The Pittsburgh Penguins made an important decision during the 2022 offseason when they re-signed Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. With the team deciding not to break up their veteran core, Pittsburgh pushed its chips to the center of the table for another Stanley Cup run with the acquisition of star defenseman Erik Karlsson.
The trade was as follows:
Karlsson, a three-time Norris Trophy who’s been selected to seven All-Star Games, is signed through the 2026-27 season and helps to extend Pittsburgh’s window to compete for a Stanley Cup. The Sharks will also retain $1.5 million of Karlsson’s yearly salary as part of the deal.
How Karlsson fits in with the Penguins
It’s been well-documented that the Penguins possess one of the NHL’s older cores, which features the likes of captain Sidney Crosby, Malkin, and Letang. After re-signing Malkin and Letang last offseason, the Penguins continued the tradition of adding veteran talent during the 2023 offseason.
In addition to Karlsson, the Penguins also beefed up their blue line with the signing of former New Jersey Devils defenseman Ryan Graves to a six-year, $27 million contract. Pittsburgh also improved their top-six forward group by acquiring Reilly Smith from the Vegas Golden Knights. Finally, the team re-signed goaltender Tristan Jarry to a five-year, $26.8 million contract extension.
The acquisition of Karlsson gives the Penguins two elite right-handed defensemen in their top two defensive pairings. It’s likely that Karlsson will be slotted with Graves on the team’s top defensive pairing once the 2023-24 campaign begins.
Karlsson brings an abundance of offensive talent that will fit in nicely with Pittsburgh’s already talented roster. It gives Pittsburgh another blue-liner that can help put the puck in the net. That’s a huge addition seeing as the Penguins go just 27 goals from their defensemen in 2022-23 with Letang scoring 12 of those.
The star defenseman is coming off of a massive season in which he registered 101 points (25 goals, 71 assists) in a full 82-game season with the Sharks. In doing so, Karlsson became just the sixth blue-liner in NHL history to record a 100-point season and the first since Brian Leetch in 1991-92.
Karlsson also led all defensemen in goals, assists, and points, while finishing 11th in points among all players. Since entering the league during the 2009-10 season, Karlsson leads all NHL defensemen in assists (583) and points (761), while also ranking second in goals (178) behind only Brent Burns (210).
The Penguins ranked 16th in goals-per-game (3.18) during the 2022-23 season, so it’s safe to say that they could use a boost in the goal-scoring department. While Karlsson had a career year in 2022-23, he’s registered double-digit goals in eight of his 14 NHL seasons, so he will be a much-needed spark plug on the offensive end for Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup chances
It goes without saying that the Penguins’ offseason moves were very necessary after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s rookie season in 2005-06. This is a team that was fully capable of making a deep run at the Stanley Cup during the 2023-24 season following the moves they’ve made.
Crosby is still playing at an elite level after tallying 93 points (33 goals, 60 assists) in his 18th NHL season. The Penguins also still have a tremendous amount of forward depth with Malkin, Smith, Jake Guentzel, and Rickard Rakell. Guentzel will , but shouldn’t be out of the lineup more than the first couple of weeks of the season, barring any setbacks from offseason ankle surgery.
With the addition of Karlsson, this has all the makings of a very dangerous offensive team. It’s likely going to come down to the play of Tristan Jarry in net.
Jarry tallied a less-than-stellar 2.90 goals-against-average, and only appeared in 47 games due to injury last season. If Jarry can return to form and stay healthy, the Penguins have all the makings of a Stanley Cup contender.
If you look up and down the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins most likely won’t be repeating their Presidents’ Trophy season after losing Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov in free agency and Patrice Bergeron to retirement. Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers will be fighting for conference supremacy yet again, but there’s no reason that the Penguins can’t be in that mix following the acquisition of Karlsson.
At the very least, it’s fairly likely that the Penguins can grab one of those Wild Card spots in the East. As we saw last season with the Florida Panthers, anything is possible as long as you sneak into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.