In the NHL, player salaries often serve as a barometer for a player’s perceived value to a team. A perfect case study for this dynamic is the comparison between Erik Karlsson and John Klingberg.

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Maple Leafs Nation Is Critical of the Move – Why Not Their Team?

Today, as I write this post, much of the Toronto Maple Leafs world seems to be suffering the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ current general manager (GM) and President of Hockey Operations Kyle Dubas making a trade for Erik Karlsson. While back at home in Toronto, the Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving had to settle for John Klingberg.

Granted, as any regular reader knows, I’m a Dubas fan. I thought he was a good GM and I was sorry to see the Maple Leafs dispense of him. And, this trade is complex and creative – both Dubas kinds of things.

But, Is Karlsson Worth Almost Three Times Klingberg’s Salary?

Now we have a fun thing to watch as these two strong defensemen, who now seem to be at opposite ends of the salary spectrum, begin their seasons. The Penguins and the Maple Leafs underwent significant changes in their roster and management, with Dubas out and Treliving in.

Now the hockey world has something to watch. How fun will it be to match Karlsson’s play (given his much higher salary) to Klingberg’s play (given his much lower salary) over the season? The numbers are not exact – in that, Klingberg makes $4.15 million per season and Karlsson makes $11.5 million – which will translate into three times (actually, to be exact it’s 2.771 times). Still, we’ll be able to compare the values throughout this coming season.

The Price Tag Paradox

Karlsson is a great defenseman. His skill as an offensive-minded defenseman brings attention and accolades. He won last season’s Norris Trophy – it was the third of his career. His skill set and contribution to a team are undeniable.

But with a price tag that dwarfs Klingberg’s contract, have the Penguins made a solid investment? Perhaps. On the other hand, have the Maple Leafs done poorly by signing Klingberg? He comes at a fraction of Karlsson’s salary. But, he also possesses a skillset that cannot be ignored.

Related: 5 Reasons the Maple Leafs Might Want to Look at Paul Stastny

Analyzing the Defensive Duo

Both Karlsson and Klingberg are known for their offensive contributions. They both have on-ice ability and are good playmakers. Klingberg’s contract is a value-conscious signing by Treliving based on the possibility of a bounce-back season. On the other hand, Dubas knew what Karlsson would bring. He’s done it so many times before and it’s likely that he’ll do it again.

But all over Blue & White Nation today, Treliving is being panned while Dubas is being praised. It doesn’t seem considerate. The fact is, I hope both players have great seasons. But, to the question of whether Klingberg’s on-ice performance can rival that of the higher-paid Karlsson, I don’t think there’s going to be three times the difference.

So, let the season begin. The upcoming season will help us all find out whether Karlsson can indeed deliver three times the value compared to Klingberg.

There’s Value Beyond Salary

Salary is a quantifiable measure. But, the value a player brings to a team transcends dollars and cents. Both Klingberg and Karlsson will bring intangible elements to their new teams. Leadership, experience, and the potential to elevate the performances of their teammates can’t be measured easily using financial numbers.

We will see, as the season unfolds, how important these aspects will become in shaping each team’s success.

The Bottom Line

The tale of the tape – measuring the value of Karlsson vs. Klingberg – will be an intriguing story as the 2023-24 season progresses. Their contrasting salaries and potential value to their respective teams will likely be weighed and measured by critics and pundits alike.

Karlsson’s salary is nearly three times that of Klingberg’s. Yet, it remains to be seen whether this translates to a commensurate value on the ice.

The coming season promises to be fun for fans. It will allow one more “barbershop” conversation as fans converse about their team’s success or failure.

My only thoughts are that (1) although Karlsson makes 2.771 times the money Klingberg makes, $4 million is more than I’ve seen in my lifetime as a teacher; and, (2) the true worth of a player is complex. There’s an equation involved that encompasses skill, leadership, and the impact each player might bring to the game.

I hope Maple Leafs’ fans give John Klingberg a chance to prove his value to the team without suffering because he’s not Erik Karlsson.

Related: The Good & Bad of Maple Leafs’ Goalie Keith Petruzzelli

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