The Seattle Sailors are in a tenuous position in the Western playoff race. The Anchorage Igloos, widely expected to be a slam-dunk playoff team, have struggled to get much above the .500 mark. In theory, the second Western playoff spot should be up for grabs. However, hampered by a dreadful defense, the Sailors have been unable to take advantage, and have been hovering 5 to 7 points behind Anchorage for the last month.
Given the situation, Seattle essentially had two options: concede the race, or go all in. “The race has been static for a while now,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay. “If we stuck with the roster we had, we were going to die fast and quiet.”
Instead, McKay elected to go all in. The Sailors made a pair of major deals to acquire a couple of big names, at a significant cost in prospects. “We’re pushing our chips to the middle of the table,” said McKay. “We think we’ve got the chance to do something special here.”
Seattle’s largest acquisition was the deadline’s top prize. C Lars Karlsson was the biggest name rumored to be on the block. The 30-year-old center is a proven star and is having a fantastic year, having scored 19 goals and 25 assists. But his previous team, the Dakota Jackalopes, are in the midst of a payroll purge, and Karlsson’s contract is up at the end of the season.
The Sailors had a clear need at the center position, and they targeted Karlsson from the start. But they’d already dealt their first-round pick to Dakota before the season. In order to rent Karlsson for the stretch run, Seattle had to part with a pair of top prospects – C Dale Wilcox and D Duncan DeShantz – as well as their second-round pick.
“Lars definitely didn’t come cheap,” said McKay. “But he’s the kind of talent that can really move the needle. He plugs right into our top line – which was already doing great – and the effect ripples through our entire offense. He’s a game-changer.”
Of course, Seattle’s offense hasn’t been the issue; it’s their leaky defense that has doomed them. To address that, the Sailors picked up veteran D Hans Mortensen, 30, from the Kansas City Smoke. The defender has provided airtight defense in KC and put up 17 assists in 40 games. To land him, Seattle surrendered another prospect blueliner, T.K. O’Neill. The 20-year-old O’Neill struggled in his SHL debut, failing to record a point in 22 games before being sent down, but he is regarded as an elite defensive prospect.
“Hans is one of those lockdown D-men that you love to have,” said McKay. “He’s a solid veteran with championship experience, and he can contribute on both ends. He’s going to really help our playoff push.”
These two moves make Seattle a more formidable opponent, but will it be enough? And if the Sailors miss the playoffs and Karlsson walks at the end of the season, will they regret their deadline splurge?
“I won’t regret it a bit,” said McKay. “If you’re not going for it, really going for it, what’s the point? Maybe this all blows up in my face and I get fired. That’s okay. We’d rather take a chance and miss than muddle along and do nothing.”
Sailors coach Harold Engellund, who used to coach Dakota, agrees with that assessment: “It’s really nice to be with an organization that goes all out to win, that’s not afraid to spend money and take a shot. I’m not used to it, but I love it.”