With the NHL approaching the trade deadline at a very fast rate, the speculation around trades in the league always reaches fever pitch this time of year. However, the 2017/18 season is a bumper one in terms of players on the market. Players like Rick Nash, Evander Kane, Ryan McDonagh, and James van Riemsdyk would be banner players on the trade bait column any other year in the league, but this season they’re trumped by one name, arguably the best player to end up in genuine trade deadine speculation for many a season. That player is Ottawa’s superstar, and darling of the NHL blue line Erik Karlsson.
As you’d expect, the mere whisper that a multiple Norris winner and arguably the best NHL defenseman since Nick Lidstrom is on the block has created a frenzy of theories and hopes among fans and media around the NHL. Any team that acquires Karlsson is instantly getting a truly elite player in his absolute prime, and the fact that the Senators are even considering trading him is something that very few people can still, realistically, believe is happening – especially those in Ottawa.
But they are, and with talk of three-team deals flying around across every news source over the past few days thanks to Ottawa’s rumored insistence that any team taking Karlsson also has to take the $7.25 million albatross known as Bobby Ryan’s contract (something that very few teams have either the cap-space or the need on their team to accept taking, even for one of the best blueliners in the world) it’s perhaps unsurprising right now that there has only been one actual offer made for the Swede according to NHL insiders.
There is one team, however, in the NHL that has a need both for a scoring right-wing and could use Karlsson, and more importantly has the cap space to potentially absorb both contracts and more importantly, retain Karlsson when he becomes an UFA next year without significantly hamstringing the rest of their teams’ contract negotiations.
That team is Arizona.
And it’s not only Karlsson that they are potentially in pole position to grab should they enter the race. If John Chayka wanted to make a big move this summer, he has arguably some of the biggest trade chips in the NHL to offer. Pole position in the race for Rasmus Dahlin this offseason (the Desert Dogs currently sit with the highest chance in the NHL draft lottery). A system full of young players and prospects that would grace any team’s system, both heralded (like Max Domi, who incidentally is an RFA this offseason) and less so (like Tyler Steenbergen, who currently sits 6th in the WHL in scoring after being drafted in the 5th round last year). So, let’s take a look at the players the Yotes could make a decent run at this Monday.
ERIK KARLSSON (Ottawa)
The Coyotes, currently, have $12 million of cap-space committed beyond the end of the 2018/19 season. That’s all. Even if they take Karlsson and Ryan and pay Karlsson’s next contract with a comparable AAV to what the elite players are receiving right now (we’ll use Connor McDavid’s contract as a comparable) they will still only have less than half of the cap-space committed. More importantly, while Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson will become UFAs in the same year as Karlsson, players like Clayton Keller, Derek Stepan and Christian Fischer (as well as Darcy Kuemper in net) will still be under contract. Perhaps more importantly, even those whose contracts are expiring – players like Jakob Chychrun, will be in RFA territory, not UFA. This is a key difference, because it means that they’ll likely be cheaper to retain thanks to the wonders of qualifying offers, and also the fact they are still relatively young players.
Then of course there’s the question of what a change of scenery might do for Bobby Ryan. Granted, his contract is a huge one and he’ll be 32 years old at this point, which will make his trade value relatively low compared to one of the younger stars. But he is still a player that the NHL front offices, for some reason, like to acquire. More to the point, he’s a player who one good season will suddenly elevate back up in the estimation of rival general managers...as an example look at the haul the (three years older) Rick Nash has attracted from Boston this trade deadline despite being three years older than Ryan, with a more expensive contract, and having scored comparably the past three seasons. Ryan is a depreciating asset, and his contract even at 30 years old with four years in term is a big one, but it’s nott an untradeable one, particularly if he finds a 20-goal-a-season scoring touch again in Arizona, which playing in front of the likes of OEL as well as Karlsson, and alongside Keller and Max Domi certainly gives him the best chance to do.
Here’s the key thing, though...this is a gamble the Coyotes can conceivably afford to make. Their team is stacked full of desirable young assets that, should cap squeeze become a problem, can be converted into considerable returns. Imagine what a player like Max Domi would attract on the open market. There are so many young players in the Coyotes pipeline that, contrary to many other teams, losing one of their top young players to free agency or RFA-dom would not be a disaster in any stretch of the word, unless that player was Clayton Keller or Jakob Chychrun. Even in net there is a consistent pipeline of youngsters.
