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Kingerski: Penguins WIN Karlsson Trade, But Can’t Stop Here



Pittsburgh Penguins trade, Erik Karlsson, NHL trade rumors. Kris Letang shakes hands with Karlsson at ASG

The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Erik Karlsson trade, at least compared to the San Jose Sharks.

And yes, it appears the Sharks blinked. Their return for Erik Karlsson was a first-round pick and $9.5 million worth of two forwards no longer desired by their respective teams.

San Jose received the Penguins 2024 first-rounder, forwards Mikael Granlund and Mike Hoffman, as well as defenseman Jan Rutta.

Read: TRADE! Penguins Acquire Erik Karlsson; Petry to MTL, Granlund to Sharks.

In one swoop, Dubas erased nearly all traces of the Ron Hextall era and added a great player as an exclamation point.

That’s not a bad day’s work.

While Jeff Petry is a good NHL defenseman, he was underwhelming in his only season with the Penguins. So, too, was Jan Rutta.

The Penguins will miss only their first-round pick.

From San Jose’s side, they got scandalously little. Granlund scored five points in 21 games for the Penguins (though he totaled 41 points last season, counting the 36 he scored with Nashville). Rutta was not impactful after signing a three-year deal with the Penguins. And Hoffman, 33, had 34 points (14-20-24) in 67 games.

Hoffman was Montreal’s preferred salary dump as their rebuild continues and prospects challenge for NHL ice.

San Jose gave up the defending Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, who scored 101 points last season.

In fairness, Karlsson won’t have the same dominant lineup position with the Penguins as he did with the Sharks because the Penguins still have Kris Letang, himself a No. 1 defenseman.

How coach Mike Sullivan and assistant Todd Reirden divide the ice time between Letang and Karlsson will be interesting and a potential point of conflict, as it was in San Jose when the Sharks had Brent Burns and Karlsson on the same team.

Analysis of that situation showed both suffered decreased performance.

Read: Penguins Calling Bluff, San Jose Will Buckle on Karlsson Trade.

However, while Penguins president of hockey operations and GM Kyle Dubas resoundingly won the trade, he also took a huge risk by acquiring Karlsson, who has battled significant injuries for most of the last five years since signing with San Jose.

Perhaps Dubas should not be done this offseason.

Until staying healthy last season, Karlsson scored had not scored more than 45 points in his previous four seasons (including the 56-game COVID season). Yet, the Penguins are on the hook for $10 million of Karlsson’s cap hit for the next four seasons. That’s a pretty big cap hit that exceeds Sidney Crosby’s $8.7 million AAV.

Further, the Penguins’ blue line depth is Chad Ruhwedel, Mark Friedman, Ty Smith, and newly signed Will Butcher, who, like Friedman, spent most of last season in the AHL.

The Penguins’ safety nets are gone. Ruhwedel projects into the daily lineup again. If Karlsson or Letang succumb to injury, Ruhwedel becomes a top-four defenseman, and Friedman would be the right side of the third pairing.

That was a shortcoming that Hextall addressed by pursuing Petry and signing Rutta.

Dubas unloaded a lot of salary and made the Penguins much better, at least on paper. However, he figuratively put all of the Penguins’ eggs in one basket with Karlsson.

So, Dubas was able to avoid a Granlund buyout and move him along without including a high draft pick. Move Petry and Rutta without eating a plateful of salary. The Penguins ate only $1.562 million of Petry’s salary.

There is no question the Penguins won the deal, and Dubas showed well in his first big Penguins trade. The deal is reminiscent of former GM Jim Rutherford’s deal for Phil Kessel, which also dominated headlines for weeks, and the Penguins held firm while competing suitors dropped out.

That deal worked out pretty well, but it didn’t deplete the Penguins.

Of course, Dubas has another two months to fill in the hole left. It’s hard to find fault with the deal, even though I fully expected to do so. The Penguins and Dubas won resoundingly, but Dubas should add another NHL right-side defenseman or run the risk of a blueline collapse.

If he does half as well on his next trade as he did this one, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be just fine, with or without Karlsson.