VANCOUVER — Senators star defenseman Erik Karlsson spent All-Star weekend at the Davis Islands home of his good friend and fellow Swede Victor Hedman.
They ordered pizza Friday night with Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. The next day, Karlsson and Hedman wore pirate costumes they ordered from Amazon a few days prior. They walked around the Lightning dressing room and cracked jokes.
Talk about a bromance.
But could they end up defensive-pair partners?
Lightning fans can dream, and those fantasies were piqued when Karlsson played alongside Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov during Sunday’s 3-on-3 All-Star tournament. Karlsson had said those were the two forwards he had hoped to be paired with.
But a permanent reunion in Tampa Bay is a pipe dream. But it’s not impossible.
That’s what makes the storyline so interesting as the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaches. Karlsson, 27, is one of the game’s top players, a two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman. Though the Senators have said they want to keep him for life, it has to at least scare them that Karlsson has said he plans to "make what I’m worth" with his free agency approaching in 2019.
Those who follow Ottawa closely believe the Senators will at least wait until the summer, when they can sit down with Karlsson to see where things stand. But what if Ottawa decides this already is a lost cause in an already lost season, and it gets a trade offer it can’t refuse?
Why the Lightning could make it work
If any team is positioned to make a move for Karlsson, it’s the Lightning.
It is a Stanley Cup-caliber team that may be another veteran impact defenseman away from putting it over the top this season. General manager Steve Yzerman could — and should — be aggressive at the trade deadline. Other options are out there — including the Red Wings’ Mike Green, who can be a free agent this summer — but Karlsson is the big fish.
And the Lightning likely has the bait to land him.
It has one of the most well-stocked farm systems and has all its draft picks for the next three years. A potential Karlsson package could include a top-six forward such as pending restricted free agent Vladislav Namestnikov or Tyler Johnson, whose no-trade clause doesn’t kick in until June. You could add a quality prospect such as forward Taylor Raddysh and a pick or two, maybe another defenseman, such as Jake Dotchin or Slater Koekkoek. That may not be enough, but it’s worth a conversation.
Tampa Bay could create enough salary cap room to handle Karlsson’s $6.5 million annual cap hit through next season, which would give it at least two playoff runs with him.
Think about that. The Lightning could have Hedman and Karlsson on the ice — together or separately — for most of every playoff game.
How Swede would that be?
Why such a deal likely won’t happen
Blockbuster deals involving franchise players don’t happen often, especially at the deadline. And I still think Ottawa may wait until summer to sort it all out.
The Lightning really won’t be able to afford Karlsson long term, not with expected big contracts looming in the next few years for All-Stars Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brayden Point. How much would Yzerman be willing to give up for 11/2 seasons of Karlsson, who lost half of one ankle bone during offseason surgery?
Anyone who thinks Point could be part of any deal is crazy. Point is a star and should be untouchable. Also, I can’t imagine Tampa Bay moving rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, the prized piece in June’s trade of Jonathan Drouin to the Canadiens.
The biggest deadline move Yzerman has made since arriving in 2010 was in 2015, when he gave up a first-round pick, a third-rounder and defenseman Radko Gudas to the Flyers for defenseman Braydon Coburn. Yzerman did get two second-rounders that night in shipping 2010 first-rounder Brett Connolly to Boston.
Any asking price involving Karlsson would be much higher than those deals.
Yzerman did some heavy lifting to get himself out of cap issues at last year’s deadline, trading Valtteri Filppula, Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle. Adding Karlsson would mean more of a cap headache.
Yzerman could take cheaper routes for an upgrade, which may be more likely. The Lightning has scouted the defense-heavy Blue Jackets a ton (Jack Johson requested a trade in November). There’s the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh, who could reunite with former teammates Anton Stralman, Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi. There’s Detriot’s, Green, whose strength is his offensive skills, but he’s an All-Star and right-handed shot.
"(Green is) such a smart player, and he’s so calm with the puck," Stamkos said. "Not a lot of guys that possess the shot that he has … also (have) the patience and ability to fake a shot and pass it over like we’ve seen."
We’ve learned that Yzerman isn’t afraid to make a big move but also doesn’t lose sight of the big picture (see: Drouin for Sergachev). He’s hard to count out (re-signing Stamkos in 2016).
Stamkos joked that he dropped hints about playing in Tampa to everyone at last week’s All-Star Game. You’d have to think that at some point over pizza that night at Hedman’s, a Karlsson-to-Tampa scenario was brought up.
"There’s a few comments tossed everywhere," Karlsson said. "But at the end of the day, it’s all in good fun."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.