The stalemate over the much-hyped and now much-awaited Erik Karlsson trade is now dragging into its third week. With the passing days, the Pittsburgh Penguins trade effort seems less like an impasse and more like a bluff by the San Jose Sharks that Penguins president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas and other general managers are ready to call.
If San Jose GM Mike Grier isn’t bluffing as he attempts to drive up the price for Karlsson, he will buckle just the same because the Sharks do not have a strong position.
Grier is trying to rebuild his club after the big bet on Karlsson and Brent Burns by former GM Doug Wilson went bust, and he is using his Karlsson chip. Unfortunately for the teal and white, there was not an overaggressive GM willing to splurge to get it done.
One can hope. One can sell the positives. But in this case, a Karlsson acquisition carries significant risk, from his injury history to upsetting team chemistry to age and decreased production.
The Penguins don’t need Karlsson. Nor do the Carolina Hurricanes.
Our colleague, Sheng Peng of San Jose Hockey Now, had an under-the-radar report from the other side on July 1 contradicting what PHN was told. On that day, we reported a deal was close. The Athletic affirmed the report on Thursday. Yet, several hours after our report on July 1, Peng reported from San Jose sources that “it isn’t close.”
In that contradiction can be seen some truth of the situation. The Penguins thought they were close. San Jose did not.
Yet, Grier remains the most likely to buckle. Certainly, Grier could follow Arizona Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong’s trade attempts with Jakob Chychrun and hold steady for a couple of years, demanding a high price.
But Armstrong eventually settled for well less than the three to four premier assets he demanded. The oft-quoted asking price was at least two No. 1 picks and a prospect or NHL player. After a protracted saga that extended so long that the mere mention caused eyes to roll, Armstrong caved and received only a conditional first-rounder, a conditional second, and a second-round pick from Ottawa.
Chychrun makes only $4.5 million, meaning far more teams could afford his services than Karlsson, who makes $11.5 million. San Jose is reportedly willing to eat only about $3 million per season for the remaining four seasons of Karlsson’s contract, greatly narrowing the field of potential trades.
We don’t know San Jose’s asking price. Nothing has been leaked, rumored, or later come to light. However, since no one has yet paid the price, we can surmise it’s too high.
And those are the first two reasons Grier will buckle, precedent and market price.
The third is that it’s best to buy low and sell high. The Sharks bought high four years ago, and it is unlikely they will get to sell this high again.
Sell now or risk getting less if Karlsson struggles with injury or ineffectiveness again.
However, the biggest reason San Jose will acquiesce to market offers is that, like the Penguins and other suitors, the San Jose Sharks don’t need Karlsson, either. He’s superfluous to their rebuild, incredibly expensive, and even with his career year, San Jose was a California coastline away from making the playoffs.
None of the teams chasing Karlsson, from Carolina, the Seattle Kraken, or the Penguins, have any risk by not acquiring the defenseman. The Penguins appear markedly improved, so Karlsson falls into the “want” category, not the “need’ category. The same goes for the other teams.
Dubas and the other GMs are calling San Jose’s bluff. The question isn’t if San Jose buckles but when. Will Grier drag this on for another year, or will he accept the reality far sooner than Arizona did with Chychrun?
None of Seattle (Ron Francis), Carolina (Don Wadell), or the Penguins have GMs known to cave.
The pressure is entirely on San Jose. And now we wait…