Erik Karlsson Trade Would Solidify Penguins as Stanley Cup Contender Amid NHL Rumors

Erik BeastonJuly 31, 2023

WINNIPEG, CANADA - APRIL 10: Erik Karlsson #65 of the San Jose Sharks looks on prior to puck drop against the Winnipeg Jets at the Canada Life Centre on April 10, 2023 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

The biggest question of this NHL offseason has been where Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson will continue his career after requesting a trade from the San Jose Sharks amid his desire to play for a Stanley Cup contender.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes are among the teams that have been linked to the star defenseman but both have made a flurry of moves to improve their team, taking up cap space and making it more difficult to secure his services in a trade.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, however, have remained mostly quiet and as Rob Rossi of The Athletic reported, its patience may make them the favorite to land a player that will instantly enhance its chances to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 2017.

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A potential Erik Karlsson trade has been one of the hottest topics of the offseason. <a href="https://twitter.com/Rupper17?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Rupper17</a> thinks Karlsson should end up with the Pittsburgh Penguins. <a href="https://twitter.com/ErikaWachter?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ErikaWachter</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LetsGoPens?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LetsGoPens</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SJSharks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SJSharks</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NHLTonight?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NHLTonight</a> <a href="https://t.co/TNkQ111H8P">pic.twitter.com/TNkQ111H8P</a>

The team has arbitration with Drew O'Connor and if general manager Kyle Dubas opts to exercise a buyout, and decides the Penguins would seemingly have the cap space necessary to acquire Karlsson.

That is, depending on the Sharks and how much of the player's contract they are willing to eat.

General manager Mike Grier has been adamant about the team's unwillingness to eat a ton of dead money. He has also made it clear that they are not going to give him away just because Karlsson wants out.

"Erik's a leader on our team. He is one of our best players. It's not a situation where I'm just going give him away because we both agree that maybe (our timelines) don't match up," he said via The Mercury News.

"He's a Sharks player. I'm happy to have him on the roster and we'll see if we can work something out that works not only just for Erik and what he's trying to do but also for the organization."

It is with good reason that Grier wants to retain Karlsson until the right deal comes along.

He tallied career bests in goals (25), assists (76), points (101) and shooting percentage (12) this past season, becoming a scoring asset for the Sharks. Defensively, he accumulated the most takeaways of his career (81) and his most hits since the 2018-19 season.

He was at his best this past season, but wants to contribute to a team ready to win a championship. The Sharks, at least at this point in their development, are not that. The Penguins, though, can be.

Pittsburgh's defense was middle-of-the-pack at best, allowing 263 goals on 32.77 shots per game played. It was an Achilles heel for a team that fell short of the second wild card by a single point.

The Pens still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. They have a quality left winger in Jake Guentzel, who totaled 73 points a season ago. It is not a team that has forgotten how to win. They also have not forgotten how to score, averaging 3.2 goals per game a season ago.

Adding Karlsson to that roster instantly improves the defense and adds a scoring threat to go along with it.

At least on paper, the Penguins would be a markedly improved team that can compete against Eastern Conference champions the Florida Panthers, the Maple Leafs, Hurricanes and a Boston Bruins team that was dominant last season but faces considerable uncertainty following the retirement of captain Patrice Bergeron.

Assuming the cap situation makes sense and the return haul meets the Sharks' expectations, the Penguins would be foolish not to continue their pursuit of the league's best defender and, with a new general manager at the helm, reassure fans of the team's commitment to winning.