40 points last year with the Sharks. A career 48% from the faceoff circle, I see him stepping into the 2c position in Ottawa. There is some talent on that team and he will reunite with Boedker, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.

Norris (age 19) is going back to the University of Michigan this season and will be two years removed from his draft year starting next season. The former 1st rounder has decent production in the NCAA and has shown the skills that should make him a regular member of the team going forward.

Balcers (age 21) has been quite productive at the AHL level and possibly could help the Senators if he makes the roster. He scored 23 goals as an AHL rookie and was a point per game player in the AHL playoffs. The Sens are really going to need him to make the team and replicate some of that success.

DeMelo produced 20 assists in 63 games with the Sharks last season. He and Ceci are going to have big shoes to fill in Ottawa and will likely platoon as the number one right handed D.

The Sens missed out on a chance to get Hertl or Meier and time will tell if that was the right move. Both of those players are high impact and easily could have helped Ottawa both now and in the future.

Then there are the picks included in the deal

A lot of these are conditional, so this trade won’t be able to be judged fully until the playoffs are over. However, its tough to not come out of this trade with a 1st round pick in 2019 (which the Sharks don’t have) because this draft is incredibly deep. Obviously hindsight will be 20/20 and if the Sens come away with some great players, then this trade will look better.

That being said, the Sens will have (if everything pans out in their favor) 8 picks in the first two rounds of the next three drafts. That many picks would definitely produce some great players. Even if that happens, though, it means nothing if they end up giving Jack Hughes to Colorado because of the Duchene trade.

I can’t really give them a grade yet, but this has the potential for disaster. As I mentioned in my Advise for the Senators article, you have to win games this year and I don’t know that moving Karlsson right now for this return helps them do that.

In a perfect world for Ottawa, they finish 5th after the lottery and look justified in taking Tkachuk Fourth overall in 2018, and all of these pieces pan out and help solidify a resurgence in Ottawa. However, at present, there are just too many unknowns to say for sure that Ottawa came away with the right return here.

It has potential, but that depends on the way the lottery balls land in May.

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