Tampa Bay Lightning should not pursue Erik Karlsson

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 28: Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) is congratulated by Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) and teammates after scoring his 3rd goal to complete the hat trick during the 2018 NHL All-Star Game between the Metropolitan Division All-Stars and Atlantic Division All-Stars on January 28, 2018 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 28: Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) is congratulated by Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) and teammates after scoring his 3rd goal to complete the hat trick during the 2018 NHL All-Star Game between the Metropolitan Division All-Stars and Atlantic Division All-Stars on January 28, 2018 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

As the NHL trade deadline approaches, there has been speculation about the possibility of the Tampa Bay Lightning trading for All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson.  But does a trade for Karlsson make sense for the Lightning?

Tampa Bay Lightning fans, something unexpected and undeniable emerged from the NHL All-Star game.  Erik Karlsson, superstar defenseman of the Ottawa Senators, really enjoyed his time in Tampa.  

First, he made a grand entrance by dressing up as a pirate with fellow Sweedish defenseman Victor Hedman.  Then, during the All-Star game, he played on a line with Tampa’s own Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.  

Not only did they play together, but they also played really well together.  The three seemed to have a natural chemistry and they always seemed to have smiles on their faces when they were on the ice.

It seemed that wherever Karlsson was, there were Tampa players too and they were having fun.  It should come as no surprise then, that it was around this time that speculation about Karlsson being sent to the Bolts started to gain traction.

Ottawa’s recent struggles and Karlsson’s impending free agency have sparked speculation about the future home of the defensemen.  Of course, it’s entirely possible that he chooses to resign with his team, which he has said multiple times that he wants to do.  Karlsson has spent his entire career with the Senators and is the captain of his club, if he hated it in Ottawa he would be gone by now.  

However, he has also said that he is going to get what he is worth this offseason, wherever he ends up.  If the Senators aren’t willing to throw as big of numbers at Karlsson as he would like there’s a legitimate possibility that he’ll walk away and the Sens will be left with nothing to show for it. 

While this is still another year away, it may be best to move him now if the Senators already know this will most likely be the case.  Player value is always highest right before the trade deadline, especially to teams that are trying to make a playoff push.  

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It just so happens that the Lightning are shopping for defensemen.  Karlsson would undoubtedly be a fit for the team and would make their defense better.  The question remains though, should the Lightning go all in for him?

No, they absolutely should not.  Acquiring Karlsson would take much more than the Lightning should realistically give.  In addition to that, the Lightning won’t be able to sign him to a long-term deal when his contract does expire, making Karlsson’s stay with the Lightning both short and expensive.

Currently, Karlsson is the only significant negotiating piece that the Senators have.  If they decide to move him, it won’t be cheap for the team that gets him.  It needs to be worth it to the Senators to make such a big move that’ll begin a new era for their club.

It’s unlikely that Ottawa will settle for quantity over quality with a few mediocre players in exchange for Karlsson.  The Senators are a team that’s deep in mediocrity with no real standouts other than their captain.

That mediocrity means that a trade will almost certainly require more than one very talented player in exchange for him.  As much as Lightning fans would like to see Alex Killorn, Andrej Sustr, and a couple of draft picks be sent off for him, that just won’t cut it.

This is where the Lightning begin to have a problem.  Their untouchables obviously include Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Victor Hedman.  The Bolts still have several big names beyond those four to offer, but doing so would cripple the team in a big way.

Some names that would make the most sense in a trade would be Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev, Tyler Johnson, and Vladislav Namestnikov.  First things first, Sergachev and Point must be off limits.

The two are rising stars and trading them now will surely come back to bite the Bolts later.  Point or Sergachev alone wouldn’t do it either.  More would be required from the Bolts, and that isn’t even including draft picks.  A deal involving either would need to include other players or multiple prospects, which would impact the Lightning’s future roster too much and would rob them of a lot of talent down the road.

If a trade involving Sergachev or Point would take more to make it work, it would be doubly true for a trade involving Johnson or Namestnikov.

Johnson is streaky, and the other teams in the NHL know that just as well as Lightning fans do.  When he’s hot, he’s a huge offensive threat.  Unfortunately, these periods are spaced out by cold periods of little production.  It seems that Johnson is good for one or two hot streaks a season, which isn’t near as reliable or promising as the development of Point or Sergachev.

Namestnikov, however, is having the season of his career.  This would be prime time to trade him right?

Not exactly.  Much of his production this year has had to do with playing on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.  When the duo was in an offensive lull, so was Namestniov.  His production isn’t the same when he isn’t on a line with the pair either.

In addition to all of this, it’s doubtful that Yzerman will rip apart a roster that’s winning for a rental player and a mad dash for a cup.  Acquiring Karlsson won’t guarantee a Stanley Cup for the Lightning and Yzerman knows this.  Overpaying with players on the roster may do more harm that it’s worth.

Of course, there’s the possibility of a trade involving mainly prospects.  Perhaps moving on from Karlsson will begin a rebuild in Ottawa where the focus is on building for the future.  Fortunately, the Lightning have a deep pool of prospects.  Unfortunately, it’ll take the best of what they have and then some draft picks to net Karlsson.

Several Lightning prospects had great showings during the World Junior championship.  Among these were Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, Libor Hajek, and Brett Howden.  These players, and many of the other prospects in the Lightning’s deep developmental pool are young, full of talent, and will undoubtedly be the core of Tampa’s roster in a few years.  That is unless they’re traded first.

It’ll take three or four top prospects, and multiple draft picks to convince the Senators that the deal is worth trading their star for.  The future of the Tampa Bay Lightning isn’t worth a short stay in Tampa from Karlsson.  Long-term success always outweighs short-term success, especially when the short-term isn’t guaranteed.

The argument for the trade would be that the Lightning need to go all in to win a Stanley Cup now.  No trade can ever guarantee a Stanley Cup.  Ever.

Just last year, the Washington Capitals (who were in a very similar position to the one the Lightning find themselves in now) traded for Kevin Shattenkirk, who was said to be the last piece that the Capitals needed to capture a Stanley Cup finally.  The Capitals paid a high price for the defensemen, offering up a 2017 first round draft pick, conditional draft picks, a top prospect, and another mid-tier prospect.

There are three points that I want to make from this trade.  The first is that the asking price was very high for a short stay.

The Capitals gave up multiple draft picks, a promising prospect, and then more for Shattenkirk to stay through the Capital’s playoff run, as he chose to sign with the Rangers during the offseason.  Now, the Capitals are out both the assets they gave up and Shattenkirk himself.

Secondly, the Capitals didn’t win the Stanley Cup last year. Apparently, this comes as a shock to no one, but it goes to show that no trade can guarantee a Stanley Cup.  Take this article from NHL.com for example.  It was said that the Capitals were praised as favorites to win the Cup even before the Shattenkirk trade, but now that it’s done, they’re even more dangerous.  Despite this, they made their signature second-round exit nonetheless.

Finally, Karlsson has a lot more value than Shattenkirk.  Don’t get me wrong, Shattenkirk is a skilled defenseman, but he isn’t even close to Karlsson’s level.  If it took what the Capitals paid to acquire Shattenkirk, the price will be much higher for the Lightning to land Karlsson.

Yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning have an abundance of promising players that they could trade in a deal similar to this one.  That being said, The Lightning’s future, in players or draft picks, isn’t worth a playoff run that may very well end in an early exit.

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The price is just too high for the Lightning to pursue Karlsson.  Trading away their future or dismantling their current roster is not worth having Karlsson play in Tampa for a playoff push that may not even result in a Stanley Cup for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  There’s just too much risk and not enough reward.