The NHL’s version of an out-of-control freight train lost its most precious cargo Thursday, as the Senators’ turbulent offseason reached its highly-anticipated critical point with the trade of franchise defenseman Erik Karlsson to the Sharks.
Karlsson, whose name began circulating around the trade rumor mill as far back as last December, has one year remaining before hitting unrestricted free agency in July. In return from San Jose, Ottawa acquired two NHL roster players in center Chris Tierney (24) and defenseman Dylan DeMelo (25), plus forward prospects Josh Norris and Rudolfs Balcers. A slew of high conditional picks also were included in the deal, which in total saves the Senators $3.7 million in actual salary.
GRADES: Sharks enrich Stanley Cup odds with Erik Karlsson heist
General manager Pierre Dorion may very well have been painted into a corner by the 28-year-old Karlsson’s yearlong desire to be moved, and interested GMs must have known that acquiring the two-time Norris Trophy winner could be accomplished without having to snip the flower of their entire farm system.
Although fans may think any trade involving a franchise player should return at least one player or prospect of similar value, history tells us most trades involving impactful players of Karlsson’s ilk are lopsided and rarely fetch the kind of return that can be viewed as either rational or acceptable, or both. In other words, Dorion and his Senators were not expected to win this trade before it happened, and on paper, it looks like they most certainly did not.
Nonetheless, the haul of picks and prospects sent by San Jose to Ottawa was quite substantial. For starters, the Sharks traded their best center prospect in Norris, who was the 17th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Where Norris figured into San Jose’s long-term plans is up for debate, but the graying of its current pivots, plus the lack of center depth within the organization, makes his addition a difficult long-term loss for the Sharks.
San Jose’s AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, had several impressive prospects play a significant role, but none more than Balcers, who was the second-youngest player in the league to lead his team in scoring. A native of Latvia, Balcers was a middle-round pick in 2015 and went on to star for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers before heading south to the AHL.
Acquired by the Sharks:
The Sharks, and everyone else for that matter, already know what they are getting in Karlsson, who has led NHL defensemen in scoring in four of the last eight seasons, and has finished first or second in Norris Trophy voting four times. After a heroic 2017 playoff run that saw him lead the Sens to within a game of the Stanley Cup Final, Karlsson took months to recover from offseason surgery that removed a portion of his ankle bone, thus limiting him to 71 games, his lowest total in five years.
Still, the swift-skating Swede finished sixth among NHL rearguards with 62 points, was second with 42 points at even strength and tied for the league lead with 37 even-strength helpers. Karlsson also led an anemic Senators’ attack with a +5.58 CF% Rel, and he averaged close to a point per game (0.97) in his final 33 matches. It’s important to note that Karlsson essentially played the first few months of last season with one fully-healed ankle, yet still ranked among the league’s top-scoring defensemen.
|RHD||28||Ottawa (1st/2008)||71 GP, 9 G, 62 PTS (NHL)|
The obvious “throw in” from the trade, Perron’s 2017-18 season was cut short after an apparent wrist injury in Belleville’s second half. He once was a big-time scorer in the QMJHL (108 points for Rouyn-Noranda in 2015-16), but struggled with consistency while serving as a depth forward in the AHL. He’s certainly gifted with the puck, and playmaking wingers always are useful to have in the prospect pool.
The issues impacting Perron’s play last season, however, are common for former major junior stars — the speed and physicality from adult-age opponents can humble and break the most talented of prospects. One should expect a bounceback season from him in 2018-19, and he’s all but guaranteed to be with San Jose’s AHL squad.
|LW||22||Ottawa (7th/2014)||44 GP, 4 G, 15 PTS (AHL)|
Acquired by the Senators:
A classic two-way pivot with playmaking skills and a strong understanding of the game, Tierney enjoyed his best season as a professional, recording 40 points over a full season while serving primarily as San Jose’s third-line center. Tierney’s advanced numbers at even strength relative to his teammates were subpar, as he ranked near the bottom in both CF% Rel (-2.25) and xGF% Rel (-2.58). But he was the lead penalty killer on a unit that finished second in the league in efficiency. He won 51 percent of his faceoffs, and 33 of his 40 points came at either even strength (29) or shorthanded (four).
One thing to consider is that Tierney rarely played with San Jose’s top scorers, and his CF% QoT (50.74 percent) was fourth among the Sharks’ regular forwards. He can grind it out in the corners and has very good speed to help him create chances off the rush.
|C||24||San Jose (2nd/2012)||82 GP, 13 G, 40 PTS (NHL)|
DeMelo was a pleasant surprise for the Sharks, notching 20 assists in 63 games, and saw an increase in role and responsibility that eventually earned him a regular shift in the playoffs. DeMelo’s average ice time increased from 13:04 a game in his first 34 games to 15:28 over his final 29. In 10 playoff games, DeMelo remained on the bottom pairing yet still saw close to 16 minutes a game. He’s more of an offensive defender than a stopper, and he spent a significant amount of time on San Jose’s second power-play unit.
DeMelo finished second among Sharks defensemen with an impressive +2.73 xGF% Rel, but placed middle of the pack with a -0.82 CF% Rel. He owns a hard shot that creates rebounds on the power play, makes crisp, accurate stretch passes, and is both mobile and confident enough to skate the puck through the neutral zone. He seemed very comfortable as a bottom-pairing defender on a playoff team like San Jose, so it remains to be seen if he can handle playing a bigger role for a doormat.
|RHD||25||San Jose (6th/2011)||63 GP, 0 G, 20 PTS (NHL)|
Norris is a playmaking two-way center blessed with strength and athleticism. He is capable of centering a top line, and lead primary power-play and penalty-killing units. He’s a powerful skater with excellent balance and agility in tight spaces, and he can maintain control of the puck well into the latter portions of his shifts.
Norris last season was Michigan’s top faceoff man (56.4 percent), and 18 of his 23 points came at even strength. He always was summoned to take the critical draws and was regularly matched up against opposing top lines. He should serve as the Wolverines’ No. 1 center this season following Cooper Marody’s graduation.
|C||19||San Jose (1st/2017)||37 GP, 8 G, 23 PTS (NCAA)|
Balcers is a finesse forward blessed with very good speed and a deadly wrist shot. He plays primarily on the left flank but can shift over to the right side if necessary. He is a very good passer and can act as a focal point on the power play because he can pass the puck through traffic with accuracy. Balcers is not a physical or intimidating presence, but he works very well in the cycle and can create instant chemistry with various types of linemates.
Consider his acquisition an attempt by Ottawa to replace sniping winger Jonathan Dahlen, their 2016 second-round pick who in 2017 was traded to Vancouver in the Alex Burrows deal.
|LW||21||San Jose (5th/2015)||67 GP, 23 G, 48 PTS (AHL)|