John Klingberg (Jerome Miron – USA TODAY Sports)
The moment the Dallas Stars signed John Klingberg to his seven-year contract extension in April 2015, there was a good chance they hit a huge bargain. He was fresh off a terrific debut season in which he led all rookie defensemen with 40 points despite appearing in just 65 games. The Stars offered him long-term stability and a massive raise that required projecting his career with a small sample size, but if he got anywhere near his rookie-season production, his worth would quickly exceed $4.25 million. Contract dollars exceed AAV.
That’s exactly what happened. In the first 6.5 seasons of his contract, Klingberg proved to be one of the better all-puck moving blueliners in the NHL. From his sophomore season in 2015–16 to present, he is ninth among defenders in points, tenth in balanced strength points, and ninth in power play points. He twice finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting. In every season of his career, the Stars had a significant shot attempt advantage with Klingberg on the ice. His possession numbers are of course driven more by his offense than his defense, but that’s okay. We know who he is at this point: more of a one-way player, but the one-way player is really effective.
We also know that he’s due for a gigantic pay raise on his next contract. He’s a UFA this summer, and he’s a strong bet on doubling his AAV and flirting at $8 million a season on his next contract. He plays a premium position as a right-footed defender, the sheer number of interested parties will drive his price up, and having played at an AAV well below his value throughout his prime, he must be a “seed for life” make money compensate. He’ll be 30 when his next contract starts, so he’s seen as a classic ‘get paid for what he did, not what he’ll do’ trap, but interested teams won’t care. You will pay him for what he can bring in the short term and worry about his downfall later. It’s the league-wide pattern. That’s why the San Jose Sharks stepped up to hold Erik Karlsson and why the New Jersey Devils went all in for Dougie Hamilton and so on.
However, it doesn’t appear that the stars after this season will be the ones shelling out big coins for Klingberg. They’ve allocated $22.46 million in cap spot for next season, with some key RFAs signing left winger Jason Robertson, right winger Denis Gurianov and goaltender Jake Oettinger. Although Gurianov and Oettinger are taking the bridge contract route, Robertson’s stellar start to his career has pushed him into long-term contract territory if that’s what he wants. Re-signing Klingberg for $8 million, give or take, would put serious pressure on GM Jim Nill. Handing the grey-haired Ryan Suter a multi-year deal last summer instead of a one-year deal could put Klingberg out of town.
Klingberg seems to understand his fate. Speaking to the media last week about stalled extension talks, He expressed: “As a player, I don’t feel valued.” That certainly sounds like someone preparing to test the market this summer. There is usually no urgency to trade him right now as the stars could wait until the deadline approaches. But the stakes have been raised since according to some reports last week, he asked for a trade. When his relationship with the team is broken beyond repair, keeping him around risks poisoning the culture of the locker room. Then again, He publicly backtracked on the rumours late last week, suggesting he still wants to be a star but doesn’t think that’s likely beyond this season.
What does Nil do then? Despite a .538 point percentage, Dallas sits sixth in the highly competitive Central Division. It doesn’t have a wildcard slot at the moment, but has games on its hands with almost every team in the West. The playoffs are still in full swing. Does that mean the Stars have to keep Klingberg on “free loan” for the track run? Or should they sell him now since they are almost guaranteed to lose him for nothing this off-season and he doesn’t want to play for them anymore?
Which teams are the best match for an instant Klingberg trade? Five potential travel destinations stand out.
I mentioned the Bruins as a landing place for Jakob Chychrun Earlier this week as they need more help on the left side of their D-Corps than the right, but Chychrun is 23 and has signed for four more seasons at a great price so will cost significantly more than Klingberg. The Bruins probably don’t have enough prospect depth to price Chychrun, but could afford Klingberg. The return of Tuukka Rask and the impending free hand of Patrice Bergeron give this season that ‘one last ride’ feel. Klingberg was able to give the team’s puck movement a nice boost. Charlie McAvoy obviously brings a lot on the right, but he’s such an all-round force that he needs to do a lot more than just score.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
The Kings sent a message that they wanted to take a big step forward and move from rebuilder to fringe contender when they traded for right winger Viktor Arvidsson in the offseason and signed center Phillip Danault and defender Alexander Edler. So far so good, as the Kings are currently third in the Pacific Division. They made it because of their defensive play and 5v5 driving. What they lack so far is the fine-tuning skill. They have one of the worst 5-on-5 team shot ratios in the NHL and their power play ranks 25th. Assuming coach Todd McLellan could figure out a way to get Klingberg to co-exist with fellow legal officer Drew Doughty, Klingberg could ramp up the power play and help the LA shooters score better points in 5-on-5 action.
Even with such a deep farm system, the Kings have plenty of secondary prospects they could pack into a bid for Klingberg.
The Wilden could use Klingberg immediately. They hold their own in vicious Central, but injuries and COVID-19 plague them. Half of their starting D-Corps are currently not in the lineup: Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Alex Goligoski. Spurgeon is still down with a lower body injury week in and week out. Klingberg could be a welcome relief in the short term and help a power play that has struggled in 2021-22 for the remainder of the season.
The Predators were supposed to be sellers last season. Instead, they kept winning until they reached the playoffs and eventually re-signed defenseman Mattias Ekholm. Upcoming UFA left winger Filip Forsberg is now the subject of trade speculation, but heck Nashville is 24-12-2. Could GM David Poile adopt a buyer’s mentality? Klingberg could replace the right-handed puck movement they lost when they traded Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers last summer.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Should the Isles go for a big acquisition when they currently hold a .483 point percentage and sit sixteen points from a playoff spot? Well, they’ve played the fewest games of any NHL team, they have more home games left than any other team, they’ve gone 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, and they’ve come into this season with Stanley Cup aspirations. Their No. 1 right-hander, Ryan Pulock, has not played in two months due to a lower body condition. When he’s healthy he’s a crucial all-around horse for the Isles, but his blistering shot hasn’t translated into the powerplay presence he should have on paper. Klingberg could give the Isles a level of offense they really don’t have right now, even though Noah Dobson is in the middle of a breakout season.
If the islands continue to improve as their schedule normalizes, don’t be surprised if GM Lou Lamoriello wades into trading waters. During his long career, he was a mid-season mover.