Erik Karlsson was still an Ottawa Senator after the NHL trade deadline on Monday, but some believe a deal came close, though general manager Pierre Dorion qualified the offers as ridiculous. In the last hour of the deadline, it was reported that the Vegas Golden Knights almost made a huge splash as they went for the offensively-gifted defenseman.
NHL insider Bob McKenzie had mentioned prior to the deadline that the Sens would try to rid themselves of Bobby Ryan's contract and it became a huge hurdle in negotiations. We can understand, since it's not a small deal for the often injured forward. Ryan will cost $7.25 million on the cap through 2022. However, Vegas had plenty of financial flexibility heading into this year's deadline, which is why they were able to absorb some of Derrick Brassard's salary in his trade to the Penguins, as well as take on the contract of Tomas Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings.
The focus has been almost solely on the Golden Knights, that it seems another team was able to secretly establish a plan to land Karlsson at the deadline too. In his latest 31 Thoughts column, NHL insider Elliotte Friedman hints that the Toronto Maple Leafs were planning something big in a quest for the star defender.
"A couple of sources indicated Toronto was looking to add another first-round pick, and it would have been interesting to see what the Maple Leafs were going to do with that."
Then again on Friday morning, he explained where he heard the speculation during a segment on Sportsnet radio The Fan 590.
"A couple of teams said that Toronto was fishing for a first-rounder, and [...] I do wonder if they were a quiet pursuer," Friedman explains. "I was led to believe that there were a lot of teams pursuing Karlsson that you wouldn't have guessed or wouldn't have thought of, and when you look at what Ottawa was trying to do, in terms of a hockey deal, Toronto could make it with them."
"Toronto is one of the teams who could make a Karlsson deal with the list of players, prospects that they have. Now I am not sure that Toronto could take Bobby Ryan's contract, but I think that when you look at the basic perimeters of what a Karlsson deal would look like, the Leafs are a team that could do it."
Some experts wonder if the two rival clubs would make good trade partners. Friedman recalled the time that the San Jose Sharks wanted goalie Martin Jones from the Los Angeles Kings, who didn't want to make a direct move with their Californian rival. So L.A. traded Jones to the Boston Bruins, who flipped him back to San Jose. Friedman explained that one Kings staff member had told him they would have rather dealt with the Sharks directly in the end, seeing that they could have weaken their prospect base in the trade.
"I think the biggest question is would Ottawa deal with them? I think that if Ottawa was to deal with Toronto, and that's all hypothetical, the price would have to be higher, I think you'd have to ask more if you were Ottawa, but would you strengthen Toronto, if you could strengthen yourself and weaken their prospect bases at the same time? I think it's an interesting question."
Karlsson, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season, can start talks on a contract extension only on July 1.