The quiet of a relatively calm NHL offseason was shattered in early August with one of the more impactful trades in recent history.
Erik Karlsson went from San Jose to Pittsburgh to play alongside Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and give the Penguins what they hope is a boost back into Stanley Cup-contending status.
It marked the first time a defenseman was traded fresh off winning the Norris Trophy since Doug Harvey in 1961. Karlsson has won it three times now. He is among a handful of familiar faces to change places in recent months.
With the trade saga behind him, Karlsson is 34, coming off a 101-point season and should be even more motivated now that he’s on a winning team. Fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist could sense that excitement when he saw Karlsson this summer.
“He loved it out in San Jose, but at the same time he wants an opportunity to try to win,” said Lundqvist, now a TNT analyst after a Hall of Fame career as a goaltender with the New York Rangers. “He’s such a good player, and the last couple years his skating is back, the timing is back. Just the way he plays the game, it adds a lot of speed to the offense the way he skates and the way he passes the puck.”
Sharks defenseman Mario Ferraro, who played with Karlsson the past four seasons, isn’t worried about how his former teammate will handle the adjustment to Pittsburgh.
“He’s a guy that could very well fit in anywhere he goes,” Ferraro said. “His game, it continues to evolve and change to where the NHL is going. … I think he’s going to slide right in there and be a big, big part of that team.”
Karlsson wasn’t Kyle Dubas’ only addition as the Penguins’ new president of hockey operations and general manager. He also signed all-around defenseman Ryan Graves to the most lucrative unrestricted free agent contract of the season and acquired Cup-winning winger Reilly Smith from Vegas.
Dylan Larkin was sour when the Detroit Red Wings were selling at the trade deadline, unsure the direction GM Steve Yzerman was going with the retooling process. That changed in July when Yzerman traded for two-time 41-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat and signed him to a long-term extension.
“We’ve had conversations in the past of getting some Michigan-grown talent back,” Larkin said of his discussions with Yzerman. “You never know how or if or who it could be, but there’s a lot of great players that have ties to the state of Michigan. Alex wanted to be here. It was just good timing.”
DeBrincat isn’t the only Michigan native joining the Red Wings. They also acquired defenseman Jeff Petry from Montreal after he was sent there in the Karlsson trade with the understanding the Canadiens wouldn’t keep him.
The lottery balls bounced the right way for the Chicago Blackhawks to land Connor Bedard, the most hyped hockey player since Connor McDavid (and, before that, Sidney Crosby). That was good fortune.
What GM Kyle Davidson did around taking Bedard first in the draft was surround him with veteran leaders. Chicago got wingers Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno from Boston essentially for nothing and added Corey Perry in free agency.
“Foligno, he’s been texting me every couple weeks during the summer and called me and had me over for dinner the other day,” Bedard said last month. “They’ve all been so good to me and made me feel really comfortable.”
While the Senators traded DeBrincat because he wouldn’t commit to the kind of long-term contract he signed with Detroit, they’re not sliding into a rebuild. The time to win in Ottawa is now, and signing winger Vladimir Tarasenko is another step forward.
Tarasenko, 31, had a handful of suitors and picked the Senators on a one-year deal worth $5 million. He’s coming off a 50-point season and along with new goaltender Joonas Korpisalo adds something that has been missing in Canada’s capital, plus a player who has won the Stanley Cup.
A second-round playoff exit after getting pushed around a bit by eventual Eastern Conference champion Florida caused some changes for the Toronto Maple Leafs. New GM Brad Treliving added some grit and toughness by signing enforcer Ryan Reaves and forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi.
The pressure is now on for the core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly to break through.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Tavares said of the offseason additions. “I think we have a very committed, a very driven group that’s under a tremendous amount of attention and spotlight, so it’s good to have a balance of things and guys that can come in and bring a different type of energy.”
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