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A somewhat rare term in the hockey world is “sign and trade”. The act of signing a player about to hit unrestricted free agency just to trade him away for a return has not happened in the salary cap era. But over the last couple of weeks the term has been brought up for two of the league’s superstars: John Tavares and Erik Karlsson. And now we can add John Carlson to the list.
Pierre LeBrun discussed Tuesday night on Insider Trading that the Washington Capitals might explore the idea of signing and trading Carlson, or as Lebrun described him: “The #1 UFA defensemen on this year’s market.” Carlson currently leads all defensemen in points with just a handful of games remaining, which will certainly jack up his asking price.
“Certainly the preference is to re-sign in Washington,” Lebrun stated, “The Caps will make that a #1 priority, but they have challenges with their salary cap.”
That’s not a lie. The Capitals currently have 15 players (at least NHL-ready players) under contract for next season, with $15M-$17M in salary cap room, depending on how high the cap goes. Carlson, Philipp Grubauer, Tom Wilson, Madison Bowey, and maybe even Michael Kempy, Jakub Jerabek, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, and Devante Smith-Pelley will be asking for contracts. That list doesn’t include kids like Riley Barber or Travis Boyd who will more than likely be up with the big team next season. Basically, it’s a lot of players and not enough money.
The big reason “sign and trades” don’t happen are because there isn’t much of an incentive for any of the three parties (2 teams and 1 player) to do it. But after the latest lockout, a new CBA rule has opened a small window of possibility for the rare event to take place. If a player is going to hit UFA or RFA status, then the team that he played for can sign him to a maximum eight-year deal. But say a player hits UFA and signs with a brand new team, he can only sign for a max of seven years. That one year difference is where the sign and trade idea lives and breathes.
“The only reason there’s a possibility of a sign and trade is if the 8th year matters that much to John Carlson, and I think it is of importance to him.” LeBrun continued, “And of course from Washington’s perspective, if they can’t sign him, they get something in return if they give him that 8th year and trade him to that team. So that’s something to keep an eye on with John Carlson.”
What could the Capitals get in return for a sign and trade? As stated earlier, there hasn’t been such a thing in the salary cap era, so there is no precedent. But the going price for trading a UFA-bound player after the season ends is usually a 4th round pick (like the Capitals did when they traded Jaroslav Halak to the New York Islanders in 2014). So for the Capitals to add-on an 8th year for a player and then ship him out has to cost at least a 2nd, maybe more.
[UPDATE: Just shortly before this article was going to be posted Lebrun wrote an article at The Athletic and said “I have to think a serious contender would be willing to pay a low first-round pick or at least a second-round to secure that valuable an asset (Tavares or Carlson), especially if it ends up being the only way to acquire him.” He is more of an expert than me so it worth adding.]
For now this is all hearsay. As LeBrun pointed out, both the Capitals and Carlson want to make a deal work and that will most likely be the case. But there’s no denying that there will be cap issues that management might not want to get wrapped-up in. If they think they can find another top 4 right-handed defensemen they may be willing to move on from Carlson. And if that’s the case, maybe a sign and trade is in the cards.
By Luke Adomanis