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Erik Karlsson to Senators: Is the Reunion Possible?

The last time the Ottawa Senators were in the playoffs, they were catapulted to within one goal of the Stanley Cup Final in large part by the otherworldly play of star defenseman Erik Karlsson. When he was traded to San Jose in September 2018, it left fans in Ottawa distraught, angry, and confused. It felt like the former captain left with some unfinished business in the nation’s capital. Immediately, Senators fans began dreaming of a future reunion with Karlsson.

Although he still owns a house in Ottawa and lives there during off-seasons, it just hasn’t sat right with Senators fans that he’s playing somewhere else. Now finding himself on a struggling Pittsburgh Penguins team, has the time finally come for Karlsson to make his way home?

Erik Karlsson Ottawa Senators rumors

In his latest written edition of 32 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman states:

As I watch Daniel Alfredsson on the Bench in Ottawa, I can’t help but wonder if the Senators consider a Karlsson reunion.

It’s important to note that Friedman is merely speculating here, and in no way does it seem like a deal is imminent. It’s also not clear if Pittsburgh or Ottawa are even interested in this at all. However, with Pittsburgh struggling to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race with an aging team, GM Kyle Dubas might want to ship off some of his veterans to get younger.

On the other hand, Ottawa GM Steve Staios has been eager to add some veteran help to the Senators blueline. Who better than a 33-year-old future hall-of-fame, Norris-Trophy-winning defenseman who played some of the best years of his career with the Senators to help fill the void? Karlsson has 41 points in 54 games this season for Pittsburgh, one year removed from his torrential 101-point season with the Sharks in 2022-23, the most productive season of his career.

A Karlsson Trade is a Difficult Deal to Make

If this deal goes forward, the logistics of the trade would be incredibly complex. Karlsson is in the fifth year of an eight-year contract which carries an average annual value of $11,500,000. The Senators, with their current roster construction, have only $24,049 in available cap space per CapFriendly. The Senators would need to ship out quite a lot of money to make this trade compliant with the salary cap.

Erik Karlsson Penguins trade talk
Erik Karlsson Penguins trade talk

If this is a move done in the summer, it may be more feasible for the Senators. Ottawa will have some contracts coming off the books. $5 million from Vladimir Tarasenko, $2.5 million from Dominik Kubalik, and $2 million from Erik Brannstrom will be freed up. It’s also not out of the question that these players could be moved before the deadline.

This extra $9.5 million in cap space plus a $4.2 million boost to the salary cap ceiling and whatever contract(s) the Senators sent to the Penguins in the deal would be more than enough to accommodate Karlsson’s contract.

It’s tough to assume the value that Karlsson would recover for the Penguins if he were dealt. The Penguins originally acquired him for a mishmash package including 1st and 2nd round picks as well as a few non-star roster players. His value has likely dropped slightly, unable to maintain his outrageous production from last season. He’s also a year older, which always means something once a player starts creeping into their mid-30s.

What Would a Return Look Like?

The Penguins are looking to get younger, and the Senators are an ideal trading partner for them in that respect. Dubas can look at Ottawa’s young core of forwards and see if there’s something he likes. Shane Pinto, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and Ridly Greig would be prime candidates to be the main piece of a return for Karlsson.

Josh Norris Ottawa Senators

Nothing is suggesting that a trade is imminent, but for Senators fans, it’s hard not to wonder about what could be. The reunion would be a storybook, full circle moment in Senators history. It would also bring the club one step closer to returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17. Undeniably, this would be a trade that shakes the hockey universe entirely if it happens. We’ll have to wait and see if Staios and Dubas can make something happen.

Next: Penguins Explored Trades, Prepared for a Huge Sell-Off

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