The NHL is still considered to be the least important of the four major sports leagues, at least in the United States, but that has not stopped the league from becoming a billion dollar enterprise celebrating its 100th season. Since the very beginning, the NHL has showcased the very best hockey players in the world, and amongst those individuals, there have always been those who have stood above the rest because of their exceptional skill and determination. Most of the time, these exceptional players are forwards or goalies, because they are the ones who score the goals, and who make the game-changing saves, but there have also been defensemen who have come along who could arguably be considered one of the best players of their generation.
Erik Karlsson is one of those defensmen, and there are many experts and fans who believe that he is the best blue-liner in the entire league, as evidenced by the fact that he has already earned two Norris Trophies and nearly 500 points in eight seasons. Karlsson has spent his entire career with the Ottawa Senators, who drafted him 15th overall in 2008, and he currently serves as their captain, but by the looks of it, he may not stay with the franchise past this season. The reason for this is simple: Karlsson’s current contract expires next season, and he has made it clear that he wants to get paid what he is worth, which is more than the Senators are likely willing to pay for one player. If they do not want to pay, then they will have to trade him, but because he has a modified no-trade clause, he can decide what team to go to, and this list will identify the eight teams he would accept a trade to, and seven that he would not.
15. Would: Dallas Stars
Of all the surprises that occurred last season, Dallas underperforming the way that they did was probably one of the biggest, because going into the season, they were considered to be one of the NHL’s scariest teams. Thanks to the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, and Alexander Radulov, the team is now filled with play-making forwards who can score boat loads of goals. If Ben Bishop can get his act together, then Dallas will be set to become a major contender this season, and if they can get someone like Karlsson, it is highly probable that they can have a deep playoff run. Considering Dallas’ offensive capabilities, and the fact that they have a goalie with a proven postseason pedigree, Karlsson would have no problem accepting a trade to the Stars.
14. Would Not: San Jose Sharks
Two years ago, the San Jose Sharks finally made it to the Stanley Cup Final, after years and years of disappointing playoff exists, a trend that seemed to re-emerge last year as they were eliminated in the first round. San Jose is a very good team, that has only missed the playoffs once in the past decade, thanks to their offense, and the fact that they have had reasonably good goalies. They have also developed a good defensive core centered around Norris Trophy winner, Brent Burns, which you would think would be a positive for Karlsson, but not really. Karlsson is looking for a lot of money, which San Jose cannot pay, and even if they did make a move to shed off enough salary, it could heavily impact the team in a negative way; plus Karlsson wants to win, and the Sharks do not have a good track record in that department.
13. Would: Los Angeles Kings
A few years ago, it could be said that the Los Angeles Kings were amongst the best teams in hockey, as evidenced by their championship wins in 2012 and 2014, and based on how they have started the season, it seems as though they are back to their old selves. The Kings have a lot going for them, what with Anze Kopitar leading their resurgent offense, Drew Doughty patrolling their steady blue-line, and Johnathan Quick re-establishing himself as a true number 1 goalie. Doughty is one of the best defensemen in the league, while Kopitar is one of the best two-way players, and Karlsson knows this, so if he were offered a chance to play with them in what looks like a successful and long season, he will jump at the chance to go to LA.
12. Would Not: Montreal Canadiens
Coming into this season, no one expected much of the Montreal Canadiens, and based on their terrible start, they proved most people right. It is true that Montreal has played much better recently, but their performance is a bit deceptive, because Carey Price has come back and is playing more like he used to, which again makes him the team’s best player by a mile. Despite scoring a ton of goals in the last 10 games, the Canadiens still have a scoring problem, and despite having Shea Weber leading their blue-line, they still have a very hard time keeping pucks away from their net. Karlsson has played against Montreal a lot during his career, and it is easy to tell that he does not like the team personally, but he also knows professionally that Montreal needs to overhaul their offense in a big way if they hope for someone like him to join their team.
11. Would: Toronto Maple Leafs
Just like the Oilers, this is pretty much a no-brainer, because the Toronto Maple Leafs are basically the Oilers of the Eastern Conference, except they are currently a slightly better run organization. The Leafs were lucky enough to get Auston Matthews in the 2016 draft, a player who is practically just as good as McDavid, and they have surrounded him with a very good group of young players. Their defense is also quite young, and although most of them are fine, not a single one of them can really be relied upon in high risk situations, which is where Karlsson comes in. Toronto is on the verge of having several free agents, so it makes sense for them to get rid of a few to bring in someone like Karlsson, who would fit in perfectly with the Leafs’ stellar offense.
10. Would Not: Vancouver Canucks
In 2011, the Vancouver Canucks lost in game 7 of that year’s Stanley Cup Final, and since then, the team has at best been mediocre, as they have lost quite a few good players over that time. For 18 seasons, the team has mostly centered around the Sedin twins, both of whom have scored over 1,000 points during their careers, and in all likelihood, this will be their final year with the team. Granted, Vancouver has gathered a few young pieces, but they still need to undergo a proper rebuild in order to compete, a rebuild that will begin this offseason; and it is because of how far away Vancouver is from being competitive in an insanely difficult division, that Karlsson will not want to be traded there.
