The Third Team: Potential Return In Erik Karlsson Trade Scenario

Erik Karlsson is one of (if not the) league’s best defenseman, and it looks like he will be traded by the Ottawa Senators, sooner than later. Given how delapidated the Senators organization currently is right now, this news doesn’t come as a surprise. However, when a player of Karlsson’s caliber is on the cusp of getting traded, it is sure to be one of the summer’s top stories. A few days ago, it looked like Karlsson was imminently going to be dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning and while a deal hasn’t yet been completed, Florida still seems like the most likely destination for the star Swede.

Looking at Tampa’s salary cap situation, something has to give. They can’t afford Karlsson right now, and definitely couldn’t afford to give him a contract extension after this season. The Sens may be rebuilding but their owner is, frugal to say the least, so they probably won’t want to take back salary. Enter a third team in the mix to take on some of Tampa, or even Ottawa’s big contracts to make an Erik Karlsson trade possible, like the New Jersey Devils for instance.

With just over $23 million in cap space for the coming season and very little committed to players long-term, the Devils are a prime candidate (and reportedly rumored) to be involved as a third team in this potential deal. While it’s fun to imagine landing a big name prospect in exchange for taking on a big contract, this scenario probably isn’t too realistic. Let’s take a look at what the Devils may actually get if they were to be the third party in this trade. I’ll split this into two categories: cap dumps and sweeteners.

Cap Dumps

Ryan Callahan

The former Rangers captain carries a hefty $5.8M cap hit for the next two seasons, and appears to have very little left in the tank. Even with the Devils’ lack of strong right wings, Callahan would one of the worst options available, hence why he’s considered a cap dump. Let’s take a look at his ICE Ratings (data via @yolo_pinyato, chart via Sean Tierney) to gain a better understanding of what Callahan may bring to the table.

His ratings are really that of an average grinder, with nothing particularly special standing out from the chart above (and certainly not worth $5.8M). But if that cap hit is only going to be on the books for another two seasons, which lines up well with the expiring Nico and Hall contracts, then it’s not much of a problem for the Devils. Callahan is just kind of “there”, doing nothing that stands out too well, but maybe his veteran presence could be a nice bonus for this young Devils team?

The big problem is Callahan’s Modified No-Trade Clause, which means the Devils would have to be one of the 16 teams he has listed as a potential destination. Maybe his Rangers roots kick in, and he doesn’t even entertain the thought of playing for the Devils, in which case this is all moot. Time will tell.

Bobby Ryan

This is a big one that I’m sure all of us would like to see Shero avoid unless the other piece(s) coming to the Devils makes absorbing Ryan’s $7.25M cap hit (even if some of that is retained) over four more seasons incredibly worthwhile for the Devils. Unlike Callahan’s contract, Ryan’s even larger cap hit drags on further down the line when the Devils may have cap issues of their own as certain players will be due for raises.

The chart above compares Bobby Ryan and Stefan Noesen (data by Corey Sznajder, chart by CJ Turtoro) and how effective they were across shot contributions, along with possession zone entries and exits. Ryan is better than Noesen across most aspects, other than shots/60. However, one of them carries a cap hit of $7.25M, while the other will most likely make between $1-2.5M on his next contract.

The other problem is the Senators are rebuilding, and don’t have many good veteran assets they could send to the Devils in this exchange. In addition, Ottawa probably isn’t willing to give up their good younger players, so the sweetener would have to come from Tampa. Also, similar to Callahan, Ryan has a modified No-Trade clause with a list of 10 teams…would the Devils be on that list?

Tyler Johnson

This is an odd one, because Johnson is actually a solid player and could be seen less of a cap dump but more of a valuable asset. However, if the Lightning are serious about extending Erik Karlsson and want to keep the majority of their core in tact, then Johnson’s $5M cap hit over the next six seasons suddenly becomes a little more expendable. For the Devils, it would be viable to pay for Johnson’s entire contract without sacrificing too much in terms of other opportunities or future raises. Let’s look at a similar graph comparing Johnson to (what would be) his competition for the 2nd line center spot, Pavel Zacha.

