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Why the Lightning did not get Erik Karlsson

DIRK SHADD | Times With the spirit of Gasparilla alive and well, NHL All-Stars Erik Karlsson, from the Ottawa Senators, and Victor Hedman, from the Tampa Bay Lightning, enter the arena decked out as pirates as they arrive for the NHL All-Star Skills Competition at Amalie Arena in Tampa Saturday (01/27/18). The two players, both from Sweeden, got dressed at Hedman's place before making their way to the rink.
Published Sep. 14, 2018

BRANDON — Was the Lightning asleep at the wheel when superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson was traded from Ottawa to San Jose on Thursday?

Did Steve Yzerman stepping aside as Lightning general manager distract the franchise from making a move on Karlsson?

Was the Lightning ever close to getting Karlsson?

The answer to all three of these questions is no.

Will the Lightning regret not adding one of the best defensemen of his generation?

That remains to be seen.

No doubt, Lightning fans are frustrated and maybe even a little angry that the Lightning didn't pull off the trade for Karlsson, especially after seeing how little the Sharks gave up.

But here's the real deal behind the deal:

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The Lightning was never that close to getting Karlsson and was unlikely to ever pull off such a trade. The Senators had little interest in trading Karlsson within their own division. That eliminated the Lightning unless Tampa Bay was willing to give up a king's ransom. And even then it appears the Senators weren't committed.

In the end, Karlsson coming to Tampa Bay was nothing more than wishful thinking for Lightning fans.

For months there had been speculation that the Senators, about to begin a major rebuilding project, were going to trade the 28-year-old Karlsson, who can become a free agent after this season. A bunch of teams started lining up and the rumor mill put the Lightning at the top of the list to land the former two-time Norris Trophy winner.

Much of that had to do with a fun scene at the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa. Karlsson hung around with good friend, fellow Swede and Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. Karlsson dressed up like a pirate during Gasparilla and it looked like Tampa Bay and Karlsson were winking and playing footsie with one another.

Rumors heated up even more during the summer. A handful of teams seemed to be in on the Karlsson sweepstakes. Again, the Lightning was on the list with a variety of scenarios, other teams and big-time names being floated as trade bait. Names included veterans such as Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn. Brayden Point seemed untouchable, but his name came up, too. Young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev seemed like a name that made the most sense.

But nothing ever happened.

Until Thursday. That's when the Senators sent Karlsson and minor-leaguer to San Jose for what seems like an underwhelming haul: forwards Chris Tierney and Rudolfs Balcers, prospect Josh Norris, defenseman Dylan DeMelo, a conditional 2019 second-round draft pick, a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick and a conditional 2021 second-round draft pick.

Heck, couldn't the Lightning do better than that? Sergachev, a prospect and a couple of picks, maybe?

Again, the Senators did not want to trade Karlsson to Tampa Bay or anywhere in the Eastern Conference. That became evident when Ottawa attached an interesting piece to the trade. If the Sharks are to flip Karlsson to an Eastern Conference team, they have to give Ottawa a first-round pick.

But this needs to be pointed out: While it appears the Lightning was never all that close in getting Karlsson, it never totally gave up on the idea and kept in touch with Ottawa.

Now, a cynical fan would suggest that, perhaps, the Lightning lost focus and dropped off the Karlsson radar as it was trying to shift the duties of general manager from Yzerman to Julien BriseBois. While that was being sorted out, the Sharks snuck in and snatched Karlsson away.

That's not the case.

First off, BriseBois has always been in on every trade conversation that Lightning has had. He has been Yzerman's right-hand man and Yzerman never made any deal without consulting with BriseBois and others in the organization.

As far as the shifting of general manager duties, while the official announcement was made on Tuesday, the baton from Yzerman and BriseBois had been passed well before then, perhaps even weeks ago.

So, last question: will the Lightning regret not getting Karlsson?

There's no doubt that Karlsson is a special player. But to get him, the Lightning would have had to give up at least a couple of major pieces off its current roster and then find the money under the salary cap to sign Karlsson to a hefty long-term deal. That would have weakened the overall roster now and in the future.

The Lightning has a Stanley Cup contender without Karlsson. While this might seem hard to believe, the Lightning doesn't need Karlsson.

Not that it was ever close to getting him anyway.

Contact Tom Jones at Follow @tomwjones.