ST. LOUIS — On three different occasions over the past few weeks, The Post has encountered people inside the NHL who either implied or inquired about the possibility of the Rangers going after superlative defenseman Erik Karlsson, who it seems inevitable will be traded by the Senators before the June 22 draft.
As appealing as the idea may be of his fellow Swede, Henrik Lundqvist, in net watching as Karlsson’s long hair flies behind him on a rush up the Garden ice, so many questions of practicality arise. Such as, how would his contract extension, which would start in 2019-20 (and would be part and parcel of any deal in which the Blueshirts give up significant assets), fit into the Rangers’ rebuilding plan?
(Answer: It wouldn’t.)
Even if not every one of the prospects and draft picks general manager Jeff Gorton has assembled since the February Fire Sale pans out to be a big-time NHL contributor, how much upside is there in trading prime assets and limiting the possibility of having a few good young players that bring more financial control?
(Answer: Not much.)
Once the Rangers traded captain Ryan McDonagh to the Lightning, it was only natural eyes would look to his Ottawa counterpart as a possible replacement. Certainly, Gorton has gotten out from underneath a difficult place regarding the salary cap, which is projected to rise from this year’s $75 million to between $78 million-$82 million next season. It could get even more advantageous if Gorton finds a suitor for Mats Zuccarello this summer and the one year left on his deal at $4.5 million.
That would also free up some money for the important group of Rangers restricted free agents, all with arbitration rights — which includes Kevin Hayes, Brady Skjei, Ryan Spooner, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey and John Gilmour, all of whom suited up for another audition against the Blues on Saturday night.
Yet maybe the most glaring thing that would steer the Rangers away from Karlsson is the way he has played. This season was marred from the start by the broken foot he suffered in the Senators’ run to the Eastern Conference final this past spring — an injury that didn’t seem to bother him too much while ending the Rangers’ season in Game 6 of the second round. But a truncated training camp and late start to the regular season really limited his explosiveness, which has come on gone throughout Ottawa’s miserable campaign that has forced their own rebuilding and essentially pushed Karlsson out the door.
By the time he starts his next contract, Karlsson will be 29 years old with a lot of wear and tear on his body. Assuming a seven- or eight-year deal (depending on who signs him) around $10 million per, it’s clear the payment in the later years is going to be for the chance he gives his team at winning the Stanley Cup in the first season or two.
That is not where the Rangers are right now, even if the subtle internal hope is that next season will be more of a rebound than another step along this painful road of rebuilding. That step up could be aided with some sensible veteran signings, like if Ilya Kovalchuk will accept a short-term deal in his return from Russia.
The Rangers already have suffered through the most difficult part of this process. They have opened the doors to get great looks at some young players, including defensemen Neal Pionk and Gilmour, who can both certainly skate at this level, as well as new additions up front in Spooner and Namestnikov, who have impressed with their skill.
At some point next week, both first-round picks from the most recent draft, Lias Andersson (seventh overall) and Filip Chytil (21st) will join the Rangers and play out the rest of the regular season without burning the first year off their entry-level contracts. Andersson can play nine games and Chytil seven, and watching them against NHL competition might be the most exciting on-ice happening around the Rangers in a few months.
That’s because they are part of the team’s future, and as attractive as the idea of Karlsson joining the Rangers might be, it sure seems highly unlikely — and highly illogical.