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Penguins acquire 3-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Sharks

By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) — So much for the Pittsburgh Penguins trying to walk the fine line between protecting the future while also making the most out of the present.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company — new president of hockey operations/general manager Kyle Dubas in particular — are all in on trying to catch the powers that be in the Eastern Conference.

Dubas has pushed in his available chips, acquiring star defenseman Erik Karlsson from San Jose in a massive three-way deal with the Sharks and Montreal Canadiens on Sunday.

Pittsburgh sent a 2024 first-round pick, forward Mikael Granlund and defenseman Jan Rutta to San Jose and goaltender Casey DeSmith, defenseman Jeff Petry, a 2025 second-round pick and prospect Nathan Legare to Montreal as part of the deal for the three-time Norris Trophy winner.

Karlsson is the first defenseman to be traded fresh off winning the Norris as the NHL’s top defenseman since Doug Harvey in 1961. The 33-year-old Swede became the first player at the position to record 100 points in a season since Brian Leetch in 1991-92.

The complicated trade included the Canadiens to make sure the deal was salary cap compliant. Karlsson has four years left on his contract at a cap hit of $11.5 million — $1.5 million of which San Jose will retain through the end of the deal in 2027. The Penguins, meanwhile, will hold on to $1.56 million of Petry’s salary.

“It’s been kind of a long grind throughout not only the regular season but the summer to get this done,” Sharks general manager Mike Grier said on a video call with reporters. “We’ve been going at it for a while trying to get this done with a few teams. Kyle’s been pretty upfront and aggressive for the last couple months, but it’s been a little bit of a grind.”

As part of the trade, the Penguins also received forward Rem Pitlick, prospect Dillon Hamaliuk and San Jose’s 2026 third-round pick. The Sharks also got Mike Hoffman from the Canadiens.

Karlsson, who also won the Norris in 2012 and 2015, is going to his third NHL organization. He played his first nine seasons with the Ottawa Senators before he was traded to San Jose in 2018.

In 987 regular-season and playoff games, Karlsson has 814 points — the most of any defenseman since he broke into the league in 2009. He has not appeared in the playoffs since 2019 and will now be an important part of trying to get Crosby, Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang and the Penguins back into the mix in the East after their 16-year playoff streak ended last season, prompting major front office changes.

The team fired President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke and general manager Ron Hextall in the aftermath and owner Fenway Sports Group turned the keys over to Dubas.

He was given the mandate to maximize whatever championship window remains for while Crosby, Malkin and Letang are still on the roster. The trio won the Stanley Cup together in 2009, 2016 and 2017 but the going has been far tougher in recent years.

Pittsburgh hasn’t won a postseason series since the opening round of the 2018 playoffs, and it found itself on the outside looking in for the first time since 2006 following a late slide that included a loss to lowly Chicago in the final week, a setback that essentially served as the death knell for the longest active playoff streak in major North American sports.

The team’s cornerstones are all on the far end of their 30s. Malkin is 37, Letang is 36 and Crosby turns 36 on Monday. They’ll be joined by the 33-year-old Karlsson, a dynamic scorer who can sometimes be a liability at the other end of the ice.

Dubas’ pursuit of Karlsson began shortly after free agency began on July 1, though it took time for all of the pieces to come together.

The trade does rid the Penguins of Granlund — a non-factor after coming over in a puzzling deal at the trade deadline last season — and Petry, who missed more than 20 games due to injury and struggled with consistency when he was in the lineup.

Pittsburgh’s reconfigured blue line now includes Karlsson, Letang and Ryan Graves, who signed a six-year deal last month. DeSmith’s departure leaves Tristan Jarry — who agreed to a surprising five-year contract to stay in town — as the only goalie on the roster with experience in coach Mike Sullivan’s system.

The Penguins were the NHL’s oldest team last season, a spot they figure to retain when the puck drops against Chicago on Oct. 10.

Yet with three players who are likely destined for the Hall of Fame entering the twilight of their careers, Dubas is banking on his active summer helping his team close the gap that has opened between the Penguins and the contenders in a loaded East.

The Sharks are going the other way, tearing down after missing the playoffs each of the past four seasons. They took on significant salary for next season and 2024-25 but by only retaining 13% of Karlsson’s contract opened themselves up to be big spenders two years from now when closer to contending.

“Having the ability to have some cap flexibility and financial flexibility was really important for us moving forward,” Grier said. “Clearing that cap space and having the flexibility to get involved to make some moves down the line was one of the main priorities of this deal.”

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AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL

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