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Should the Tampa Bay Lightning trade for Erik Karlsson?

Whenever a star player on a struggling team enters the final years of his contract, trade rumors surface. It happened with Steven Stamkos, it happened with Matt Duchene, and it’s happening with John Tavares.

Another name that is under contract until 2019 is Erik Karlsson, and the rumor speculation just kicked up a notch. Over the weekend it was widely reported that Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion has asked his best player for a list: no, it wasn’t his Christmas list, it was his approved trade teams list.

Now, while Karlsson is a special player, this request seems more of a “keep all my options open” move by Dorion. Per Elliotte Friedman, all Senators that have some sort of no-trade clause in their contract were asked for a list of teams they would be willing to accept as a trade destination.  For a struggling team, Ottawa is currently 9-12-7 and ahead of only Buffalo in the Atlantic, making some deals to shake things up in the clubhouse and on the ice is a common strategy.

It’s easier for Dorion to negotiate if he knows where his players are willing to go. Why waste time hammering out a deal only to have the player say, “Nope, sorry I don’t like the Arch  in St. Louis.” A prime example happened in baseball over the weekend when Giancarlo Stanton nixed trades to St. Louis and San Francisco after the Marlins had already worked out deals with those teams.

In the end, it will most likely be nothing. Hockey, more so than the other sport, breeds loyalty, and that loyalty means that players re-sign with their teams. Still, in the months before a player inks that beautiful eight-year extension and talks about how “he always wanted to stay and win one with the boys around him,” there is the fun part where writers and bloggers can speculate about destinations.

We’re no different here at Raw Charge. If Erik Karlsson is on the trading block, then we’re going to look at the Lightning trading for him.  So here’s a quick argument for and against trading for one of the most dynamic defenders currently playing in the NHL.

FOR:  Oh my god! It’s Erik Karlsson! Of course you trade for him if he wants to play in Tampa. Karlsson and Victor Hedman – two beautiful, long-haired Swedes skating down the ice together wreaking havoc on rival teams? It would be the most prolific offensive-defense ever assembled on ice.

AGAINST: Well, I don’t think Coach Cooper would play them together. It would make more sense to split them onto separate units.

FOR: Seriously? That’s your number one argument against picking up one of top defensemen of his generation?

AGAINST: Well, not my top argument.  My top argument would be that the price the Lightning pay for just over a season-and-a-half of Karlsson isn’t worth it. Dorion is hanging up on anything less than a home-run deal.

FOR: But the Lightning matchup pretty well with Ottawa in terms of needs. For instance, they don’t have a first round pick and the Lightning do! Toss in Tyler Johnson and Slater Koekkoek and it would be hard for them to say no. The Bolts have depth at center and trading Koekkoek basically frees up a seat in the press box so not only do you add a generational player, you don’t really hurt the day-to-day team.

AGAINST: That would lead to quite the collection of former-Lightning centers in Ottawa since Nate Thompson, Tom Pyatt and Gabriel Dumont are already there.  I’m not sure that package tops whatever Toronto could put together.  Besides, does that really sound like a Steve Yzerman-esque trade? There aren’t too many in his history where he removes multiple roster players from his team.  As a matter of fact the only trade where he removed two roster players in the same deal was a midsummer deal with Arizona in 2014 where he dumped BJ Crombeen and Sam Gagner on the Coyotes. All of his other blockbusters were one-for-one or involved picks and prospects. Again, not sure if it’s enough to woo the Senators.

FOR: The Lightning are in an interesting position – they are in a window to win a Stanley Cup and they have a decent crop of prospects almost ready to make it to the NHL. Picking up a game-changer like Karlsson immediately makes them the favorite if they’re not already. Even if Mr. Yzerman has to part with his first and second round picks from this season or throw in a prospect like Anthony Cirelli, Brett Howden or heck, Cal Foote, it won’t leave the prospect cupboard empty. They have the cap room to keep him short term without severely altering the lineup, and if Karlsson walks after 2019, they are still in a pretty good position (as long as they work out a deal with Kucherov).

AGAINST: If they sign him, there wouldn’t be much cap flexibility left for Mr. Yzerman to play with at the deadline. What if they need to pick up another player at the deadline?

FOR: Are you kidding me? What else would they need? Two scoring lines, two of the top scoring forwards in the league, an effective bottom six and two Norris-finalist defensemen all in the same line-up? What else could they possibly want?

AGAINST: More grit? Teams like to add grit at the deadline.  What if the Karlsson the Lightning trade for isn’t what fans are expecting? He only has one goal this year and is coming off a pretty bad ankle/heel injury. Those usually linger on, especially as a player ages. That’s not good for a player who relies on his skating.

FOR: Fair point, but outside of the goal scoring all of his other numbers are pretty much in line with his career stats. He’s a positive possession player even on a bad Senators team and he’s not going to shoot 1.6% for the entire year. As for the injury? Erik Karlsson at 80% is still the second best defenseman on the Lightning. Even if he is on the decline, it’s not like they’re locked into him long term. They don’t have to sign him to an extension. I would tell him to stop blocking shots, though.  That’s what Dan Girardi is for.

AGAINST: Would he be willing to take a back seat to Hedman on the team? Or would Hedman be ready to lose playing time to Karlsson?

FOR: I know, what a problem to have. Should I drive my Ferrari to work or my Lamborghini? Having two workhorses that can play 20+ minutes a game isn’t a bad thing to have. The ones that are likely to lose time are Andrej Sustr and Braydon Coburn.  And is that really a bad thing? It would also allow Coach Cooper to control Mikhail Sergachev’s ice-time. The wunderkind is going to hit a wall at some point and if the Lightning can taper off some his ice time it will help him in the future.

Would he take a slightly reduced role to have another shot at the Stanley Cup this season?  Most likely yes.  It’s not like it would cost him any money. He still gets the same sized checks in Tampa or Ottawa so why not come south?

AGAINST:  Hmm…I really don’t have anything else. Maybe Mr. Yzerman should pick up the phone.

FOR: Darn right he should.  Heck, not only would he slide right into the Lightning line-up, if they trade for him, it keeps him out of the hands of their opponents. Toronto is tough enough as it is right now, I’d hate to see what they’d be like with a legitimate NHL defenseman.

Verdict – If the Lightning are on his short list, then it would behoove them to make a play for Erik Karlsson.  The impact he could bring over the next two seasons more than makes up for any assets that it would cost them.

Chances are this is all for naught.  In all likelihood, Karlsson doesn’t go anywhere and the Senators drag themselves back into contention.  With Duchene struggling in Ottawa, Dorion might be a little hesitant to pull the trigger on another blockbuster trade. However, if there is even the slightest hint it could happen the Lightning should explore it.

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