After all the false starts, Erik Karlsson goes to San Jose

The Lightning were reportedly in the talks earlier this offseason, but the saga came to an end with Karlsson going elsewhere.

It’s been a long off-season wondering where Ottawa Senators franchise defenseman Erik Karlsson would go. The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars were near constant rumored destinations for the star. The saga has finally come to an end, for now, with his trade to the San Jose Sharks.

The common belief from the media was that the Senators were asking for Brayden Point or Mikhail Sergachev from Tampa and Miro Heiskanen from Dallas. Both teams, in my opinion, were right to say no to such a steep price. Though, it seems that San Jose has not paid a particularly high price with the Senators getting more quantity than quality.

NHLers Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo head back, along with minor-league prospect Rudolfs Balcers and NCAA prospect Joshua Norris. In addition, the Senators received a 2020 first round, 2019 second round, and two conditional picks. The first conditional pick is a second round pick in 2021 that becomes a first round pick if Karlsson re-signs and the Sharks make it to the Stanley Cup Finals this season. The other conditional pick is a 2021 or 2022 first rounder if Karlsson plays for an Eastern Conference team during the 2018-19 season. That last pick is protection from him being traded to the East during the season.

Looking back at the Mike Hoffman trade earlier in the off-season, the Senators didn’t know that the Sharks had a deal in place to flip Hoffman to the Florida Panthers. They didn’t want to be caught unaware this time. But it’s also confusing why they were so insistent on that conditional pick. It’s not like the Senators are a playoff team this season and Karlsson’s existence in the east with another team is not going to change that for better or worse.

We can take a look here at the players involved in the trade and see if the Lightning could have matched the offer or perhaps provided a better offer without hurting the team too much.

Chris Tierney is the best player in the group. He has three and a half seasons in the NHL with the Sharks after being a second round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. At 24 years old, he’s still young and has 104 points in 284 career games. He set career highs in goals, assists, and points last season with 17, 23, and 40 respectively. He also doesn’t take a lot of penalties having combined for 14 PIMs over the past two seasons in 162 games.

The other NHLer in the group is defenseman Dylan DeMelo. DeMelo has 32 points in 133 career games and had his best season last year with 20 points, all assists, in 63 games played. He has played mostly on the third pair for the Sharks averaging just 14:19 TOI in his career.

Looking at the two prospects, Josh Norris and Rudolfs Balcers were ranked 3rd and 4th in the Sharks’ system by Corey Pronman of The Athletic. Both players project as every day NHLers, but neither is an impact prospect. Norris is a center that put up eight goals and 23 points in 37 games last year as a freshman with the University of Michigan. Balcers put up 23 goals and 48 points in 67 games in the AHL for the San Jose Barracuda and plays on the left wing.

Throwing out the draft picks for the moment, when we look at these players, we can certainly find a very similar package from the Lightning that could have worked. J.T. Miller is the most obvious candidate to fulfill the Chris Tierney part of the package. One of Slater Koekkoek or Jake Dotchin could have filled the Dylan DeMelo spot, but are of lesser value. That value though is more than made up for with Miller’s excess value of Tierney.

On the other side with the prospects, Alexander Volkov seems like a very similar level of prospect to Rudolfs Balcers. Another prospect like Mathieu Joseph or Taylor Raddysh could have also fit the spot of Joshua Norris as well.

As for the draft picks, the Lightning would have needed to make the first-round pick either a 2020 pick, or conditional 2019 or 2020 pick. Since the Lightning have already committed their 2019 first round pick as a conditional with the New York Rangers, they can’t guarantee it. However, even offering it up as a 2019 that becomes a 2020 first if the Lightning win the Stanley Cup would mean two years in a row for the Lightning without a first-round pick.

The Lightning could also then give up a second-round pick in 2019 or 2020 following that same kind of condition. That way it would be a 2019 second and 2020 first if the Lightning win the Stanley Cup this season or a 2019 first and 2020 second if the Lightning don’t. Either way, it means the Lightning would be without their first- and second-round draft pick in 2019. The other problem is that extra conditional pick if Karlsson re-signs long term.

While the Lightning, and new general manager Julien BriseBois, might have been reluctant to give up J.T. Miller, it’s still a far lower price than giving up Point or Sergachev. In my mind though, it would be worth the cost to trade Miller, Koekkoek/Dotchin, Volkov, and Joseph plus the two picks to get Karlsson. The core is locked up long term and while the farm isn’t as deep as it once was, there’s still enough talent even after such a trade to keep depth players coming into the lineup over the next handful of years.

The real answer may lie with Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. This trade, with the condition that limits trading Karlsson to an Eastern Conference Team, smacks of Melnyk perhaps being petty and not wanting to trade Karlsson in-conference. Maybe it came from Pierre Dorion though. It’s hard to say what goes on behind the scenes.

Now, with this trade done, we wait to see if Karlsson re-signs with the Sharks or tests free agency next July. The Lightning have three big contracts for defensemen coming off the books and will be looking for some replacements as there aren’t enough prospects to fill every spot at the NHL level. The reports have been consistently out there that Karlsson wants to sign with Tampa. Over the next ten months, we’ll find out exactly what his intentions are with his next contract.