9. Would: Carolina Hurricanes
In 2006, the Carolina Hurricanes won their first Stanley Cup, and since then, fans of the team have had nothing to really cheer about, as the team has only made the playoffs once since their championship win 12 years ago. Although the Hurricanes currently sit last in their division, the team has finally gotten on track thanks to their GM, Ron Francis and their head coach, as they have shown that they have the ability to score. The real issue that Carolina has is their blue-line, which still lacks a true number 1 defenseman, which Karlsson is, and now that the Hurricanes have a new owner who is probably looking to make a splash, the team can likely give him the money he is looking for.
8. Would Not: New York Islanders
The current New York Islanders are a strange team, because they have the ability to play very well one year and then go on a 2-year bender, and luckily for their fans, this seems to be one of the good years. There is a good chance that the Islanders will be fighting for a playoff spot until the very end of the season, which means that they will be looking to make a handsome addition to their roster to improve their chances. Karlsson would indeed be able to cement the team’s blue-line, but he knows full well that New York has quite a few question marks when it comes to their offense, which is pretty much completely reliant on John Tavares. He also knows that even if he were to join the team, the Islanders would still be the 4th or 5th best team in their division.
7. Would: Detroit Red Wings
Last season the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, a streak that saw multiple Stanley Cup wins, which is why they were considered to be one of the best run franchises in the league. Like last season, the Wings are having a hard time winning games, not because of bad goaltending, or because they lack skilled young forwards, but because they are horrible on defense. For the most part, Detroit’s blue-line is made up of slow veterans who are making a lot of careless mistakes, and with a few contracts expiring, now would be the time to land a big fish like Karlsson. The Wings have a cap situation, but that can be fixed with other deals, and he would get the chance to play with Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, who he has played with on several national Swedish teams.
6. Would Not: Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers have been around since 1993, and in all that time they have managed to make it to the postseason only a handful of times, which is why the franchise has been laughed at for so long. The current team is comprised of a core group of very young and talented players, but the problem is that those players have either underperformed or have had a hard time staying healthy enough to make a real difference. Thanks to the front office mess that occurred last season, the Panthers have had to take a step back, and that is not appealing to any player, especially one of Karlsson’s caliber, because it gives off the appearance of a lack of structure and professionalism, which is exactly what the franchise has been known for.
5. Would: Edmonton Oilers
Based on their performance last season, it looked as if the Edmonton Oilers were poised to dominate the Western Conference, but that has not been the case, as they currently sit in 7th place in their own division. This is incredibly surprising considering the amount of talented forwards the Oilers have, but it is not all that surprising when you take a look at their blue-line, which does not have a legitimate number 1 defenseman on it. Edmonton needs to upgrade their defense in a major way, and Karlsson is the perfect solution, as he can lock down the defensive zone, and help to bolster their offense even further. He would also get the chance to play with Connor McDavid, who is basically the new Sidney Crosby, so saying yes to Edmonton would be a no-brainer.
4. Would Not: Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres have been a mess for more than a decade now, and although they have tried to bring players in through free agency and the draft, they still find themselves near the bottom of the standings. The front office is a complete disaster, because it does not make sense for a team to have so many young players with potential, and still find themselves in second-last place. It is expected that Buffalo will have to undergo yet another rebuild, which may or may not work, and no veteran player who is still looking for their first championship will ever want to go to a team in that kind of situation; in fact Karlsson would likely laugh himself out of the room if the Ottawa GM even mentioned Buffalo.
3. Would: New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils have never been an exciting team to watch, thanks to their defensive style of play, but based on their performance so far this season, it looks like they are ready to change their philosophy. With the addition of Taylor Hall and some of their draft picks really panning out, the Devils are now a scoring threat, and they have a pretty good goalie, as well as a stable defensive core that needs help getting involved in the offense. Karlsson is a great puck mover, and New Jersey has shown that they are a new and competitive up and coming team just like Edmonton and Toronto, and if they can be compared to those two teams, then they are a perfect fit for Karlsson and his unique skills.
2. Would Not: Arizona Coyotes
It seems as though every single sports league has at least one team that is always horrible no matter what they do, and when it comes to the NHL, that team is without a doubt the Arizona Coyotes. Arizona has found itself at the bottom of the league’s standing seemingly every single year, and they do not seem to improve at all even though they constantly get high draft picks. As it turns out, the Coyotes are one of the only teams who can actually afford to re-sign Karlsson when his contract is up, but there is no way he would ever accept a trade to Arizona, a team that may be heading towards its 5th rebuild in the past 20 years, which goes to show just how bad the team really is from top to bottom.
1. Would: Las Vegas Golden Knights
This season marks the 100 year anniversary of the NHL, but it also happens to be the inaugural season of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who are by far the greatest surprise this year. Vegas is currently one of the best teams in the entire league, despite the fact that their roster is supposed to be made up of players that all the other teams thought were not important. Apparently, those players were indeed important, because they play an exciting and competitive style, despite not having anyone of note on their blue-line. Believe it or not, Vegas is actually a perfect fit for Karlsson, because the team plays well with a roster made of young and veteran players, and more importantly, they have the means to pay him when he becomes a free agent.
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