Sunday, September 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning advantage in Erik Karlsson trade talks

He wants to be here.

This is the place.

In case you'd missed it amid the gloom and doom of a Lightning season that came up short again, there are still people who want to play in Tampa Bay.

One of them is Erik Sven Gunnar Karlsson of Landsbro, Sweden. The all-world defenseman who wants out of Ottawa and onto the Lightning.

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Repeating: He wants to be here.

The Karlsson sweepstakes continued Friday, with the Eastern Conference finalists, led by GM Steve Yzerman, right in the middle of it. That doesn't mean there is any guarantee that Karlsson will be a Bolt. At the moment, there are too many moving parts, too many balls in the air.

Tampa Bay has pursued Karlsson before. The price was high then, and it will be higher now, maybe too high for the Lightning, given its extended window for winning the Stanley Cup.

Karlsson — a two-time Norris Trophy winner, as transformational a back-line talent as there exists in the game — might not be worth giving up talented 22-year-old Brayden Point (no way) or 20-year-old Mikhail Sergachev for. You'd essentially be giving up 10-12 years of Sergachev for five or six years of Karlsson, 28.

It's a gamble. It's one the Lightning doesn't have to take. It can compete for the Stanley Cup without Karlsson.

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But there's this:

He wants to be here.

Karlsson is driving this bus.

He is one of the 10 best hockey players on the planet, and he wants to be here, wants to join his friend and fellow Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman. I think they're going to use their trophies on the ice instead of cones for agility drills at training camp. That would make it three Swedes on the Lightning defense, counting Anton Stralman. Stockholm, sweet holm.

Erik Karlsson wants to be here, and that's almost everything. It's not just because of the toxic atmosphere in Ottawa, which includes Karlsson's wife filing for protection after accusing now former Ottawa Senator Mike Hoffman (traded) and his fiancee of harassment and cyberbullying. Chances are that Karlsson would want to be here anyway.

During January's All-Star weekend in Tampa, Karlsson joked(?) that he'd found his new home. He spent the weekend at Hedman's home. In the spirit of Gasparilla parade day, the two of them showed up for the Saturday skills competition in pirate costumes.

We had begun to wonder about the Lightning's gravitational pull after Steve Stamkos' pal John Tavares took his game to Toronto instead of here. But the Lightning still has it, at least enough of it. Throw in Stevie Y's aura and maybe you've got yourself a deal. Tampa Bay is a destination.

This is not the Tampa Bay of years ago, when players, especially older players, looked for a soft landing, offseason beach tans and tee times.

Today, this is the place they come to hunt for the Cup.

And the hunt goes on.

I don't see how you pass on the chance to have the best defense in hockey, even at the expense of Sergachev, or top defense prospect Cal Foote, or even scoring star Nikita Kucherov straight up.

The Lightning's window might say you go slow, but the thing about open windows is that people begin to wonder when you are going to close them. The idea of Karlsson running the power play is intoxicating.

Is the Lightning drunk with ambition? Does it really need another piece to bring home the Cup?

Put it this way: Does the Lightning have a choice? Three conference finals in four seasons have set the bar so high that the Lightning either clears it or it is done, beginning with coach Jon Cooper. It's all on the line next season. Yzerman knows it.

But he has an ace up his sleeve, and it's not no state income tax.

It's the ZIP code.

People want to play here.

Erik Karlsson does.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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