Here we go again with the Rangers and Erik Karlsson.
After being linked to the star defenseman when the Senators were looking to trade him last offseason, despite the fact they weren't actually in on him, the Rangers are considered "a favorite" and "probably the most likely destination" for Karlsson in free agency this summer, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.
Johnston addressed Karlsson's future during a Thursday radio interview with Sportsnet 960 The FAN in Calgary. Because the Rangers have cap space and the No. 2 pick in this year's NHL Draft, there's speculation that the Blueshirts could try to accelerate their rebuild.
"The Rangers are probably the most likely destination," Johnston said. "The time is probably right to scale up a little bit, and I can just see a fit there for him."
The situation is more plausible this time around because Karlsson will be a free agent, whereas last year the Rangers would have had to part with major assets to get him. That wouldn't have been prudent given the Rangers had just begun overhauling the roster at the 2018 trade deadline.
Karlsson, the two-time Norris Trophy winner whom the Sharks acquired in September with no guarantee of a contract extension, has played with Henrik Lundqvist on the Swedish national team and the two apparently discussed Karlsson's future during this year's All-Star Game.
"I even know back when the All-Star Game was in San Jose this year, (Karlsson) had dinner with Henrik Lundqvist at one point, and Lundqvist was low-key just selling him on the merits of the Rangers at that point," Johnston said. "I think Erik's gonna really look around and test the market."
Asked if the Rangers would be the favorite to sign Karlsson, Johnston said, "Yeah. They would be a favorite, along with Tampa. And Tampa would require some serious surgery to their roster, but there's been a long sort of song and dance between the Lightning and Karlsson. They tried to trade for him out of Ottawa a couple of years ago, and he and Victor Hedman are very close. That's an organization I can see being bold."
The Lightning had one of the best regular seasons in NHL history this season but were swept by Columbus in the first round of the playoffs. So despite already having a stacked roster with big financial commitments, it wouldn't necessarily be surprising if Tampa Bay tried to shake things up. Johnston suggested Karlsson could take a discount with the Lightning since Florida doesn't have a state income tax.
Even with the space to sign him, the Rangers might have to do some maneuvering on the back end if they were to land the soon-to-be 29-year-old Swede. Kevin Shattenkirk ($6.65 million) and Brendan Smith ($4.35 million) each have two years left on their deals and haven't come close to meeting expectations. A trade or a buyout could be sought.
The Rangers already have dead money from buying out Dan Girardi, with that number sitting at $3,611,111 for the 2019-20 season, but that drops to $1,111,111 for the following three seasons.
If they were to sign Karlsson, who has 16 points in 18 playoff games, it would most likely mean they wouldn't be in the running for free-agent wing Artemi Panarin.