Leading up to the 2018 NHL trade deadline, Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson and Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty were fixtures in the trade-rumor mill.
While the two weren’t moved by last Monday’s 3 pm ET deadline, one or both could be dealt in the offseason, perhaps by the 2018 NHL Draft weekend (June 22-23) in Dallas.
Considered among the league’s best players, Karlsson and Pacioretty are team captains who are under contract through 2018-19. As a result, they’re also their respective clubs’ best trade chips.
Karlsson, 27, is an elite defenseman. He’s a two-time winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy and a four-time first team All-Star.
The 29-year-old Pacioretty is a skilled left winger. He’s a five-time 30-goal scorer and was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 2012.
Among the teams with varying degrees of interest in Karlsson were the Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals. Pacioretty, meanwhile, drew the attention of the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues.
Karlsson and Pacioretty could sign contract extensions with their current clubs following July 1, when they’ll be one year away from eligibility for unrestricted free agent status.
However, this season was a disaster for the Senators and Canadiens. Both teams must rebuild their rosters. The fact they were willing to entertain offers for their captains leading up to the trade deadline suggests they could do so again in the offseason.
By June, there will be more teams flush with extra salary-cap dollars potentially willing to pursue big-ticket stars such as Karlsson or Pacioretty. Several could be among the clubs that expressed interest in those players leading up to the trade deadline. Some could be Stanley Cup contenders seeking one final piece of the championship puzzle.
While Karlsson and Pacioretty conveyed their willingness to stay put, they’re also competitors approaching a crucial moment in their careers. With the riches of free agency a year away and their teams looking anything like Cup contenders, the temptation to move on to greener pastures next year could be too great to pass up.
It could prove too expensive for the Senators and Canadiens to re-sign their respective captains. Karlsson could command around $12 million annually on a long-term deal, Pacioretty perhaps $8 million per season. Rather than risk losing them for nothing come July 1, 2019, it might be worthwhile moving them for the best possible return while they have the best opportunity to do so.
Neither club will make a trade simply for the sake of doing so. If there aren’t any decent trade offers for Karlsson or Pacioretty this summer, they will remain with their current clubs into next season.
Should the Senators and Canadiens struggle again, both players will surface again in the trade-rumor mill. By then, the offers for their services might not be as good as they’re likely to be this summer.
The Lightning’s deadline acquisition of Ryan McDonagh means they’re unlikely to pursue Karlsson this summer. The Golden Knights, however, were pushing for a deal right up to the deadline and could revisit their interest.
Cap Friendly indicates the Golden Knights have over $46.5-million invested in 17 players, giving them plenty of salary-cap room to absorb Karlsson’s $6.5-million cap hit for 2018-19. They also possess depth in draft picks and prospects to package into a tempting offer.
Like the Golden Knights, the Sharks have plenty of salary-cap room and young talent to make a serious pitch for Karlsson. If the Capitals fail to re-sign John Carlsson, perhaps they’ll look into a deal for the Senators’ superstar.
Given the Flames lack of available prospects, it’s doubtful they’ll try to land Pacioretty this summer. Limited salary-cap space could put the Kings out of the market.
The Ducks, Panthers and Blues, however, carry plenty of promising youngsters. They also have the salary-cap room to retain Pacioretty beyond next season.