Pittsburgh Penguins Land Erik Karlsson in Massive Three-Team Trade

The Erik Karlsson offseason trade saga has finally concluded.

The offseason has been a bit too quiet on the trade front, as the last time there was news of a trade came on July 9th, 28 calendar days since the last trade happened. Back then it was Alex DeBrincat getting acquired by the Detroit Red Wings.

But now the biggest news of the offseason has been revealed as the three-time Norris Trophy winner was acquired by the Pittsburgh Penguins from the San Jose Sharks in the biggest blockbuster deal of the offseason. It is a three-team trade that includes the Montreal Canadiens.

Eric Karlsson

The Trade Deal

The Penguins are acquiring Karlsson, minor league forward Dillon Hamaliuk, and a 2026 third round pick from the Sharks, while snagging forward Rem Pitlick from the Canadiens.

The Sharks receive forward Mikael Granlund, defenseman Jan Rutta, and a top-ten protected 2024 first round pick from the Penguins, and forward Mike Hoffman from the Canadiens. They will retain 13% of Karlsson’s contract, so the Penguins will have the reigning Norris Trophy-winning defenseman at a staggering $10 million cap hit.

Lastly, the Canadiens are bringing back defenseman Jeff Petry, who was part of the Habs team that made it to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, goaltender Casey DeSmith, forward prospect Nathan Légaré, and a 2025 second round pick from the Penguins. Pittsburgh will retain 25% of Petry’s salary, so Montreal will have Petry at a $4.6875 million cap hit through 2025.

However, Sportsnet’s Eric Engels believes that Montreal is not Petry’s final destination, though they may not be likely to flip him immediately. Still, they’re likely to trade him to a contender before the season starts, likely retaining up to 50% of his already reduced cap hit, so he will cost just $2.34 million on his new team.

On Pittsburgh’s side, they get a net cap hit loss of $3.1 million, so they will be able to activate Jake Guentzel and his $6 million cap hit off the IR when he is ready to return by November without Kyle Dubas having to make any corresponding moves. He just had successful ankle surgery to repair an issue on his right ankle.

Penguins Snag a Norris Trophy-Winning Defenseman

Karlsson ended a five-year stint with the Sharks with a bang, becoming the first defenseman since Brian Leetch in 1991-92 to score 100 points in a season, totaling 101 on the 2022-23 campaign while playing all 82 games. He was once viewed as the best defenseman in the NHL when he was with the Ottawa Senators in the mid-2010s, with the Sharks acquiring him and later extending him on a massive eight-year, $92 million deal, the largest contract for a defenseman.

The decision, however, didn’t pan out the way the Sharks were hoping. He struggled with injuries most of his time in the Bay Area. To worsen things, the team fell out of the playoff picture entirely after reaching the Western Conference Final in Karlsson’s first year with the team.

He is still the best offensive blueliner in the league, driving the play from his own back end, and still has elite puck skills in transition. In the offensive zone, he is one of the best creators in the league, and is an elite power play quarterback.

The hope for the Penguins is that he gets renewed confidence heading into the second half of his eight-year contract, assuming that he doesn’t get snakebitten again by his injury history. Last season was the first time he played at least 70 games in a season since 2017-18, his final year with the Senators.

Cocnerns with Karlsson’s Defensive Game

While he is an offensive defenseman, the concern with him is his defensive game. For as much as he can create offensive chances, he can give up a bit on the other way. But some slightly reduced ice time should ease up the burden on him and lessen the negative impact on the team’s goals against total.

He can be paired next to either one of Ryan Graves or fellow Swedish countryman Marcus Pettersson. Both are left-shot defensemen with strong defensive games. Either one of them are nice options to provide a bit of defensive presence, and advanced metrics have Pettersson need the top of the league in individual even strength defensive impact.

Karlsson is not known for defense, nor is he going to help that out, thus putting the bar for his defensive game low enough as he can only go up, as he wants to make sure the offense excels. He is still a significant upgrade on the back end, and Kyle Dubas opened up cap space by trading away all of Granlund, Petry, DeSmith and Rutta. This is an outstanding win for Dubas and the Penguins, even with salary retention, and an early birthday present for Sidney Crosby, who turned 36 on August 7th.

