You have to wind the clock back 20 years to find the last time we saw something like this in the NHL. The reigning Norris Trophy winner, finishing a season in dominant fashion, collecting his hardware, and never playing another game for the club.

Two decades ago, it was Scott Niedermayer, the longtime Devils defender winning the 2004 Norris in New Jersey, then donning an Anaheim Ducks sweater the next time he took the ice, leaving Jersey to sign with his brother’s club post-lockout. This time, it’s Erik Karlsson, who’s fresh off a resurgent, absurdly productive campaign only he could’ve foreseen.

With a career-high 25 goals and 101 points for San Jose in 2022-23, the veteran rearguard collected the third Norris of his career just two weeks ago. But when he returns to the sheet in a few months for the 2023-24 campaign, all signs suggest it’ll be with a different crest on his chest. And we need only listen to the man himself, and his GM Mike Grier, to get a sense of the likelihood of that move.

"I think he would like the chance to have an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup, and I understand that," Grier said of No. 65 late last month. "His timeline, where he is in his career, [it] doesn't quite match up with where we are in our process of building this thing back up.”

“I think there’s a lot of teams that want to do it. Not necessarily a lot of teams that can do it,” Karlsson said a few weeks ago, while at the NHL Awards to collect his trophy. With a full no-move clause on his current deal, which runs for four more seasons, the blue-liner has final say on the trade he and the Sharks eventually accept. “I’m not looking to be greedy. I'm not looking to do what's best for me personally. I want it professionally to be a good situation. 

“That's what I'm going to base my decision off, and I hope that obviously, sooner or later, we can figure out what those options are.”

With an $11.5-million cap hit, and a contract that will end with Karlsson closer to 40 years old than 30, orchestrating such a deal isn’t a simple task, though. And while the Sharks would surely love to rake in some important assets that can help them build for the future, and some extra cap space too, the club isn’t about to give their star defender away for nothing.

“For people who think we're going to eat 50 per cent of his contract and all this type of stuff, it's probably not going to happen,” said Grier. “Erik's a special player. He's on the path to being a Hall of Fame player. … He's not someone who we're just going to toss aside.”

Since the three-time Norris winner began rounding back into form, the rumour mill has run rampant with speculation on where a trade could take him, with a number of clubs reported to have been in conversation for the defender at different times. Who actually has the assets to pull off the deal remains to be seen. But which team would be the most interesting trade partner for the all-world rearguard?