Over the sample size tracked between the duo, they perform fairly similarly (both pretty well, too) across contributing to shots and possession entries, although Johnson doesn’t look too good at possession exits (while Zacha looks great). In my opinion, if Johnson were to waive his full No-Trade Clause and comes to the Devils in an Erik Karlsson-related cap maneuver, then I’d start Zacha as the second line center with Johnson on the “third” line and Zajac on the fourth.

That’s not Maple Leafs good, but would be some damn solid center depth. If Zacha doesn’t take the step forward we hope he does this season, then Johnson can simply move up and provide a steady presence. On top of being a solid point-producer, Johnson is also a right handed shot, which the Devils could really use in their top-nine. Overall, I’d say Johnson is more of a value addition in this deal but given the context for Tampa, he could be considered a cap dump and one the Devils should certainly be interested in acquiring.

Sweeteners

Slater Koekkoek

The first player that could really be a fantastic throw-in for the Lightning to make this type of deal work, is Slater Koekkoek. A left-handed defenseman, solid pedigree, but stuck behind an enormous amount of depth. Between three incredible left-handed defensemen in Hedman, McDonagh and Sergachev, it’s hard to imagine that Koekkoek ever cracks that Lightning lineup in a proper role. If he were added to the Devils, it’d be a different story. He would definitely be one of the Devils’ top-three left-handed defenseman, and while he may not be the top-pairing guy the Devils really need, Koekkoek may thrive with more responsibility, and at least turn into a solid top-four option.

We can see that Koekkoek was one of Tampa’s most under-utilized defenseman this past season, with by far the least amount of ice time and third-highest points/60 at even strength (only behind Norris winner Victor Hedman and rookie phenom Sergachev). Koekkoek is a mobile defenseman with good hockey IQ and at 6’2, 193lbs, a pretty big guy. It may be a reach but given Tampa’s insane depth on the backend, their hands may be tied. By dealing Koekkoek to get value for him now while acquiring Erik Karlsson on top of dumping a Ryan Callahan-type contract, could be a very nice deal for Tampa, and a great one for New Jersey.

Taylor Raddysh

I don’t really see a scenario where the Lightning give up Raddysh in this deal, but maybe the allure of adding Karlsson and getting rid of a hefty contract is too tempting? I don’t want to get too ahead of myself. I don’t think Raddysh is some can’t-miss stud that will never be traded, but he’s a smart power forward-type player that can shoot very well. Perhaps the biggest knock on him is that he’s just an average skater. While that may not fit the Devils’ system there can be exceptions, especially when he fills such an organizational need as right wing depth.

Raddysh may be NHL-ready right now, and if the Devils did somehow manage to pull this off, he would at the very least battle for a third line right wing role alongside Joey Anderson, Mikey McLeod and Blake Speers. After returning to juniors again this past season, Raddysh led a very depleted Otters team in scoring until being traded after the World Juniors to the powerhouse Greyhounds. Here’s a snapshot of Raddysh’s production in the OHL in 2016-2017, which Ziggy does a great job of visualizing.

For reference as to how much of the offensive load Raddysh was carrying on the Otters, he finished fourth in their scoring race (44 points in 30 games) despite leaving halfway through the year and rest of the team playing more than double the amount of games Raddysh played. On the Greyhounds, he posted 39 points in 28 games. He stepped up well in the playoffs as the Greyhounds’ second-leading scorer with 34 points in 24 games, only behind another Lightning prospect Boris Katchouk.

Dominik Masin

A left-handed defenseman prospect that would also be buried behind Tampa’s insane depth. The 2014 second-round pick has played the last two seasons with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, and showed good progression from his first and second seasons. Masin earned more responsibility as the year progressed, and increased his production from six points in 69 games his first AHL season to 24 in 72 games, which ranked second among Crunch defensemen.

As a 22-year old blue liner, Masin still has room to grow his game and while he may not be NHL-ready this upcoming season, it’s possible Masin could still potentially steal a spot, and at the very least be a good call-up option. The two aforementioned players above may be better overall, but Masin would be a far more realistic addition for the Devils, and could still prove to be a valuable top-four defenseman. He would have a better opportunity to develop into that kind of player on the Devils compared to the Lightning.

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