Under-the-Radar Additions for the Penguins

To go with the haul for Pittsburgh comes Pitlick and Hamaliuk. Pitlick is far from a long-term addition, but is on the younger side of the Pens’ roster, given he’s 26. He will add some higher-upside depth scoring to a lineup that needs it, especially since Guentzel will start the season on the IR. He notched 15 goals and 22 assists and 37 points in 66 games in 2021-22, split between the Minnesota Wild and Canadiens.

He has struggled with getting his all-around game going in the NHL level, however, and is more of a finishing and playmaking specialist if anything. His play-driving instincts are not that good, leading to the Habs leaving him with their AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket, for a bit of last season, where he had 22 points in 18 games.

Hamaliuk had a bit of upside to where the Sharks thought he was warranted a second round selection in 2019. Unfortunately, injuries and inconsistency have wiped out his draft stock. He played just six games last season, all with the ECHL’s Wichita Thunder, though he did look good in limited action, with seven points. He’ll likely start in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to see if he can recapture that touch.

Mike Grier Gets Something in a Tough Position

Trading away Karlsson while retaining $1.5 million in cap space is a nice bit of work for general manager Mike Grier. The return, however, was not really the one that they were expecting. They’re likely getting a mid-first round pick and a trio of depth players that won’t get muc hvalue for a reubilding team.

They’re essentially taking on two bad contracts and a depth defender to get themselves out of a long-term financial pain. Despite his offensive skill, Karlsson does not factor into San Jose’s rebuilding plans.

However, it’s always better than next to nothing, as Karlsson has a no-movement clause on his contract, giving Geier next to no leverage. But now, the Sharks’ long-term cap outlook now looks like one for a true rebuilding team. That may be the most important part for them, as they finally get themselves out of a very steep contract.

The Trade Pieces in Return for the Sharks

Granlund’s game fell off a cliff with the Penguins, to the tune of just five points in 21 games. He is one year removed from a 64-point season, however, and while his possession metrics are not that great, he is still a good passer, and could elevate himself to a top-six role on a weak Sharks team. He has two years left at a $5 million cap hit, so they could flip him at the deadline if he has a strong season, likely with significant salary retention. However, they have used up two of their three retention slots on Karlsson and Brent Burns, the latter who was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes last summer. They have $7.745 million in dead cap with those slots filled plus the buyouts of Martin Jones and Rūdolfs Balcers.

The same logic applies to to Hoffman. The Canadiens were rumored to be waiving him and assigning him to the Laval Rocket, and there is no guarantee that Hoffman will escape that in San Jose, as the Sharks are looking to prioritize their young wingers, like William Eklund, Filip Zadina, and Fabian Zetterlund, which leaves Hoffman as the elephant in the room. He did have 14 goals and 34 points in 67 games for the Habs last year, but is among the worst play-driving forwards in the league and is a glorified power play specialist.

Rutta is under contract at a $2.75 million cap hit for two more years, and he’ll likely give the Sharks a fair amount of value. A two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Tampa Bay Lightning, he could get into a top-four role with the Sharks, who will now roll three pairings by committee as they lack a true no. 1 defenseman. He could net something for the Sharks in either one of the 2024 or 2025 seasons, but for the short-term future, he provides stability defensively for them.

Canadiens Get Some Pieces in Return

The Canadiens became an unexpected third team in thi sdeal, but they played a big role in getting the deal done. Petry is coming into his second stint with the team, but he might not remain there for long. He did show signs of decline last season, but he is still a solid top-four defenseman, and, for the time being, will provide the Habs with some insurance until some of their top prospects, including David Reinbacher, are ready, and one should think that he is a trade chip by then.

DeSmith might not be staying in Montreal for long either, though he’s been an okay backup netminder, with a .912 save percentage. But he was underwhelming last year, with a .905 save percentage, and he is a bizarre addition to a team that already has Sam Montembeault and Jake Allen as their goaltending tandem, though the Penguins already needed to trade him because they signed Alex Nedeljkovic in free agency. DeSmith is unlikely to surpass either one of Montembeault or Allen on the depth chart. If they don’t flip him to another team that is looking for a backup goalie, he could be waived and sent to the AHL’s Laval Rocket to start the season.

Légaré is strictly a depth addition who will suit up for Laval. He is the Penguins’ third round pick from 2019, and is still finding his footing in the minors. He had eight goals, 11 assists, and 19 points in 68 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

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