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Why the Senators Should Steer Clear of Erik Karlsson

With Erik Karlsson likely about to collect his third Norris Trophy at the NHL Awards Gala at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Monday night (June 26), Sens Nation is being inundated with scenarios that would see its former Captain return to the fold.

With the Sharks in a rebuild, the Sharks will be trading Karlsson and, according to San Jose Hockey Now, Karlsson reportedly told Swedish media on Sunday he's open to the idea of a return to the Senators.

The NHL Entry Draft is also being held in Nashville and, with the Predators having dispatched Ryan Johannsen to the Colorado Avalanche for Alex Galchenyuk in a cap-saving move, trade rumours are being bandied about on how to relocate Alex DeBrincat and spend the potentially $9 million in cap savings.

Even though the Senators have a solid and affordable top-four defence core in place at the moment, there seems to be an appetite amongst the fan base to bring back King Erik.

Karlsson started his career in Ottawa and, in what has played out as a surprisingly one-sided trade in favour of the Senators, Karlsson was moved to the San Jose Sharks in 2018.

He signed an eight-year, $92 million contract in 2019 which has four years remaining at $11.5 million AAV.

Clearly, he still has the tools to deliver at an elite level. Defencemen who can produce 101 points in a season don’t grow on trees.

But should the Senators bring back a former captain whose departure signified the true beginning of the full rebuild?

I suppose the easiest answer is, if it makes sense to do so cap-wise, then yes, they should. However, is the answer to building a team ever really that simple?

Here are my top four reasons why I think the Senators should steer clear of this potential iceberg:


Despite the Senators having missed the playoffs the past six seasons, the core that has been built around the current captain, Brady Tkachuk seems unified. The players follow Tkachuk. Claude Giroux has provided great veteran insulation for him and it’s clearly “Brady’s Team”.

Karlsson was a former Captain (2014 – 2018) and though he was a beloved player and led the Senators to within a goal of making the Stanley Cup final in 2017 on one leg, it’s hard to forget

how the dressing room deteriorated during his tenure. Is it fair to lay all that at his feet? I suppose not. However, the feud that forced the trade of Mike Hoffman became public knowledge and teams that air their laundry in public are doomed.

It’s not clear how teammates feel about playing with Karlsson. There is no doubt about how Brady Tkachuk’s teammates feel about playing with him.


As it stands today, unless the Sharks were willing to retain a ton of salary or if there were a third party willing to get involved, this isn’t even a conversation worth having.

Pending the outcome of DeBrincat’s potential arbitration hearing and assuming he is still a member of the organization, the Senators are going to owe DeBrincat somewhere between $7.65 and $9 million for the upcoming season.

With a cap increase of $1 million over last season, at minimum, with RFAs Shane Pinto and Erik Brannstrom about to extend, a hole in the crease and Tim Stutzle’s contract about to hit year one, this kind of move would be impossible to do without help.

Even if there were third parties to a trade to absorb some cap, what assets would the Senators be willing to part with to make this happen? As it stands, the Senators have no selections in the first three rounds of the upcoming draft.

Of course, moving DeBrincat out does clear a lot of cap space for other acquisitions, assuming the return comes in the form of draft picks. That leads to my next point.


I mentioned earlier that defencemen who can put up 101 points don’t grow on trees. Defenseman that can do that and somehow still be a -26 are even more rare.

I understand that Karlsson played for a 29th place team and that the plus/minus statistic can be misleading, but Karlsson has never been a defensive stalwart.

Defensive structure and stability have been the most glaring holes in the current Senators roster. How does bringing in Erik Karlsson fix that problem? I understand coaches provide the structure within which the team plays. If you look at Karlsson’s history in the NHL, no coach has ever been able to reign him in.

It’s possible that his offence and puck possession will help lessen the worry on that front. His stats clearly show that when he has the puck, he is a nightmare for the opposition. When he doesn’t, he is a nightmare for his goaltender.

Obviously, a trade of this magnitude would involve moving one of our top four defensemen. Who among Chabot, Sanderson, Chyrchrun and Zub is moving out? There isn’t enough room for all of them and Karlsson.

From my vantage point, the Senators have the makings of the best top four in the Eastern Conference as it stands today. Why would they do anything to jeopardize that?

If DeBrincat is moved out, this leaves a glaring hole in the top six unless the return on the trade deals with that and that would land the Senators back in the Caprobatics dilemma where they would be giving up assets for someone to pay Karlsson for them.

The Senators need a number one goalie, an improvement in bottom-six forward depth and an upgrade in bottom pair defensemen. Erik Karlsson solves none of those problems.


You could argue that the San Jose Sharks got the best player in the trade. Karlsson is certainly the most dynamic. Conventional wisdom is that the team that gets the best player wins the trade.

Despite Karlsson’s offensive numbers, the Sharks have landed where the Senators left off when they dealt him.

The Senators haven’t qualified for the playoffs since the trade. The Sharks did have a deep run to the conference finals in Karlsson’s first year. However, that horse and carriage turned into a pumpkin as soon as Karlsson’s huge contract kicked in.

As a direct result of the trade, the Senators have their number one (Stutzle) and number two (Norris) centers. Those are two huge pieces of the Seven-Player Profile of any Stanley Cup team.

Dorion doesn’t have a great track record for trades in his tenure. Mark Stone just hoisted the Stanley Cup with Vegas while the Senators cling to the hopes that Egor Sokolov and Erik Brannstrom will take the sting off that one. The Matt Duchene trade, though attractive at the time, did not pan out for a myriad of on and off-ice reasons and there is nothing left of what was Filip Gustavsson now that Cam Talbot is not coming back.

Why would Dorion give the Sharks another bite of the apple on a deal he made out like a bandit on? This is especially true when you consider they will likely want pieces out of the current profile to seal the deal.

Karlsson is open to going where he would have a chance to win a Stanley Cup. He is not opposed to coming back to Ottawa.

Respectfully, Dorion needs to pass on this one and focus on what his team really needs while it’s still his team.


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