That same loaded prospect system means that the Coyotes have the pieces, if they wish to, to go for a superstar like Karlsson either this deadline or, perhaps more likely, over the coming summer.
But there are other big names out there, too – and here are reasons the Coyotes are ideally positioned for them, also
JAMES VAN RIEMSDYK (Toronto, LW): The Leafs may be looking to move the big winger-they need the cap space and he’s an UFA at the end of the season. Even should he require Bobby Ryan-level money in his next contract, the Coyotes can easily absorb the space and with the Leafs in cap jail, they’re effectively over a barrel when it comes to talking trades. Imagine JVR placed on the opposite wing to Clayton Keller or given license to create space for Christian Dvorak for the rest of this season? A big 25-goal power forward for a relatively cheap trade price just doesn’t hit the trade market that often...particularly not one that’s available potentially for far under the “market” value. Granted, the 'Yotes can wait for FA, but why not give JVR a three-month audition?
MAX PACIORETTY (Montreal, LW/RW): The Habs captain wants out of Montreal. He’s got one year left on his contract more than Van Riemsdyk, but then the same cap issues that would strike with Bobby Ryan will hit on a similar level for any team that acquires him. However, like van Riemsdyk, his team are in a tricky position when it comes to keeping him beyond this season – in Pacioretty’s case because he doesn’t want to be there rather than for UFA issues this summer.
So, lateral thinking says...what if the 'Yotes could somehow swing a deal which sees Pacioretty coming to Arizona this deadline, probably either involving prospects or sending picks and a defenseman the other way, and then either flip him as part of a deal to Ottawa for Karlsson or hold him as a contributor this and next season, with the option to either flip or renegotiate next deadline while raising their status and profile in the meantime?
Those are the three names that stand out – and hypothetically, imagine a scenario by which the 'Yotes give up Max Domi as the major playing piece in this puzzle, but gain any one of the above (it’s certainly possible to imagine with van Riemsdyk and Pacioretty, if not Karlsson). Going a little deeper down the rabbit hole, imagine that Domi goes to Montreal for Pacioretty, who then becomes the starting point for a Karlsson/Ryan deal.
Another hypothetical question – which would you rather have – a hypothetical Rasmus Dahlin or a definite Erik Karlsson? If you’re Ottawa and an offer of Domi plus the first rounder that might get Dahlin comes the other way, do you pull that trigger? You do if you’re the Coyotes, simply because what you’re giving up (a possible chance at a young superstar who may not settle in your organization and a previous “franchise-player-potential” forward who’s an RFA but has only scored 5 goals this season and looks to be unsettled with the current coach) is not going to help your team as much as one of the greatest NHL defensemen of his generation in his prime, who incidentally will be joining his international understudy and international D partner on coming to the Coyotes, along with an expensive but still very useful power forward who can fit into Domi’s spot.
Put that way, the Coyotes should be putting in a call to Ottawa tomorrow. They should also be offering Domi to Toronto for JVR along with, perhaps, a mid-round pick or two (Domi getting to play on his dad’s team would attract the media’s support, while his style of play and how it would mesh with the young guns on the Leafs would attract the organization’s interest, especially if they’re giving up an asset they were already figuring on losing...
Pacioretty is a trickier one – arguably his main attraction for the 'Yotes lies in being used as part of a trade for Karlsson – but still, if there’s an offer there, John Chayka should be kicking the tires.
But why now? It’s simple they're available now. Arizona needs a player to take them to that next level – to bolster and reinforce the young stars like Keller and Ekman-Larsson. It needs a lightning bolt of a player to kick the organization up a gear. Karlsson, without question, would instantly become one of the faces of the Coyotes. He’d signal to the rest of the NHL that finally, this is a team going all out, rather than hoping to step forward into the future slowly. While van Riemsdyk wouldn’t have quite that effect, he’d still be a blockbuster acquisition that would drive the new era forward into its next phase – as would Pacioretty.
They would, simply put, be a power move that could set hockey up in the desert for the next ten years, and the perfect storm of circumstances means that the Coyotes have a chance to make it. If John Chayka can work his magic.