Blockbuster trades are fun, no matter what sport they occur in. Social media practically explodes with content as bloggers and analysts scramble to cover the big news. It’s even worse in the calm before the storm, when rumors of a big trade start swirling and fans are relentlessly refreshing their feeds until their fingers begin to bleed.
Over the past year, there have been non-stop trade rumors surrounding Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, who is arguably the best blue liner in the NHL. While nearly every team would love to have Karlsson, only a select few have the pieces and cap space to make a deal work. However, as Karlsson is a year away from free agency, the team acquiring him would like to sign him to a long-term extension, making a potential deal that much trickier.
Not only would the Senators need to agree on a return for their superstar, which would be massive, but the trade would have to be to a team that he actually wants to sign long-term with. Enter the Tampa Bay Lightning, who Karlsson reportedly wants to play for. The idea of him being on the same defensive pairing with Norris Trophy winner and fellow Swede Victor Hedman would be insane, but it could very well happen.
While there are rumors circulating, Karlsson to Tampa is far from being a done deal. Before he can don a Bolts sweater, there is some major work to be done by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, which I’ve divided into three hurdles. The first hurdle is obviously the salary cap, which the Bolts are currently tight against with just under $4.5 million in space. The easy solution to this would be to dump a contract in the Karlsson trade, but that leads us to hurdle number two.
Tyler Johnson, Dan Girardi, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat each have a full no trade right now.
Ryan Callahan, Braydon Coburn, Anton Stralman each have a 16-team trade list. 🌈
— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) July 5, 2018
All of the players mentioned above have movable salaries that would allow the Lightning to acquire Karlsson for this year, and enable them to afford his massive cap hit (roughly $11-$12 million AAV) from his extension. However, given that they all have partial or full no-trade clauses, there is zero chance that any of them would waive them to go to a rebuilding team like Ottawa. Ergo, the Lightning will need to get a third team involved to make any trade remotely possible, and it looks like they’re in the process of doing so.
Per source, teams around the league have been engaged as a third party to help facilitate a potential Erik Karlsson/Tampa Bay trade. Have to make salaries work.
— Travis Yost (@travisyost) July 5, 2018
The prospective third team would need to have a good amount of cap space and be a playoff contender, which would increase the chances of a Tampa players waiving his no-trade clause. They would also need to have pieces to send to Ottawa along with Tampa Bay. Why would they need to do that, you ask? That question leads us to Tampa’s third and final hurdle.
Remember when the Bolts acquired Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers earlier this year? Well when they did that, they agreed to send a conditional second round draft pick in 2019 to New York. If Tampa were to win the Stanley Cup in 2019, that pick would then become a 2019 first round pick. Therefore, the Bolts are currently unable to include either pick in a deal for Karlsson, and would need the third team to potentially supply draft picks to Ottawa, who currently does not have a 2019 first round pick.
So now that we’ve covered all the hurdles Tampa would need to clear to acquire Karlsson, what would a potential three-team blockbuster trade look like? After much research (and a little bias), I’ve determined that the best possible third team would be the New Jersey Devils. As a playoff caliber team with plenty of cap space ($23 million), they would make a perfect trading partner for the Senators and Lightning.
Without further adieu, here is the prospective three-team blockbuster trade for Erik Karlsson:
To Tampa Bay: Erik Karlsson (signed to an eight year contract extension)
To New Jersey: Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan, and Tampa Bay’s 2020 second round draft pick
To Ottawa: Brayden Point, Cal Foote, Pavel Zacha, New Jersey’s 2019 first round draft pick, and Tampa Bay’s 2019 third round draft pick
*ducks* Before you all call for my head on a spike, let me explain why I think this deal is fair for the three teams involved.
This one is pretty obvious. The Bolts get their man, who is a perennial Norris Trophy candidate and will make up one of the best defensive pairings in NHL history. Losing Point, Johnson, and Foote would be a tough pill to swallow, but given that they’re in such a huge bind, they will need to swallow it.
Lightning fans may see this deal as overpaying, but remember, they’re acquiring an elite defenseman AND signing him to a long-term extension, and they need assistance from another team to make that happen. You need to give value to get value and in this case, they need to give quite a bit.
For the Devils, the prize here is Johnson, who will immediately become the team’s second line center behind Nico Hischier. Johnson is also signed for the next six seasons for a very affordable $5 million cap hit. Losing Zacha and a first rounder would sting, but if the return is an excellent two-way center like Johnson, then the loss is more than worth it. Although he has declined, Callahan will be a serviceable fourth-liner and penalty killer for the Devils, and his cap hit ($5.8 million) is tolerable for the next two seasons.
Ottawa will get some major assets to assist with their rebuild. The biggest prize is obviously Point, who is evolving into one of the league’s star forwards. Cal Foote, the son of former Colorado Avalanche blue liner Adam Foote, projects to be a top defenseman in his own right one day. Then there’s Zacha, a former top pick who has been underwhelming thus far in his NHL career, but is still young and talented enough to blossom into a very good two-way center.
The chances of this particular trade occurring are slim, but the point of this article was to give you a general idea of the challenges Tampa Bay would face when completing such a deal, along with the price they would need to pay to get their man. Do you think Erik Karlsson is heading to Tampa? Is there a better third team to help the Bolts and Senators complete a trade? What is your prospective trade proposal? Feel free to discuss in the comments section below.
Photo: The Athletic