A top-level NHL player’s worth comes down to perspective, and also the CBA/market itself.
Consider Connor McDavid, who will carry an NHL-high $12.5 million cap hit starting next season. Some believe that’s an absurd mark to “play a child’s game,” those people will probably bring up school teachers and firefighters. Others will think it’s absurd that McDavid left money on the table, as he’s absolutely worth more than that to the Oilers. Some will even argue, reasonably, that a max salary is also unfair to the McDavids of the world.
Once you sidestep the larger discussion about athletes making a lot of money, most would agree that, relatively speaking, Erik Karlsson is sorely underpaid at $6.5 million per season, much like Drew Doughty is at $7M per year. Recently, PHT pondered the possibility of both all-world defensemen hitting the free agent market after Doughty openly dreamed of such a scenario.
So, what does Karlsson have to say about that, not to mention his wider future with the Ottawa Senators?
The Ottawa Sun’s Ken Warren reports that Karlsson’s backs up Doughty in saying that he’s not really interested in providing the Senators – or perhaps another team – with any sort of discount.
“When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going,” Karlsson said.
“That’s the business part of it. That’s the way every player has been treated ever since this league has started, and I think the players have been a little bit on the other side of things when it comes to negotiations. I think it’s time to realize that when we go to the table, it’s business on both parts, not just (owners).”
Karlsson’s message is reasonable, yet for fans of the sometimes-budget-conscious Senators, certain phrases are chilling. For instance, Karlsson notes: “when it comes down to it, if it’s not the right fit and it’s not going to work out business-wise, then you’re going to have to look elsewhere because that’s what (owners) are going to do.”
No doubt about it, Senators management will pivot if a) Karlsson starts to look, you know, human, what with all the major procedures he’s undergone over the years or b) the formula no longer looks right for this team.
As discussed in this post, neither Karlsson nor Doughty will be “spring chickens” at the end of their current deals, which expire after 2018-19. Karlsson turns 28 in May, so he’d be 29 when a new contract kicks in, regardless of where it happens.
The Senators might decide to rebuild rather than see Karlsson’s $6.5M turn into a justifiable-but-substantial raise over $10M per season. (Warren, for one, estimates a long deal with an $11M or $12M AAV.)
And, really, maybe Karlsson will find it more appealing to sign with a contender rather than trying to drag a sometimes-limited Senators franchise to the finish line himself? While there are some nice pieces in Ottawa, it’s tough to imagine this being anything but “Karlsson’s team” for quite some time.
If Karlsson truly tests his UFA status, there will be some who won’t take it well.
Some fans will be jealous to see a rich athlete get to truly choose his destination (and salary) for the first time in his career. Senators fans, meanwhile, might feel the sting of seeing an otherworldly defenseman decide that he’s had enough.
Really, though, Karlsson and Doughty both deserve every penny they get, and probably more. It’s refreshing to see that they know it, too.
For their current employers, yes, it’s also scary.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.