Just as LeBron James affected the NBA futures market when he signed with the Lakers, John Tavares did the same in the NHL when he moved to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
By adding the five-time All-Star center from the New York Islanders, the Maple Leafs immediately became one of the favorites at the Westgate Superbook to win the Stanley Cup. Both the Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning are sitting at 8-1. The Vegas Golden Knights, Nashville Predators, Boston Bruins and the reigning champion Washington Capitals come next at 10-1.
For me, the opportunity for the Golden Knights to hoist the Cup revolves around a pair of Karlssons – one who general manager George McPhee will keep for at least one more season and another who might be slipping away.
The ability to cash a ticket on the Golden Knights revolves first around William Karlsson, who had a career year here in Las Vegas. While earning only $1 million, he scored 43 goals after getting only 18 total his first three seasons in the league. He filed for salary arbitration this week, so he can’t sign an offer sheet with any other team, and he will continue to negotiate a long-term deal with the Knights. At age 25, this Karlsson clearly must be retained well past 2018-19 for the Knights to be a serious contender year after year.
Now we get to the other Karlsson. Tampa Bay is the clear-cut favorite in the sweepstakes to extract Erik Karlsson in a trade from Ottawa, perhaps in a three-way deal to make salaries work. If that move happens, the two-time Norris Trophy winner makes the Lightning the clear-cut favorite. Defensemen of this quality don’t come along every year. The Los Angeles Kings established the price when they signed Drew Doughty to an eight-year contract worth $88 million.
One report out of Ottawa said that if the Lightning can’t finish the deal for Erik, then he could yet land with the Golden Knights, the San José Sharks or the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Meanwhile, the Senators were foolish in not handling him with care. They let the feud between his wife and a teammate’s girlfriend get out in the open. McPhee would have known better. The reason why you don’t hear much from him is that sensitive situations like this or any other are best handled behind closed doors.
McPhee was a deserving winner of the General Manager of the Year award. But in this era of free agency in professional sport, you can’t rest on your trophies. He has already let David Perron and James Neal walk. Those are not insignificant losses. Perron set a career-best with 66 points. Neal had a 25-goal season, adding another six goals and 11 points during the Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.
As a bettor, if you thought McPhee could somehow have both Karlssons playing next season for the Golden Knights, then getting them as soon as possible at 10-1 had to be the move. But if you thought that he would have trouble landing the second one, hold your fire. Because fewer Karlssons in Vegas mean longer odds for the Knights.
As for that James guy in the other winter game, it may be sacrilege on my part to say that The King was not the biggest move so far in NBA free agency. But it says here that the Golden State Warriors inking Boogie Cousins to a one-year contract basically guarantees the Larry O’Brien Trophy residing another year by the Bay.
LeBron is certainly the single, most unstoppable force in the game, and his record speaks for itself. But no one player is going to beat what the Warriors have put together. So what I’m saying is beware of walking up to the counter and betting your money on the Lakers.
After the Cousins news came out, the Warriors shortened to –175 at the Westgate Superbook to win the title. After the Celtics at 450, the new Lakers are 500.
By signing Cousins, the Warriors intercepted a player who LeBron really could have used in L.A. The Warriors also added one of few ingredients missing from their recipe to maintain a dynasty.
When Cousins fully recovers from a torn left Achilles tendon, probably next February or March, the Warriors will become the first team to start five All-Stars since the Boston Celtics of the mid-’70s. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will welcome Cousins to form an unbeatable five for Golden State.
The only offensive weapon that this fabulous Warrior team has lacked in a run to three championships in four years is the big man down low who becomes another unstoppable force. By the way, Cousins is a big man who can also step outside the 3-point line and pour it in from downtown.
Good luck defending those five guys when they’re on the move. If you thought the Warriors’ third quarters were something to behold last season, you ain’t seen nothing yet.