The Philadelphia Flyers are most likely not going to trade for Erik Karlsson. Let’s get that out of the way from the start. It’s up in the air if he will be moved at all, but if he is moved it is likely to be to a team like Tampa Bay who is fully in win-now mode.
However, the Flyers have been mentioned by some as a team that could be a dark horse candidate for Karlsson due to their situation and prospects. The Flyers were even mentioned as “teams believed to have interest” in Karlsson by The Fourth Period. The Flyers are in Ottawa with 48 hours until the trade deadline, so let’s have some fun.
Ron Hextall has preached patience time and time again throughout his tenure as general manager, and he seems headstrong on keeping to his plan. But that plan may have changed.
We saw Hextall set the Flyers up for success with the Oskar Lindblom call-up and the Petr Mrazek trade, saying that he owed it to his players to get a proven goalie, and while he is unlikely to make another move before the deadline, you can bet that he’s always listening to offers. Hextall has proven to be an opportunist at the deadline and over the course of the season.
It was pretty shocking when reports were coming out that the Senators were shopping Erik Karlsson. A player of his caliber doesn’t get moved very often, and we saw how that can change the course of a franchise with the Nashville Predators reaching the Stanley Cup Finals last year while the Montreal Canadiens are reeling after the P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade. Yes, there were other factors at play, but losing a franchise player, even when trading them for another high-caliber player, will alter the course of the team.
The Senators are unraveling from the core, and some reports suggest that trading Karlsson is inevitable. When you hear that, and your team is in striking distance of the top spot in the division, you can’t help but wonder what it might take.
The reported asking price for Karlsson has been steep, and for good reason. Something based around a young roster player, multiple prospects and picks, and potentially even having to take on the large contract of Bobby Ryan. Surely the Flyers won’t trade for him, and they likely won’t, but the work that Hextall has done over the past few years to stockpile the prospects and picks will pay off eventually. It’s just a matter of when.
The Flyers are going to have to go all-in at some point. Apparently their initial target year was next season to see what this team is really made of, but fantastic seasons by the veteran core and breakout seasons from some of the young players have the Flyers ahead of schedule. Those picks and prospects are going to be cashed in at some point to make a big splash, so why not now?
Over the majority of the rest of the article I’m going to disregard the patient approach that Hextall has implemented and speak in a purely hypothetical sense about how a trade for Karlsson would benefit the Flyers.
The Flyers are within a few points of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with less than a quarter of the season remaining. They have a handful of players having career years as well as a few young stars breaking onto the scene. They have some flaws, as all teams do, and are more than just one piece away from the Cup. However, a piece like Erik Karlsson could catapult them into the conversation with Tampa Bay as the favorites in the Eastern Conference.
If the Senators want to set up their franchise for the future, who better to trade with than the team with the deepest prospect pool. While the roster player may be of lesser quality, as I wouldn’t expect Hextall to trade any of their stars or rookies, they can offer a higher quality and quantity of prospects.
The trade would center around at least one of the Flyers’ first round picks in the 2018 draft, and at least two top prospects, including both a forward and a defenseman.
On the defensive front, after Hextall takes Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov off the table, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, Sam Morin, and Robert Hagg would likely be the targets of the Senators, in that order. You would likely need to part with Sanheim in the deal to get Karlsson. Sanheim has proven that he can play at the NHL level, and while he may need a little bit more seasoning for a playoff team, he could develop with the Senators. He would be able to play top-four NHL minutes and grow in Ottawa.
I would ideally want to avoid giving up Sanheim, as the idea of him thriving with another team sickens me, but that could easily be cured by a Stanley Cup and parade down Broad Street. Karlsson isn’t under contract long-term, and would take a big cut out of the cap in a few years, but the Flyers would have him for the next two playoffs. He is still in the prime of his career and will provide a huge boost to whoever lands him.
Myers has the potential to be a righthanded top-four defenseman, much like Karlsson, but he hasn’t shown that in the NHL yet. That could either intrigue the Senators, as he could essentially replace Karlsson in a few years, or dissuade them and try to undervalue Myers due to his lack of experience and injury struggles this season.
Morin and Hagg are a different story. Hagg is a bottom-four defenseman at best, and would definitely not be the defenseman that a trade is built around whatsoever. He could be added with Myers or packaged with Morin to try to sweeten the deal and keep Sanheim here. I think Ottawa would rather have the highly skilled defenseman with a better chance of becoming a top-pair defenseman in Sanheim than two middle-pair talents.
Ottawa would likely hone in on either Sanheim, or Myers and one of the other two young defensemen as that portion of the deal.
On the forward side of things, I would assume Hextall makes Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny and even Oskar Lindblom untouchable, but top prospects like Morgan Frost and German Rubtsov could interest them. I would try to keep Frost at nearly all costs, and I feel like the Senators might want a more NHL-ready player in Rubtsov anyway. I don’t think it would cost both Sanheim and Frost, so perhaps they could get away with trading one of the “A” prospects (Sanheim or Frost), one of the “B” prospects (Myers, who is underrated, or Rubtsov), with a depth prospect or pick.
Frost looks like he is projecting to be a great top-six forward in the NHL. He is on pace for over 100 points in the OHL, and while he might still need another year there before turning pro, he could burst onto the scene with the Flyers and make an immediate impact. Rubtsov is still looking like a good forward with NHL talent, but the offense hasn’t been there. However, he has a fantastic two-way game and is nearly NHL ready right now. He might not be putting up the points, but the projections about him being a middle-six center with upside are still there.
