When Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson was asked Saturday who he was looking forward to playing with the most in Sunday's NHL All-Star Game, the two-time Norris Trophy winner said: Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.
Karlsson got his wish, teaming up with Kucherov and Stamkos for most of the two 3-on3- games the Atlantic Division team played.
“I was really happy about that one,” Karlsson said, smiling. “That’s two pure goal scorers with great hockey sense. So for me, who doesn’t shoot the puck as well anymore, nice to have those guys on each side.”
Watching the trio make magic Sunday had Lightning fans dreaming of a more permanent reunion. Karlsson will be an unrestricted free agent after next season, but his comments about wanting to make what he’s “worth” is driving speculation he could be available at the Feb. 26 trade deadline. Stamkos joked he dropped hints about the Lightning to every player in the Eastern Conference dressing room. Karlsson did hang out with Stamkos at fellow Swede Victor Hedman’s house Friday night. Hedman is a good friend of Karlsson.
“I think everyone kind of knows what’s going on around the league, and most of the guys in here know each other,” Karlsson said. “Obviously there’s a few comments tossed around everywhere, but at the end of the day, it’s all in fun.”
The Lightning will likely try to address its blueline at the trade deadline, and Karlsson very well could be a pipe dream for most teams. But Karlsson won’t be the only All-Star who could be available, with Stamkos noting that Red Wings right-shot defenseman Mike Green, a pending unrestricted free agent, likely being a “hot commodity.”
“He’s having a great year,” Stamkos said. “I’ve seen him a lot in his Washington days. Seen a lot of times him shooting or passing it across and it going in the back of our net. He’s such a smart player, and he’s so calm with the puck. Not a lot of guys that possess the shot that he has, but also the patience and ability to fake a shot and pass it over like we’ve seen on the power play a lot. He’s going to be a very hot commodity probably at the deadline, especially being a righty. We’ll see.”
The player that likely got the most courting was Islanders star center John Tavares, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s in a similar situation as Stamkos was two years ago, the captain saying he wants to stay with his current team, but speculation still flying.
Tavares, a long-time friend of Stamkos, was impressed with the Tampa hockey market, especially this weekend’s All-Star Game.
“They were fantastic,” Tavares said. “People really embraced it. Lot of stuff going on in the city and town. They’ve done a great job here with their fan base, and really with the Tampa Bay Lightning. When we play here it’s always a full house. You see Lightning signs and support the team has around town, even when it’s not All-Star weekend.”