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Karlsson in Pittsburgh: Crosby, Malkin and Letang have never had a better teammate
Kyle Dubas has succeeded in his gamble. After putting together a huge three-team deal, the new GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins got his hands on Erik Karlsson, reigning Norris Trophy champion and NHL all-star defenseman.

Since the beginning of the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kristopher Letang era, no current general manager – be it Ray Shero, Jim Rutherford or Ron Hextall – has been able to offer a better teammate to the team’s three pillars.

We could argue about some former team-mates, but Karlsson has just enjoyed one of the best offensive seasons in history for a defenseman.

If we ignore the destination of the various players and focus on what the Penguins had to give, here’s what it looks like:

  • First-round pick in 2024
  • Second-round pick in 2025
  • Jeff Petry (25% salary withheld)
  • Mikael Granlund
  • Jan Rutta
  • Casey DeSmith
  • Nathan Légaré

This is a very special transaction. Just a year ago, Karlsson’s contract was seen as a huge ball and chain. A team might want his services, as he remained a solid offensive defenseman, but his salary would be an obstacle to any deal. Affected by injuries, the Swede scored 22 points in 52 games in 2020-2021, before notching 35 in 50 the following year.

Today, the Penguins released five players and offered two high draft picks in return for Erik Karlsson, who will receive 86.96% of his $11.5 million salary for the next four years.

It has to be said that he had perhaps the best season of his career, with 101 points in 82 games.

Letang and Karlsson are both right-handed, so they shouldn’t play on the same pair of defensemen. Ryan Graves and Marcus Pettersson would be their options, as of today, as partners.

In other words, for at least 2/3 of the time, an excellent mobile offensive defenseman will be looking after Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It’s legitimate to dream of a magnificent offensive season in Pittsburgh.

However, Karlsson is historically mediocre defensively, and his new team will be counting on the services of Tristan Jarry, who has been inconsistent throughout his career.


Did the Sharks do the right thing in this deal? Karlsson’s salary was an obstacle, but you can’t say they acquired an exciting piece in this transaction. If the Penguins’ first pick ends up being 24th or higher, it’s not impossible that San Jose could come out of this deal with… not much.

They gave (among others) Josh Norris and a top-3 pick to the Sens to acquire Karlsson a few years ago.

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