Trading for Erik Karlsson Could Accelerate Red Wings Rebuild


The Detroit Red Wings still lack star power. Dylan Larkin is a star and Moritz Seider is becoming one. But the roster needs more talent across the board.

Defenseman Erik Karlsson has plenty of that. The two-time Norris Trophy winner, who is a finalist this year, had one of his best seasons in 2023.

He put up a career high 101 points. The next closest defenseman was 25 points behind him. Karlsson is an elite talent, who’s been stuck on a non-elite San Jose team for far too long.

Well let’s pick up the phone and trade for him now!

Two big problems with that. He’s 32 years old. And he has a $11.5 million cap hit the next four seasons. Not to mention a no-movement clause.

Health is also a key factor in dealing for the veteran. Before 2022-23, he hadn’t played more than 56 games in the last five seasons. Players don’t generally become less injury prone the older they get.

It’s a gamble for sure. And Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman isn’t usually a roll the dice kind of guy. But if it all worked out like we hope it could put this rebuild in the express lane.

What Karlsson Brings to the Ice

The hall of fame caliber player will go down as one of the best defensemen of his era. Prior to the last few years where Karlsson struggled with his health, he was known as the best defenseman in the game.

Before this past season people wondered if he’d ever get back to being even considered one of the best in the league. But his excellent 2022-23 campaign showed us father time hasn’t quite caught up to him yet.

Karlsson has won the best defensemen award twice in 2012 and 2015. That’s before the award started to be handed out mainly to the most prolific offensive defensemen.

He doesn’t have the biggest frame (6’0, 190lbs) and isn’t the swiftest of feet. But he still has great hands and his hockey IQ is through the roof. He isn’t just great in his own end or on offense. Karlsson is a classic two-way defender who excels at both ends of the ice.

If he can play at the same level the next four years as he did this past season, he would be the Red Wings best defenseman, hands down. And yes, that includes Seider.

He also grew up playing for Frolunda HC in Sweden. So he’d fit right in with nearly half the Red Wings roster already.

But Karlsson playing well throughout his contract would solve so many problems the Red Wings roster has right now. They could focus solely on the forward position and getting more scoring there.

It would also take less pressure off of the Sebastian Cossa pick. It would relieve pressure from Villie Husso. It alleviates stress on your goalies because you have better defenders in front of him.

But if His Play Nose Dives

Acquiring his contract at his age is such a risk because if his game goes to hell in a hurry, the Red Wings are screwed.

An $11.5 million cap hit in the NHL is like a super max contract in the NBA. Except the NHL doesn’t have some fake ass cap like the NBA does. You can’t go over the cap in the NHL.

Only four players have a higher cap hit than Karlsson does right now. That number will increase throughout the next four years without question.

But if Karlsson stops being a top pairing defenseman after next season, his value will crater. And his contract will cripple the Red Wings’ ability to supplement is poor play.

Not to mention what would it take to get him here in the first place. Especially after his resurgence season, San Jose ain’t going to just give him away.

They are going to want a return of draft picks and valued prospects. Would Yzerman be ok with giving up Cossa for Karlsson? What about Simon Edvinsson?

Those are the types of players the Sharks would likely ask for in return.


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Photo Credit: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports