What We Learned: Karlsson would be right to shy away from Canadian clubs

Ryan Lambert
Erik Karlsson denied reports he wouldn’t sign with a Canadian team, but you couldn’t blame him if he didn’t. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Erik Karlsson denied reports he wouldn’t sign with a Canadian team, but you couldn’t blame him if he didn’t. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

I promise this is the last I will reflect on the various Erik Karlsson trade rumors that cropped up in the past few days, but there’s a point to be made about the rumor-mongering.

Initially there were reports that Karlsson was hampering the Senators’ market for him by saying he would not sign an extension with a Canadian team. Karlsson moved to clarify shortly thereafter that this was not the case, that he wasn’t not-open to re-upping with a Canadian club — probably just not the one in the nation’s capital ha ha ha.

I think the reaction to all that is a little telling about the overall situation with these rumors and how Canada views itself. Two separate reporters — both based in the U.S., it should be noted — said within a few hours of each other that “sources say” and “word is” Karlsson was disinclined to re-sign in Canada. As with (most) media types we should take the rumors at face value, that they were not being made up for the sake of garnering clicks or anything like that.

The rumor obviously garnered a lot of attention north of the border regardless, further fueling the country’s national obsession with simultaneously upholding itself as the Mecca of all things hockey while remaining terribly afraid at its very core that none of that is in any way true. And while there was a certain amount of galled how-dare-he-ism, what’s interesting is that — in part because of the 22-hour turnaround on the news cycle from reportage to denial, it didn’t seem like too many people were all that aggrieved.

One wonders why, though, since this is a country in which attendance figures in Glendale and Raleigh are reported at least four times a season in Quebec media with a haughty, greedy contempt. Perhaps it’s because people understand the psychic torture having spent an entire career with that particular franchise must have inflicted on a generational talent of Karlsson’s quality. Perhaps it’s that everyone recognizes the player’s prerogative to choose his own destination no matter how much he’s doing to limit the trade market for his current employer.

But most likely it’s because with two exceptions, the future isn’t exactly bright for any Canadian team that might be interested in his services. And people probably feel, generally, that Karlsson shouldn’t have to move from one flailing franchise to another.

Of course, for just about any team, no matter how bad, adding a defenseman like Karlsson would be a transformative move. One need only look at the fact that an Ottawa Senators team not that far removed from what today’s roster looks like — at least in terms of overall quality — only needed a little bit of luck to, as we were so often reminded last season, get within an overtime goal of a Stanley Cup Final. What that says about how difficult it actually is to make the Cup Final if you can eke into the playoffs (even with a negative goal difference) aside, having a guy like Karlsson on your blueline really is that much of a game-changer for your franchise.

Someone asked me in the mailbag a few weeks ago why it seems that Canadian teams struggle with such soul-crushing ineptitude, such as in Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and Montreal. You could easily throw Calgary into the mix, given the Flames’ two playoff appearances — one entirely PDO-fueled — in the past nine seasons.

There is no obfuscating magic at work here: Most Canadian franchises seem to be bad because, in short, they are. The Leafs and Jets are the exceptions. However, the former’s rumored interest in adding Karlsson seems to have been some Torontonian daydreaming that never had a particularly large amount of basis in reality, and was all but obliterated by the John Tavares signing plus looming extensions for the team’s young stars. The latter was never rumored to be interested, has long-term cap-budgeting concerns of its own, and most importantly doesn’t really need Karlsson as badly as even the Leafs would because they’re already elite. It’s never a bad idea to have, y’know, more elite players, but the budget squeeze and the lack of a seriously pressing need are good enough reasons not to get involved in a potential bidding war.

So yes, literally any team in the league would be improved by adding Karlsson to its roster, even at the expense of the Senators’ rumored if ominously ill-defined asking price of a roster player (probably a salary dump), high-end prospect (anyone drafted in the first round in the past three drafts), first-round pick (probably in the low 20s if they’re lucky), and something else (probably a roster player who sucks) were actually met.

