Among the tight playoff races that gripped the NHL down the stretch of the 2017-18 regular season, there was also the possibility of two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson playing his final game with the Ottawa Senators.
The 27-year-old defenseman is one of the best blueliners in the NHL but with his contract expiring at the end of the 2018-19 season, the Swede’s future is plenty uncertain with the franchise that drafted him 15th overall in 2008.
After making the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Senators were one of the worst teams in the NHL this year as they were suddenly relegated to a rebuilding side at the trade deadline, dealing away the likes of Dion Phaneuf and Derick Brassard, among others.
With the Senators going nowhere in the near future and with Karlsson’s contract expiring at the end of next year, it was a logical move for Ottawa to consider moving the five-time All-Star for a haul that would likely include “five or six or maybe seven pieces that could include some combination of good, young roster players, to prospects and first-round picks,” according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
Not only did they consider it, but they listened to offers. The expansion Vegas Golden Knights reportedly were one of the heaviest pursuers of Karlsson, though the Senators did not deal him away.
However, it was set to be a major storyline to watch this offseason, especially near the NHL Draft. Senators general manager Pierre Dorion put any kind of trade talk to rest though when he came out last week to say that they will not deal Karlsson at the draft.
But more than two months remain until the selection process, which sees a bulk of the league’s offseason trades made and things can always change. Should Dorion change his mind, here are three teams that should be the first to contact him.
New York Islanders
If general manager Garth Snow still has his job, his desperation might make the Islanders a serious contender for Karlsson. New York’s defense was the worst in the NHL, allowing 296 goals.
Their best defenseman, Nick Leddy, was a minus-42 while the team relied too heavily on unproven or obsolete blueliners.
Getting a talent like Karlsson would also send a clear message to star John Tavares — who will become a free agent this summer — that the team is committed to winning now.
New York Rangers
The Rangers front office was honest and upfront with their fanbase, stating that they would be going through a rebuilding phase. The rebuild could fly ahead of schedule if they were to acquire Karlsson.
During the final weeks of the season, the Blueshirts rolled out a defense sans-Kevin Shattenkirk that featured Marc Staal, Neal Pionk, Brady Skjei, Ryan Sproul, Rob O’Gara and John Gilmour. Five of the six were under 25 while Pionk was just 22.
Karlsson provides the Rangers with a true No. 1 defenseman that can come in and immediately lead, which will be important since they traded away captain Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline, and takes pressure off the offensive-minded Shattenkirk to carry the blue line.
There were plenty of pundits (including myself) that believed the Oilers were serious contenders for the Stanley Cup this season. Instead, they fell flat, recording just 78 points despite Connor McDavid securing his second-straight Art Ross Trophy with 108 points.
A big reason for the struggles was because of a defense that allowed the second-most goals in the Western Conference. They received limited production from their defensemen on the offensive end as well as only one player (Darnell Nurse, 26) recorded over 25 points. Karlsson has recorded over 60 points in each of the past five seasons.