I would not deal any young roster player. Many hypothetical trades have centered around Gostisbehere or Patrick, but I don’t see the worth in that. Yes, Karlsson is a franchise player, but Gostisbehere is arguably just as good as him, on a great contract, and younger. Patrick is the heir apparent to Claude Giroux. Enough said. That leaves the roster player options few and far between. Jordan Weal or Scott Laughton would be the two I could see moved in this hypothetical. They are both relatively young and are solid middle-six forwards with potential for more. They won’t be the centerpiece of the deal, or even the secondary piece, but they will hold over Ottawa for now. Maybe even throw them both in and bite the bullet on a veteran-heavy fourth line, or take back a depth forward.
Speaking of taking back a depth forward, Bobby Ryan has come up as a player that Ottawa is trying to force into a Karlsson trade. Ryan has regressed immensely over the past few seasons and carries a massive cap hit. He is under contract through 2022 with an average annual value of $7.25 million. For reference, Giroux has a cap hit of $8.275 million, Voracek has $8.25 million, and Couturier has $4.33 million (what a steal).
The only way that the Flyers would consider taking Ryan in a deal is if the Senators take a large contract back from the Flyers. I would say Andrew MacDonald, who is under contract for two more years after this one for $5 million, but I couldn’t see them trading him in-season unless they got back a similar veteran defenseman. That leaves Valtteri Filppula, who is a pending free agent, Jori Lehtera, who is under contract until the end of next season for $4.7 million a year, or Dale Weise, who is under contract until 2020 for $2.35 million. Ottawa could also of course retain some salary in the deal, but that seems unlikely.
The other factor in any Karlsson trade is his contract. He is under contract through next season and will be set for a huge pay day after that. Karlsson will be 30 in 2020 when he is set to hit free agency, and he will undoubtedly see a hefty raise from his current $6.5 million AAV.
P.K. Subban ($9 million), Brent Burns ($8 million), and Victor Hedman ($7.875 million) are the highest-paid defensemen in the league. Karlsson will get a similar deal, if not more.Just last summer we saw Kevin Shattenkirk, who Karlsson is better than, sign a four-year contract worth $6.65 million per season while reportedly leaving millions on the table to play in New York.
The Flyers will have cap space in 2020-21, with about $25 million committed to four players, but they will also have players set for some pay days of their own. Wayne Simmonds will be a free agent if the Flyers want to re-sign him, but more importantly Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny will be restricted free agents. Then it’ll be Patrick and Lindblom in 2021, and the next call-ups soon after that. Not to mention the free agents the Flyers will sign in the next two years. Hextall has done a great job of cleaning up the Flyers’ cap situation and Karlsson would complicate things again. It wouldn’t be a complete mess, but some budget work would need to be done.
First round picks are something that Hextall doesn’t seem like he’d be willing to part with, but he would do anything to win a Stanley Cup. If a first round pick carries almost as much weight as the difference between Sanheim and a lesser prospect, or Frost and Rubtsov, than by all means base the trade around it.
Hextall has built up such a deep stable of prospects that are going to be ready in the next three years. This year’s draft is a deep one, but I would rather have a better NHL-ready prospect in Sanheim than a lesser prospect and a first round pick.
Ottawa has said to be asking for as many as six or seven pieces in a trade for Karlsson. Let’s take a look at the main package that the Flyers could put together given all of the above information.
The roster player is rather interchangeable here, with the addition of another young depth player being very plausible. The names aren’t set in stone, obviously, but it’s going to take at least two top prospects, at least one first-round pick, and some NHL-ready talents.
Now, back to reality.
The Flyers are in a great position to succeed in this season and beyond. They are a playoff team with aspirations for more. Trading for Karlsson could put them over the top, but it could also salvage too much of the future if Hextall isn’t careful. I don’t think he’ll make the big splash, but I could see why some want him to and why he himself might even be thinking about it.
Trading for Karlsson would greatly increase the Flyers’ odds of winning the Stanley Cup in the next two seasons, but potentially hurt their chances in the following few seasons depending on who they give up and what his next contract looks like.
Karlsson is the name right now, but we’ve seen players like this available at past deadlines and offseasons, and we’ll continue to see players like this at future deadlines and in future offseasons. This situation only brings to the surface the “problem” that Hextall faces of when to cash in his assets.
The Flyers have Provorov, Gostisbehere, Hagg, Sanheim, Morin, Myers, and even Friedman, with the relatively young Radko Gudas still under contract for a few more seasons. All of those guys can’t play on the same blue line. The same goes for the forwards. Konecny, Patrick, and Lindblom are just the beginning with Frost, Rubtsov, Allison, Aube-Kubel, Laczynski, Marody, Laberge, Ratcliffe, Strome, Sushko, and so many others in the pipeline. All of those guys obviously aren’t going to pan out, and probably only a few of them will make it, but they have value now and in the near-future that Hextall is going to have to consider capitalizing on.
Karlsson aside, Ron Hextall’s plan to clear up cap space while stockpiling picks and prospects has been fantastic so far. But now is when the real fun begins. Those prospects are starting to make an impact at the NHL level and the Flyers are in a position where they can trade future assets for win-now options. This deadline might not be the right time, but Hextall has done a great job restocking the farm and will cash in when the time is right.
(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
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