Erik Karlsson Yappin’ About the Benjamins

by Josh Brewster, Buffalo Sports Page NHL Expert

“When I go to market I’m going to get what I’m worth,” Erik Karlsson told the press last Thursday, “It’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going.”

No one can blame him for feeling that way. Whatever leverage a player has, he should use, because there is little loyalty, careers are short, and if the employer finds they have leverage over a player, they use it every time.

“That’s the business part of it,” Karlsson insisted, rightly. “That’s the way every player has been treated ever since this league has started, and I think the players have been a little bit on the other side of things when it comes to negotiations. I think it’s time to realize that when we go to the table, it’s business on both parts, not just (owners).”

TIMING STRANGE

But what of the timing?

Karlsson’s Senators have slumped of late. His Senators are 1-7-1 in their last nine games as of Monday, December 4.

Karlsson signed a seven-year, $45.5M deal ($6.5M per annum) which began in the Fall of 2012, just months after he captured his first of two Norris Trophies. The deal expires after the 2018-19 campaign. He knows that he’s slightly underpaid, even considering his currently huge paycheck.

He and LA Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (who won the Norris in 2015-16) share the same agent, Newport Sports. Doughty, not coincidentally, made a lot of headlines espousing similar sentiments over the summer, including entertaining a suggestion from The Hockey News that he’d be a great fit for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.

If Karlsson feels some signer’s remorse, he’s not letting on. Goodness knows that working people who buy tickets don’t want to hear that you’re bummed out “only” earning $6.5M and ranking “only” 44th on the NHL salary list (according to CapFriendly.com).

What’s more, he had better hope that his offseason surgery heals completely, because despite a valiant effort playing injured during the Senators’ run to Game 7 of the East Final, he has not returned with the same jump in his step. In fairness, the surgery was no minor matter. It included the insertion of an artificial tendon into his left foot. He’s got one goal and 16 assists in the 18 games since his recovery, and still logs 25:08 TOI.

“It doesn’t feel as good as it did before and it’s never going to, probably,” Karlsson said. “It’s going to be a while, but it is what it is. I have to find a way to make it feel as good as possible as often as possible and probably get rid of some of the bad days that are going to happen.”

How, then, does chirping about the Benjamins now have any impact on his value? It’s hard to fathom that GM Pierre Dorion and owner Eugene Melnyk will jump out of their chairs to get a deal done right now. So what’s the use, and how this goes over in the locker room is a legitimate question.

The NHL’s salary cap is currently set at $75M per club.

This season, Pat Kane and Jon Toews are tops with a $10.5M cap hit ($13.8M salary). Anze Kopitar is next with $10M ($14M salary). As of next season, Connor McDavid will earn a cap hit of $12.5M. Fine company, and if I’m Karlsson, I’m doing the math, too.

What will the cap be by 2019? Maybe $80M? Bear in mind that according the CBA, no player can earn more than 20% of his team’s cap. Those numbers put him in the mid-to-high teens depending on where the cap ultimately lands.

WHAT DO THE SENATORS DO?

First Option: Trade Karlsson

This will go over like the proverbial Led Zeppelin, and this is not something that GM Pierre Dorion wants to see. But Karlsson should remember that if the club perceives that he’s headed downhill he could indeed be gone in return for a Kings’ ransom. After the surgery he endured over the summer to go along with an earlier injury after Matt Cooke sliced his Achilles Tendon, it’s not inconceivable. Just ask Wayne Gretzky or Bobby Orr.

Second Option: Play out the deal

Taking a chance on Karlsson hitting the free agent market would be a bad idea for the Sens. He’ll be snapped up by someone almost immediately (name any club), and the Sens would be hard-pressed to match.

Third Option: Extend

This is the option that makes the most sense. But when does it happen?

Again, hard to believe that Dorion will hop in the car and run to the bank with Melnyk, pronto, frightened of Karlsson’s recent comments. Even Karlsson doesn’t expect that. But there are issues in Ottawa, not the least of which is the status of a new arena.

Most likely, extension talks will begin next summer at which time the team will likely have a better picture of the status of its new building concept.

Last August, NHL brass met with Ottawa’s Mayor Jim Watson to discuss the club’s interest in a downtown at LeBreton Flats locale. Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Bill Daly were there with Melnyk, whose Melnyk’s RendezVous LeBreton Group won the right to develop the land and has been in negotiations with Canada’s National Capital Commission after that agency chose the group’s bid in April 2016.

Watson called the deal “complicated” but said little, and offered that he wanted to “get it right.”

The Senators reduced seating capacity at the Canadian Tire Center by 1,500 this season, which is a red flag, but no one, especially Bettman, wants to see this club move. With a thorny situation in Calgary developing regarding the Flames’ attempt at a new building, the last thing the league needs is for two Canadian franchises to be in jeopardy.

There is some debate about how much public money should be involved in the LeBreton Flats development, but it seems that the mayor should be able to coax a deal on that front.

BUDDIES

Doughty’s eight-year, $56M ($7M per annum) deal with the Kings expires at the same time as Karlsson’s.

“Right now, I guess we’d be gauging off what P.K. (Subban) makes. I think both of us deserve quite a bit more than that,” Doughty said recently. Subban pulls down $9M per season

A slam on a fellow Norris winner by Doughty. Rough stuff.

As a wake-up call, this one is curious at best. It makes for great headlines, but Karlsson will have to accept some delayed gratification regarding a new deal.

The only salve for Karlsson’s current unease is his $6.5M paycheck.

Josh Brewster

Josh Brewster has served as postgame radio host for the Anaheim Ducks since 2006. He appears regularly on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio and as a correspondent on NHL Network television.



He was the first to produce hockey feature programming for the web with "Hockeytalk Audio Features," and the first to make the leap directly from web broadcasts to the NHL.



Brewster has also written for NHL.com, The Hockey News, The Fourth Period and Hockey Digest. His career in hockey media is profiled in the book, "Living the Hockey Dream" by Brian Kennedy.



He provided color commentary for Team USA at the World University Games for Fox College Sports and has narrated programs on Animal Planet and USA Network.



A native Buffalonian and a graduate of UB, Brewster directed and produced his comedy, "O.J.F.K." at the New Phoenix Theatre in 1999 and has a history as an actor on Buffalo stages.



His radio archive is available at hockeytalkradio.com

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