Questions For The Pittsburgh Penguins After The Erik Karlsson Trade

(Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images) /

The long awaited Erik Karlsson trade has finally happened. The reigning Norris Trophy winner has been shipped off from the San Jose Sharks to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Montreal Canadiens assisted as the third team in this summer’s biggest blockbuster trade.

The summer’s biggest trade brought Erik Karlsson to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Here’s what the team need to figure out next.

We all expected Karlsson would be traded, even if his pre-pandemic contract was very unfavorable in this flat cap situation. We all knew Pittsburgh would be the front runners for the 100 plus point defenseman’s services. Still, we have a few questions about how this trade went down and how it will play out. Here they are:

#1 Only $1.5 million?

Erik Karlsson’s $11 million cap hit, along with the remaining four years (including this season) on it, always made this trade one of the more difficult deals. San Jose had said they would retain 20% of Karlsson’s salary, but wouldn’t go the maximum 50% allowable under the current CBA. San Jose is only retaining $1.5 million of Karlsson’s salary. That’s an absolute win for Sharks general manager Mike Grier, but confusing on Pittsburgh’s part. The Penguins are retaining 25% of Jeff Petry’s, who was traded to Montreal, salary. Montreal has no retained salary for anyone in the three team deal.

#2 What About Goaltending?

Goaltending was not one of the Penguins strong suits last year. In fact it was far from it. Number one goaltender Tristan Jarry spent a while on the injured list and this trade saw backup Casey DeSmith sent over to Montreal. Karlsson sacrifices his defense to put up those points, so Penguins net minders might be seeing even more shots this season with Karlsson in the fold. Pittsburgh has less depth in net and are probably hoping outslugging their opponent will be their recipe for success.

#3 How Will The Power Play Look?

Pittsburgh is sure to use Karlsson heavily on the man advantage after having 27 points on the power play last year. Kris Letang is the longtime quarterback of the first power play unit. Shortly after the trade, Letang was demoted to the second power play unit according to Daily Faceoff’s line projections. Yes, training camp has yet to start so we haven’t seen either player in drills, action, or practicing. With Pittsburgh expected to go with four forwards and one defenseman on the man advantage, Karlsson and Letang are sure to split up. Maybe Letang’s injury problems last season have something to do with Karlsson taking the top power play spot for blue liners.

#4 How Close Is The End Of The Sidney Crosby Era?

We all know Pittsburgh is desperately trying to give the big three of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Letang one last window of cup contention before they skate into the sunset. Former general manager Jim Rutherford wanted to start by trading Kris Letang, which management immediately shut down, and ultimately lead to him parting ways with the organization.

The Penguins may have missed the playoffs last year for the first time in 16 years, but it was only by a few points. That still might have sent Pittsburgh into panic mode to make last year’s early spring the exception and not the expectation as Crosby and company inch closer to retirement. Trading for Karlsson is the ultimate “swing for the fences” move, not unlike someone who’s having a midlife crisis buying a fancy sports car. It’s hard to imagine what else can possibly be done, or who else would be available, to bolster Pittsburgh’s chances of winning a cup. They’ve mortgaged almost their entire future on getting at least one more before Crosby hangs them up.