The Pittsburgh Penguins made a strategic move in the 2022 offseason when they chose to renew contracts with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. By maintaining their seasoned core and additionally bringing in star defender Erik Karlsson, the Penguins are setting up for another potential Stanley Cup triumph.
On Sunday, the Penguins successfully brokered a three-team deal with the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens, thereby securing the current Norris Trophy champion.
The trade specifics were:
- Penguins received Karlsson, forwards Rem Pitlick and Dillon Hamaliuk, and Sharks’ 2026 third-round draft pick
- Sharks obtained Penguins’ 2024 first-round pick (top-10 protected), forward Mikael Granlund, defender Jan Rutta, and forward Mike Hoffman
- Canadiens gained Penguins’ 2025 second-round pick, defender Jeff Petry, goaltender Casey DeSmith, and forward Nathan Legare
Karlsson, a three-time Norris Trophy recipient and seven-time All-Star Games participant, is contracted through the 2026-27 season and extends Pittsburgh’s competitive window for the Stanley Cup. Additionally, $1.5 million of Karlsson’s annual salary will be retained by the Sharks as part of the agreement.
Karlsson’s Role in the Penguins
The Penguins, known for their mature core including captain Sidney Crosby, Malkin, and Letang, continued their tradition of adding seasoned talent in the 2023 offseason.
Besides Karlsson, the Penguins strengthened their defensive line by signing former New Jersey Devils defender Ryan Graves to a six-year, $27 million contract. The Penguins also boosted their top-six forward group by bringing in Reilly Smith from the Vegas Golden Knights, and extended their contract with goalie Tristan Jarry for five years, worth $26.8 million.
Karlsson’s addition gives the Penguins an edge with two top-notch right-handed defenders in their main defensive pairings. Karlsson is likely to join Graves in the team’s prime defensive pairing as the 2023-24 season commences.
With his immense offensive prowess, Karlsson will add to Pittsburgh’s already talented lineup, providing an additional defensive scorer. This is a key advantage considering that in the 2022-23 season, the Penguins could only manage 27 goals from their defenders, with Letang scoring 12 of them.
Karlsson is fresh off an impressive season with the Sharks, achieving 101 points (25 goals, 71 assists) in a full 82-game run. In doing so, he became only the sixth NHL defender to achieve a 100-point season, and the first since Brian Leetch in 1991-92.
Since his league debut in 2009-10, Karlsson has led all NHL defenders in assists (583) and points (761), while also coming second in goals (178) after Brent Burns (210).
The Penguins, who ranked 16th in goals-per-game (3.18) during the 2022-23 season, could certainly benefit from Karlsson’s goal-scoring ability. His performance could provide a much-needed offensive spark to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup Prospects
The Penguins’ offseason maneuvers were critical after they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s debut season in 2005-06. The moves suggest that the team could make a significant bid for the Stanley Cup during the 2023-24 season.
With Crosby still performing at an elite level, and strong forward depth including Malkin, Smith, Jake Guentzel, and Rickard Rakell, the team is looking robust.
The inclusion of Karlsson makes the team an offensive powerhouse, but much will depend on Tristan Jarry’s performance as a goaltender.
If Jarry can regain form and stay fit, the Penguins have the potential to be a Stanley Cup challenger. They could certainly be competitive with top Eastern Conference teams such as the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils, and New York Rangers, especially after acquiring Karlsson.
At a minimum, the Penguins have a strong chance of securing a Wild Card spot in the East. As last season’s performance by the Florida Panthers showed, reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs can open up any number of possibilities.