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Assessing the Ottawa Senators Erik Karlsson Trade Two Years Later

Is it possible the Senators won the Erik Karlsson trade?

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Just before training camp was about to begin in September 2018, the Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion traded one of the NHL’s top defensemen to the Western Conference’s San Jose Sharks. It’s what you would call a “blockbuster.” Erik Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner went west and a number of who-knows-what’s-coming (draft choices for example) players came east.

The Senators received forward Chris Tierney, defenseman Dylan DeMelo, and prospects Josh Norris and Rudolfs Balcers. As well, they received a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick and a conditional 2019 second-round pick when Karlsson re-signed with the Sharks.

Related: Could the Ottawa Senators Signing of Artyom Zub Be a Key to the Team’s Future

The Players Who Came to the Senators

At the time, Tierney had played long enough to have created a body of work with the Sharks, and he hasn’t disappointed when he came to the Senators. In fact, given the relative strength of the teams – specifically, given that the Senators have had a hard time scoring goals during the past two seasons of their rebuild, he’s probably played better in Ottawa than he did in San Jose. He’s a competent NHL player who’s signed to an affordable contract.

No one at the time knew much about DeMelo when he came to the Senators, but he turned out to be a “keeper” that – eventually –Dorion didn’t, in fact, keep but traded to the Winnipeg Jets at this seasons trade deadline for a third-round draft choice in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. I thought he was likely worth more, but I won’t quibble with that trade. In short, DeMelo was great in his time with the Senators.

But the real steals would have been almost impossible to guess at the time. Josh Norris has turned into a top-notch prospect and looks to be headed to the Senators soon. The 21-year-old center’s 2019-20 season with the Belleville Senators was strong and he scored 31 goals and 30 assists in 56 games. He even earned a three-game call up to the big team.

Rudolfs Balcers also looks like he might be a player. The 23-year-old Latvian has played more than 50 games with the Senators already and during 2018-19 put up some middling numbers. Still, he’s shown the ability to ring the bell in Belleville (I know, bad pun). His game still needs work before it translates to the NHL, but I believe there’s a good chance that’s likely to happen.

In addition, the Senators get this season’s third pick in a strong draft class. This pick, combined with their own first-round choice gives the team two key pieces going forward. And, obviously, we can’t assess who that choice might be.

Assessing the Karlsson Trade Today

Michael Stuart recently took a poll of Dorion’s best trades as general manager and Senators fans believed this was his best trade by a landslide. He even believes that

“Calling this move a franchise-defining one isn’t an overstatement at all. Dorion pulled the trigger on trading this generation’s best defender, and brought back a haul in return. He needed to get the deal right, and by all accounts he did.”

Related: Ottawa Senators Goalies: Reviewing the 2019-20 Season for Nilsson, Hogberg & Anderson

However, Stuart believes part of this was luck. When the trade happened, who would have believed the Sharks would slide far enough in the rankings that the Senators 2020 draft choice would be the third pick off the board? In addition, who knew how much Norris would grow in a short time? Who knew DeMelo would find a great defensive partner in Thomas Chabot? 

Perhaps this isn’t one of those times when the team that gets the best player doesn’t win the trade. And, although Karlsson will likely make the Hockey Hall of Fame, there’s still an outside chance that he might not be the best player in the trade – of course, we don’t know who the Senators will choose at #3 overall. That will likely take another 15 seasons to find out for certain.

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