April 2, 2019 | 12:45pm ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period

ERIK KARLSSON WATCH: TOP 3 LANDING SPOTS

 
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Erik Karlsson, defenceman

 
 

MONTREAL, QC -- It’s not every year a perennial Norris Trophy contender becomes available in the NHL. When Erik Karlsson was made available a little over a year ago by the Ottawa Senators it was expected the market would be burning hot for his services. That is why when Karlsson was ultimately dealt prior to the start of training camp, the San Jose Sharks gave up a combined six assets to acquire him.

But will he be available again this summer?

It is not the mandate of Sharks’ General Manager Doug Wilson to ‘tank.’ While he and the Sharks have made adjustments to remain competitive, the aging core, waste baron of a prospect pool and impending cap crunch cannot go unnoticed.

Will there be enough money to go around to keep Karlsson, as the Sharks already have $15 million tied up in fellow defencemen Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic for the next six years.

But there is even a bigger question: does Karlsson want to stay?

Assuming, for whatever reason, Karlsson and the Sharks part ways, here are three teams that may have the best shot and landing him:

3. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers’ reign of mediocrity has gone on since the 2013 lockout. The team continued its trend of one year “hit” and one year “miss” in terms of playoff qualification this season, as they were mathematically eliminated this past Saturday. Despite an underwhelming season, filled with changes to the club’s front office and coaching staff, the Flyers enter the off-season as one of the NHL’s most intriguing team.

Newly-appointed GM Chuck Fletcher is expected to be aggressive this summer, entering the off-season with more than $31 million in Cap-Space (not including the expected cap limit increase). Flyers’ upper-management want to be contenders and have given Fletcher the green light to spend as much as he can to do so.

Considering this, the Flyers should be in a position to offer Karlsson any contract he asks for come July 1.

The Flyers are expected to be in the market for a veteran, top-pairing defenceman this summer to help insulate the impressive crop of young talent that currently fills out the defensive core. Karlsson’s addition would instantly make the Flyers a playoff-contending team, and would elevate the play of rising rearguards Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. Philadelphia’s young core, along with established veterans in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier, may entice Karlsson to consider the Orange and Black.

2. New York Islanders

There has unquestionably been no bigger shock this season than the Islanders. After watching their captain and franchise player John Tavares leave the club for nothing last summer, many expected the Islanders to be bottom dwellers this year. But with a new management group, led by team President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello, and Stanley Cup winning Coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders have punched their ticket to the post-season.

Despite this, there is still a lack of star-power on the Islanders’ roster; especially on defence. Currently anchored by Nick Leddy and 35-year-old Johnny Boychuk, there is certainly room for improvement on the club’s backend. Young rearguards Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech have showed promise this year, while 2018 first round pick Noah Dobson seems poised for stardom in the NHL. All could use the mentorship from a veteran star like Karlsson – whom the team pursued last June around the NHL Draft – and would slot every other defencemen down the depth chart into more suited roles.

Lamoriello will be big game hunting this summer, as he was aggressive in trying to acquire Matt Duchene at this year’s trade deadline, and has also been linked to having interest in impending Columbus free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.

With close to $32 million of projected cap space this summer, Lamoriello will no doubt make a play for Karlsson should he hit the open market, and Karlsson will likely consider a move to the Island considering the team’s massive strides forward this season.

1. Colorado Avalanche

All season long, it has felt as though the Avalanche have been playing with house money. The club has remained relevant and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race all season long, currently occupying the second wildcard seed.

Despite the relatively good season the Avalanche has enjoyed, all eyes seem to be on next year in Colorado.

With the Avalanche holding the Senators first-round selection this June – everyone has April 9 circled on their calendars – they are currently the favorite to win the NHL Draft Lottery; which would have Jack Hughes fall right in their lap.

Colorado already has three superstar talented forwards in Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on its roster, all of whom are 26 years old or younger. Adding Hughes would give GM Joe Sakic an embarrassment of riches up front for the next decade.

While the club’s forwards would be a force to be reckoned with, the defense is still a question mark.

Insert Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson would be the long-standing missing link in Colorado, and would arguably make the Avalanche Stanley Cup contenders. Adding Karlsson to a group that consists of Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson and Samuel Girard would give Colorado its best defensive group in over a decade. Aside from owning a guaranteed top-four pick this June and an already impressive young roster, Sakic has another advantage over any other potential landing spots for Karlsson: an eye-popping $46 million in projected cap-space.

Karlsson’s agent will use Drew Doughty’s contract as a starting point in negotiations, which carries an AAV of $11 million, and could very easily exceed $12 million due to the demand. Sakic’s immense cap-room will allow for him to outbid any other team for Karlsson, even after he gives impending RFA Ratanen an expected big-ticket contract. Karlsson would have the best of both worlds in Colorado: Money and Success on the ice. Time will tell if this seemingly match made in heaven comes to fruition.

Honorable Mentions

While the above three clubs are the likely favorites and logical landing spots for Karlsson, there will be a bucket full of other clubs that will definitely kick tires on him.

The Vegas Golden Knights have been in on Karlsson since his days in Ottawa, and came close to acquiring him on two separate occasions: the 2018 Trade Deadline and last summer’s NHL Draft. Vegas still has a need for help on its blueline and has an advantage of being a no tax state. But General Manager George McPhee has already added significant money to his club’s payroll for the next numbers of years, locking up newly acquired wingers Mark Stone ($9.5 million AAV) and Max Pacioretty ($7 million AAV) to eight- and four-year deals, respectively, beyond this season.

Defenseman Nate Schmidt’s new six-year deal will kick in next season, carrying an AAV of $5.95 million, while Marc-Andre Fleury’s cap hit will rise to $7 million per season in 2019-20. All of these newly signed contracts project the Knights to be close to $3 million over the Salary Cap, although it does not consider the expected increase. Adding Karlsson would take a lot of maneuvering and roster manipulation from McPhee, which may ultimately be unattainable.

The Dallas Stars are another club that benefit from being in a no-tax state. But, like the Golden Knights, existing team contracts will likely prohibit them from being able to make a big play for Erik Karlsson.

Dallas could most certainly use the addition of Karlsson, as the club’s backend has long-been considered the team’s Achilles Heel. But with just $18 million in Cap Space to work with to sign RFAs to be Esa Lindell, Brett Ritchie, Mattias Janmark and Jason Dickinson, General Manager Jim Nill may not have the resources to land the superstar defenceman if he plans on re-signig Mats Zuccarello, as well.

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Anthony Di Marco is the NHL Correspondent for The Fourth Period.
Follow him on Twitter.