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Erik Karlsson would accelerate the process for the Colorado Avalanche

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An Erik Karlsson trade might rub some Avalanche fans the wrong way, but it’s well worth the risk

2017 SAP NHL Global Series - Ottawa Senators v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images

Trust the process.

The now famous mantra given to us by former President and General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers and current analytics consultant for the Denver Broncos, Sam Hinkie.

Draft. Hold your assets. Build from withing. Use a lot of patience. It makes all the sense in the world.

It’s something Joe Sakic seems content on doing with the Colorado Avalanche as he re-builds the team out of the wreckage left behind by Patrick Roy.

They’ve got a Hart Trophy nominee on one of the best contracts in hockey, a star winger that has the potential to be one of the highest scoring in the game and a plethora of players under the age of 21 that should make fans extremely optimistic about the future. The Avalanche have a blueprint for success and Joe Sakic’s idea of “staying the course” is the best way to proceed.

Unless of course, you get a chance to acquire a defenseman that is one of the best dozen players in the NHL.

Erik Karlsson is on the trade market. By now we all know why.

This week the speculation has progressed beyond rumors. Things are at the point that the Ottawa Senators have given Karlsson’s agent permission to negotiate a contract extension with other teams in order to facilitate a trade.

Vegas, Dallas, Tampa and Philly have been the teams that have emerged as legitimate destinations for Karlsson over the past few days. There have been reports of each being “front-runners” recently, and all four teams make a lot of sense as a landing spot.

But there is one other team that makes just as much sense - maybe more.

The Colorado Avalanche.

As long as the Avalanche own Ottawa’s first pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Avs are always going to be the most logical trading partner from the Sens’ perspective. If you’re trading away your franchise player, you’re doing so in order to re-build. It’s hard to re-build without your own draft picks. Pierre Dorion is undoubtedly trying any way possible to get that pick back from Sakic - and a Karlsson trade is really the only way to do it.

Does it fit the plan?

It should.

Joe Sakic has spoken many times over the past two years about “staying on course” in reference to the team’s youth movement. This franchise has a very young core, one that management wants to let grow and develop. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Jost, Alexander Kerfoot, Samuel Girard - these are all very good, very young NHLers that form a foundation for a team that can become a contender in the Western Conference. It is a very good plan and one that most Avalanche fans want management to stick to.

With that said, it should be noted that any good plan will include provisions in the case that a player as good as Erik Karlsson or Artemi Panarin become available.

In the NHL, elite talent does not become available very often. Unless you’re drafting first overall, franchise altering players do not fall in your lap. That’s why when one becomes available, you can’t be afraid to adapt your plans in order to make it work.

The Avalanche have absolutely been in talks with the Senators about acquiring Erik Karlsson - since before the trade deadline. That is a sign that Joe Sakic knows that even with a plan of re-building through youth, you can’t let an opportunity to acquire top players pass you by.

How good is Erik Karlsson?

He is absolutely one of the top-5 defensemen in the entire NHL and any argument to the contrary lacks substance. He has won two Norris Trophies and quite frankly should probably have at least one more.

Over the past three seasons, Karlsson has been absolutely dominant offensively. Over that time, he leads all defensemen with 0.93 points per game. What’s more amazing is that since 2015, Karlsson is 18th - tied with Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares - for points per game by any NHL player. That’s staggering. It is a point production rate that would put him ahead of MacKinnon (0.89) as the best on the Avalanche.

Of course, we all know he’s the best offensive defenseman in hockey. That’s not where the criticism comes from. Those who knock him down the list of best in the league will always reference his “weak defensive play”. The problem is, he’s elite outside of the offensive zone as well.

It’s often forgotten that there’s more to being a great defender than being big, strong and knocking opponents out of the slot. A good defender is one that can shift a play. Move the puck from dangerous possession against to possession for. This is something Karlsson excels at.

No defenseman in the league had a better breakup % against opposition zone entries than Erik Karlsson. This is what you want from a defender. A guy that is able to limit scoring chances. Stopping the team from controlled entries into your own zone is the best way to do that.

