Could Erik Karlsson still get traded to the Vegas Golden Knights?

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 17: Ottawa Senators Defenceman Erik Karlsson (65) waits for a face-off during second period National Hockey League action between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators on February 17, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 17: Ottawa Senators Defenceman Erik Karlsson (65) waits for a face-off during second period National Hockey League action between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators on February 17, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

For the first time in his career, superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson will be testing the free-agent market. Can a potential sign and trade between Ottawa and Las Vegas still happen?

This past season, the Vegas Golden Knights were perhaps the greatest story in hockey over the last decade. Erik Karlsson, on the other hand, was one of the more tragic.

Vegas an expansion franchise in their inaugural season. Because of this, the team was built mostly of prospects and players with mixed success at the NHL level. On paper, it was fair to say they looked average at best.

Though they lacked a superstar, the Golden Knights took the league by storm immediately, posting an 8-1-0 record over their first nine games.

To the surprise of many,  their initial success continued and by the end of the season, the Knights were the first expansion team to finish their opening season with a winning record. More importantly, the team made the playoffs, ending fifth overall in the league and winning the stacked Pacific division in the process.

Come playoff time, doubters were quick to once again write Vegas off, as an early matchup with an experienced LA Kings team seemed troublesome for a youthful Golden Knights squad.

Congruent to the rest of their 2017-2018 campaign, the Knights were able to keep up with the best teams in the league and eventually found themselves representing the Western Conference in this years Stanley Cup Finals.

Sadly for Vegas and their supporters, the team came up short in the end, losing out to the Washington Capitals in five 5 games thanks in large to their lackluster defensive play.

For example, in the teams first three playoff series (15 games played), they allowed only 23 goals. In their five games against the Capitals, however, they gave up 20.

This brings up the question: If the Golden Knights had an elite defenseman, could they have limited the Capitals offense and been crowned this years’ Stanley Cup champions?

On the opposite end of the hockey world, both the Ottawa Senators and their All-Star D-man, Erik Karlsson, had one of their worst campaigns in recent memory.

Karlsson posted his fifth consecutive 60-point season, but the positives fail to stretch beyond this.

Statistically, his point totals and plus/minus rating were the lowest the Senators captain have posted in a full season since he was a sophomore in 2010-2011. The flawed season continued for the Swede as his team finished near the bottom of the standings, despite being only a goal away from the Stanley Cup final a year earlier.

Contributing to the poor play of Karlsson and the Senators were a series of issues both respected parties dealt with behind closed doors.

Most recently, audiences may recall a recent situation in which Karlsson’s wife, Melinda, was being bullied and threatened online by the romantic partner of one of his teammates, Mike Hoffman.

To make matters worse for the Sens’ superstar, he and Melinda also dealt with the unimaginable struggle of losing their unborn son, Axel, midway through the season.

In short, this past calendar year has been one to forget for Erik Karlsson both on and off the ice

Considering the series of misfortunes Karlsson has been flustered by, it would be no revelation if he decides to simply leave the Ottawa Senators behind with nothing but memories.

If however, the 2-time Norris Trophy winner has aspirations of playing in Las Vegas, Sens fans are hopeful they can at least get something in return.

What could a trade look like?

If the recent package Ottawa Senators GM, Pierre Dorion accepted for Mike Hoffman showed fans anything, it was that he has little interest in acquiring a handful of draft picks. Instead, expect to see the Sens aim to receive two developed roster players, at least one prospect, and then additional draft picks.

Based on each team’s current situations, the most realistic trade for both sides would resemble the following:

To Ottawa Senators: Tomas Tatar, Jon Merrill, Alex Tuch, Ivan Morozov, 1st round Pick 2019 (VGK), 2nd round pick 2020 (VGK)

To Vegas Golden Knights: Erik Karlsson, Bobby Ryan, Christian Wolanin, 4th round pick 2020 (OTT)

Why the trade makes sense for Ottawa?

As was mentioned above, the Senators ultimately seem interested in keeping a somewhat competitive roster together. This is likely due to the fact they do not own their own first-round draft pick for the following year as they awarded it to Colorado in the Matt Duchene trade.

In acquiring Tatar, Merrill, and Tuch; the Senators would get three immediate roster pieces who are each capable of playing at a top 6 level in their respected positions.

It should also be noted that none of these players are likely to seek contracts north of $7 million in the near future, something that may further entice owner Eugene Melnyk to encourage a deal of this nature.

Remaining on the topic of big contracts, any deal involving Karlsson is likely to include Bobby Ryan, a contract the Senators are known to be desperate to unload.

Ryan has four years left on a deal that holds a hefty annual salary of $7.25million, but, his production since joining Ottawa has been average at best.

If Dorion can put together a last-minute deal that awards Ottawa a first-round pick this year, gets the team a combination of ready players and prospects, and saves the team money across the board, Sens fans may be able to forgive him for failing to re-sign Erik Karlsson altogether.

Why the trade makes sense for Vegas?

If you subjected yourself to the introduction of this piece, you’re aware that the Golden Knights were within a couple wins of declaring themselves winners of the Stanley Cup.

Although this feat alone is something for the Knights squad to be proud of, its highly unlikely this exact roster will find themselves in a similar position next year. In fact, since the turn of the century, the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins are the only team to make a cup final after finishing in the runner-up position the season prior.

Keeping this in mind, revamping the roster to include one of the best players in the league may be the teams next key to success.

Luckily for George McPhee and company, Vegas not only have a series of valuable players at the wing position that may be expendable such as Alex Tuch, Tomas Tatar, and Reilly Smith, but they also hold a substantial amount of draft picks in the next two entry drafts.

Specifically, the Golden Knights have the ability to select 6 players in the first 3 rounds of the 2019 draft and hold three second-round picks in the year 2020. So, unlike most teams, Vegas can justify giving up two high-level draft picks to acquire Karlsson.

The most difficult part in acquiring Karlsson will be the contract of Bobby Ryan.

Currently, Vegas has about $35million in cap space, but with the likes of James Neal, David Perron, William Karlsson, and Colin Miller all needing new contracts, it remains unknown whether the Knights could house both Karlsson and Ryan.

To counter this, Vegas could try to package in David Clarkson’s inflated contract which holds a $5.25million cap hit for 2 more years. Though Clarkson presents little on-ice value for the Sens, his deal does expire much sooner than Ryan’s, so Ottawa may be willing to pick up his dumped salary as well.

Should Dorion be unwilling to take on Clarkson’s contract much like his predecessor, Brian Murray, was, a final adjustment to the trade could also involve Lucas Sbisa.

Sbisa, a 28-year old like Karlsson, had a $4million cap hit in 2017-2018, but he is also an unrestricted free agent come July 1.

If however, the Swiss defender agrees to sign with Ottawa pending the trade, its possible McPhee could include Sbisa in the package instead of Merrill given the larger potential of his salary should he stay with Vegas.

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Overall, the Vegas Golden Knights can present a series of fair offers to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for five-time All-Star, Erik Karlsson. Unlike other suitors, Vegas is able to offer the Senators draft picks, prospects, developed players, and can take on the deathly contract of a faded Bobby Ryan

With the free agency period set to begin tomorrow, the fate of Karlsson will be determined sooner, rather than later.