But even then, add Karlsson to the Oilers and that’s probably a playoff team but not a particularly competitive one. Having two of the best players of the past decade on one team is great and everything but it does nothing to improve the Oilers’ real problem, which is depth. A coach would be wise to not even play Karlsson and McDavid together at 5-on-5, to broaden the impact of two elite players on the opposition, but Edmonton should not be a desirable destination if you have Karlsson’s talent level. (Moreover why would the Senators take back a package of something like Milan Lucic, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kyle Brodziak and the 19th overall pick?)

The Habs? Yeah that probably gets you Max Pacioretty (for a year) and one or two actually meaningful pieces, albeit traded within the division, which was a rumored concern that maybe constrained the return for Mike Hoffman. But if you’re Karlsson, do you want to sign yourself up for that mess? Good lord no.

Vancouver, which has already declared itself firmly out on a trade that necessitates trading its draft picks (which of course precludes a Karlsson acquisition), is another no-go zone for any right-thinking player that can write his own contract on July 1. No discussion needed there.

Calgary is perhaps the only truly interesting option, then, albeit one that was never rumored to be in the hunt for Karlsson, loaded as it is with expensive defensemen already. Maybe if the Senators take back Travis Hamonic, whose cash salary is greater than his cap hit at this point (making him unattractive to the, uhh, thrifty ownership in Ottawa). But here too, one wonders how bright the future for this team actually is even with the addition of Karlsson. You could make a reasonable case that Calgary would become one of the two best teams in the Pacific with the addition of Karlsson, in a way that even Edmonton wouldn’t, but where, ultimately, does that even get you?

It amazes me that we’ve gotten to a point where no one is particularly mad at a player for wanting out of a toxic situation (which even a few years ago would have been considered capital-S Selfish in a way that hockey players are not allowed to be). It further shocks the system to see few batting an eye at Karlsson being rumored to have no interest in signing with any Canadian club, full stop. Yeah he walked that rumor back quickly, but the lack of outrage — for an entire day — even from the most disingenuous hockey media hucksters was kind of incredible.

With that having been said, if all you need to do to have carte blanche with the Canadian commentariat is to toil for nine seasons under the unrelenting misery of being an Ottawa Senator, well, now you know why Brady Tkachuk signed so quickly.

What We Learned: August roundup edition

We’re gonna make a big deal out of Sean Couturier being out a month but folks: The season is more than a month away and training camp is a scam used to sell NHL-price tickets to AHL-quality hockey games. Let’s not make a big thing out of it. … Hayley Wickenheiser getting hired by the Maple Leafs is good news because it turns out people who don’t have personal memories about meeting Gordie Howe when his hair still had color in it also know something about the sport of hockey. That this could possibly be presented in 2018 as a radical idea is a condemnation of this dumb sport. … Saw where Toby Enstrom signed in his hometown in Sweden instead of taking up some mid-table NHL team on a PTO offer. Hard to blame him, if we’re being honest. … Jack Eichel is going to try to keep his emotions in check in the future, because he recently did an interview where he was not-mistaken for one of those action figures that says one of three phrases when you press a button. … Both Josh Morrissey and Noah Hanifin said they were very confident they’d sign with their clubs soon after going without a contract all summer. Risky by their teams to let them risk being offer sheeted all su… sorry, I can’t even finish that gag.

Gold Star Award

Congrats again to Hayley Wickenheiser who, if she somehow isn’t an immediate and huge success in her role, will be held up as the absolute defining proof that a woman should never be hired in the NHL ever again.

Minus of the Weekend

Carey Price saying he was pretty bad last year is bizarre. Could he have played better? Sure. But probably not behind a team that bad. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Carey!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “super6646” has a proposal he bailed on even before posting it.

Leafs get: Hanifin , Sam Bennett
Flames get: William Nylander, mid to late round pick

Alright, so I caved and decided to change it up. Personally, I don’t do this deal for the Flames, but I could see this being fair value in a vacuum. Btw, the original proposal was Leafs get: Hamonic, Bennett, top 10 protected first . Flames get: Nylander


You know the funniest thing, though? It’s the little differences.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)