TORONTO – Lightning fans aren't the only ones who have dreamed about the team landing Senators star defenseman Erik Karlsson in a blockbuster trade deadline deal.
So has Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, Karlsson's close friend and fellow Swede.
"I don't think there's a team in this league who would say no to the best defenseman in the league," Hedman said. "But is it realistic? I don't know."
That's the key word when it comes to the trade deadline, which is two weeks from Monday, on Feb. 26. It's the silly season, with every big name linked to contending teams that need a final piece.
The Lightning could use another defenseman or two, and maybe a bottom-six center. But though Tampa Bay is a Cup contender with the kinds of prospects and picks to make a splash, GM Steve Yzerman doesn't feel pressure to overpay at the deadline.
Yzerman said there are available top-four-caliber defenseman that are realistic fits for the Lightning. But are they worth the cost?
"No matter what moves you make, there's no guarantee that you're winning the Cup," Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday. "I do know that at the trade deadline, any deal you make you're paying more than at any time during the season. I weigh any opportunity with what it's going to cost.
"I can give up five first-round picks and every prospect we have and it still won't guarantee the Stanley Cup."
There are cautionary tales. Just ask the Wild, which gave up a first- and second-rounder in the Martin Hanzal deal at last season's deadline. Or the Capitals, who dealt a first-round pick and a prospect for two months of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who had previously nixed a deal to come to Tampa Bay.
The Wild lost in the first round. The Capitals fell in the second.
You can argue the Lightning won't go very far in the playoffs with its current style of play, having allowed 30-plus shots in 14 of its past 15 games. Defenseman Anton Stralman said he feels a "little ashamed" about how much the team depends on Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made 44 saves (including the save of the year) in Saturday's 4-3 win over the Kings.
"That's not a wining strategy," Stralman said.
Would acquiring a Karlsson or a Ryan McDonagh (Rangers) help? Absolutely. Though a Karlsson deal is not impossible, it's a long shot. First, Karlsson, who can be an unrestricted free agent in 2019, would have to tell the Senators there's no chance he's re-signing. Then the Lightning would have to give up a king's ransom for him.
You don't get a franchise defenseman, a two-time Norris Trophy winner like Karlsson, for just picks and depth prospects. And the price could also be high for McDonagh, especially if, as the New York Post reported, the Rangers are willing to assume half of its cap hit.
And the Lightning doesn't appear interested in parting with top young pieces such as Brayden Point and Mikhail Sergachev. Consider those two untouchable.
"We are trying to win," Yzerman said. "We would want to add to our team, not go sideways."
Yzerman is open to rentals, with Red Wings defenseman Mike Green and Senators defenseman Cody Ceci among those likely available. But a player with term left on his contract – and not a bad contract, at that – is more valuable.
The Lightning has a loaded prospect pool, including four players who played for Canada at this year's World Junior Championships. When asked if having a Cup-caliber team made him more open to parting with prospects, Yzerman said his philosophy wouldn't change.
"You talk about the assets – I'm not just giving them away for the sake of making a trade," Yzerman said. "Every deal is different. The cost of the move has to make sense to me."
And Yzerman's trade history bears that out. His biggest deadline deal — other than the forced Marty St. Louis-for-Ryan Callahan swap in 2013-14 — was in 2014-15.
Yzerman felt his team needed help on the blue line, so he acquired veteran defenseman Braydon Coburn from the Flyers. The Lightning paid a hefty price, giving up first- and third-round picks, and young defenseman Radko Gudas. But Yzerman said he wouldn't have made that move had he not been able to recoup a couple of second-rounders from the Bruins the same night in the Brett Connolly trade. The Lightning lost in the Cup final to Chicago.
Still, that the Lightning is in a buyer's mode is much different from last season. With his team last in the Eastern Conference in early February, Yzerman dealt Brian Boyle, Ben Bishop and Valtteri Filppula to clear cap space. Tampa Bay missed the playoffs by a point.
This Tampa Bay team is the top team in the East, with the players excited about what they might add in the next two weeks.
"Everyone is curious," captain Steven Stamkos said. "You want to know what's going to happen. We put ourselves in position where we have flexibility to make some moves and we have the team to be able to make some moves.
"It'll be interesting."
Hedman gets both sides in the Karlsson debate. He doesn't seem to believe it's a done deal that Karlsson is gone, even with Senators management saying it is looking to rebuild.
"(Karlsson is) a leader in Ottawa. He's their captain and has been there a long time," Hedman said. "He's one of the guys you build around, a cornerstone player, a franchise player. So I wouldn't read too much into stuff like that."
That's for us to do.
Lightning at Maple Leafs, 7 p.m., Toronto
TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 970-AM