This pokes a giant hole in the “he’s just an offensive defenseman” argument we see all too often.

Further to this, one of the most valuable parts of being an NHL defender is the ability to transition the puck out of your own end. Again, no one is better than Karlsson at doing this. He has a higher exit rate than every other player in the NHL (who is that kid at #2?). He’s the best in the league at leading the breakout - something that would fit absolutely perfectly in the Avs’ system.

The Extension

Recently it was reported that Karlsson’s camp turning down an 8 year, $80 million offer from Ottawa. They know they can't re-sign him, so the Sens might as well let someone else work on a contract in order to maximize the return of a trade.

On July 1st, the Los Angeles Kings made Drew Doughty the highest paid defenseman in the NHL when he signed an 8 year extension worth $11m a season. This would likely be the starting point for any negotiations.

Despite the opinions of many in the mainstream media, Erik Karlsson is a better hockey player that Drew Doughty. If Doughty is worth $11 million a year, Karlsson should get a little more. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see a Karlsson extension between $11 and $12 million.

That may seem like a steep price, but he’s absolutely worth every penny.

Luckily for the Avalanche, they’re one of the few teams in the league that have the long-term financial flexibility to make this kind of extension work.

The Return

The entire premise of the Avalanche being a logical trade partner for the Sens is that first round pick I mentioned above. Any package would start with the Senators getting their pick back - and it would go up from there.

There’s a belief that this pick should be untouchable because of the fact that it could result in the Avalanche drafting Jack Hughes - a young center that will be the most talented player to enter the NHL since Connor McDavid. The problem with this is that the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of this pick NOT being first overall - even if the Senators finish last.

Sure a Karlsson-less Senators team is bad enough to finish last in the NHL, but Avalanche fans should know better than most that one shouldn’t place assumptions on pre-season prognostications and draft lottery results.

The pick should absolutely be in play if it means such a drastic improvement to the lineup.

Then there’s Cale Makar. The crown jewel of the Avalanche prospect pool. Yes, he’s one of the best skating prospects in all of hockey, yes, he is a bluechip prospect, and yes, he could turn into a top paring NHL defender down the road, but he’s still an unknown commodity.

In the absolute best case scenario, Cale Makar might turn into a player close to as good as Erik Karlsson already is.

No you’re not going to get Erik Karlsson if Colorado tries to use their own pick instead of Ottawa’s.

No you’re not getting him for OTT 1st + Conor Timmins.

No you’re not getting him for a package centered around Tyson Barrie.

There’s a reason Avalanche fans want to make these substitutions - and it’s the same reason why Ottawa would turn down these offers.

It’s hard to see a scenario in which the Avalanche acquire Karlsson for a package less than OTT 1st + Makar + a roster player like J.T. Compher.

While it might seem like a lot, Erik Karlsson is one of the few players in the NHL that would be worth it. Joe Sakic would be adding an all-world defender to his lineup while deleting nothing more than a bottom-6 forward that can easily be replaced by Vladislav Kamenev.

A deal like this isn’t without risk. That pick is very valuable. Cale Makar has a ton of potential. But when you’re talking about acquiring a player like Erik Karlsson, you’re absolutely dealing with a player that is more than worth the risk. When it comes to dealing futures for elite talent, the team getting the superstar almost always wins the trade.

The Process

Despite already being a playoff team, the Colorado Avalanche are in the middle of a re-build. We are only a year removed from the franchise being the laughing stock of the NHL. Building from within and letting the youth develop slowly is a plan worth investing in.

Joe Sakic has done a lot of heavy lifting over the past 18-months, but there is still a lot of work to do as the team stays on course.

What has to be remembered is that developing the young core and adding elite talent do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Trading two very valuable assets in Makar and the Ottawa pick stings from a prognostication standpoint, but from a roster standpoint, it has no affect on the the core of the team. The Avalanche would maintain the young core that they’ve been developing, while adding a superstar leader to the group. The fact that Joe Sakic has even been engaged in these trade talks shows that he sees the benefit in this sort of paradigm-shifting move.

That’s a process worth trusting.