SAN JOSE – Speculation continued for months earlier this year as to how the San Jose Sharks could trade Erik Karlsson and get good value in return without taking on a huge amount of money.
Finally, when a three-team trade was completed on Aug. 6 and Karlsson joined the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Sharks retained just $1.5 million of the three-time Norris Trophy winner’s $11.5 million salary cap until the deadline. 2026-2027 season.
During the offseason, Sharks president Jonathan Betcher said general manager Mike Grier talked to him and owner Hasso Plattner almost every day for eight weeks about where the trade process stood.
“There were GMs at times who made lowball offers to us, but in the end, there were three, sometimes four teams that were in the neighborhood of a reasonable deal, and we ended up making one. That’s reasonable,” Sharks president Jonathan Betcher said recently.
Karlsson and the Penguins play the Sharks tonight, and one could argue about the return — Mikael Granlund, Mike Hoffman, Jan Ruta and Pittsburgh’s first-round draft pick — a key part of San Jose’s view of the trade was to create something more. $10 million in cap space for both the 2025-26 and 2026-27 seasons.
But Betcher said the trade didn’t happen the way it did because Plattner wanted to save money. At the time, Carlson was more than $35 million in debt.
“I don’t think that was Hasso’s decision,” Becher said. I think all three of us have come to the conclusion that, on the balance of what we can do, this is the best way to deal with this situation. It’s a little bit easier to make that Hasso decision.”
So does the Carlson trade provide a blueprint for how the Sharks will find future trades of players with expensive, long-term contracts?
Not necessarily, Becher said.
I think in general, no GM, no president, no owner wants to have a lot of money. In general, it’s not fair to pay someone not to play for you, he said. “Having said that, in any case you do a little bit of calculating for the current market for this particular player.
“Last season was a market we haven’t seen in a long time. The salary cap increased by only $1 million. There were more free agents on the market than in the past. So you can’t make a clear decision of ‘I’ll stay longer’. You need to understand what else is going on and who can use that person’s services. Karlsson is not important to many teams (but) he is important to other teams. Then you decide, for this guy, maybe we can keep him up to ‘X’, but only if we get this much draft capital or those kind of prospects.
The NHL’s salary cap is projected to rise from $83.5 million to $87-88 million next season, with players paying off the roughly $1.5 billion they owe owners in full for the 2019-20 season.
“So maybe you have to hold less or nothing, or if you’re a group doing business because now people have more capital to use,” Becher said. “That’s what makes this business fun.”
Like Karlsson and Brent Burns, both of whom the Sharks are still rebuilding and looking to trade to win the team, Grier said he would hear if a veteran like Logan Couture or Thomas Hertl came to him early in training camp. To move on to a more playoff team.
Grier at Couture, 34, or Hertl, 29, or Hertl, 29, ,,,,,,,,,,,,. But like Karlsson, those players may be approaching the point in their careers where being part of a long-term rebuild is no longer appealing.
“If I think it’s going to be a five-, six-, seven-year rebuild, obviously things will change,” Couture told NHL.com in August. But I think Mike did a great job recapping some very good (draft) picks. It’s hard to predict what will happen in a few years, but I’m excited about this season. I want to turn this thing around here in San Jose.
Hertl’s $65.1 million deal runs through the 2029-2030 season. Couture, who has yet to play this season because of a lower-body injury, is in the fifth year of an eight-year, $64 million contract and is not subject to a potential trade.
After the Burns and Karlsson deals, the Sharks have just one cap space remaining for the next two years. NHL teams are allowed to retain up to three players under the salary cap.
“(Logan) was very clear. He wanted to stay after he was given the option,” Becher said. “Mike also said, ‘Look, I’m the GM. If somebody comes to me with an unbelievable offer, I’m going to talk to the player.’ We love Logan. We love how he plays. He’s the right captain for us here. We’re not actively buying the guy, we’re not actively watching him.
“It’s silly of me to say never because that’s not how life works. But this is not in short term cards.