2019 NHL Free Agency, Erik Karlsson, Tampa Bay Lightning

Should Lightning Pursue Karlsson?

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Until Erik Karlsson signs a long-term extension, rumors will continue to swirl about where the two-time Norris winning defense will land. He is, after all, one of the biggest free agents to hit the market in recent memory, and his addition to any roster has the potential to turn a good defensive corps into a league-leader.

San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson
As Erik Karlsson prepares to hit free agency this offseasons, all signs point to him having a number of suitors ready to give him a massive new contract (Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This potential will be enticing to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have been connected to Karlsson for the better part of a year. Ever since he and Victor Hedman took pictures as pirates at the 2018 All-Star Game, fans and media alike have speculated about what the Swedish defender could bring to Tampa Bay.

Despite these connections, though, fans shouldn’t expect to see Karlsson in Lightning blue next season. In fact, given their current situation, pursuing the two-time Norris winning defender could quickly become a costly mistake.

Karlsson’s Greatness Doesn’t Offset Injuries

When healthy, there are few defensemen in the league as dominant as Karlsson. He is that rare talent that can both shut-down the opposition while racking up points of his own.

The problem is that Karlsson has rarely stayed healthy. Throughout his career, he has missed substantial time from both freak injuries and routine wear and tear that can beat down any player. For example, when the San Jose Sharks needed him most in the 2019 Western Conference Final, he was unable to play in Games 5 and 6.

Erik Karlsson #65, Ottawa Senators
Despite being one of the top defensemen in the NHL, Karlsson has struggled with injury throughout his career. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With a core of players that have struggled with injuries of their own in recent seasons, the idea of adding another highly talented, yet often injured defenseman to the roster should raise concerns. Sure, the potential of a Karlsson-Hedman top pairing is mind-numbingly good, but if they can’t stay healthy, suddenly the Lightning will be forced to ice an incomplete team at crucial times of the season.

Lightning Can’t Afford Karlsson’s Contract

Given the Lightning’s current cap-crunch, first-year general manager Julien BriseBois has little room to even attempt to work out a deal with Karlsson. Due to his prestige and upside, he will likely demand a top-paying contract, somewhere in the $8-10 million a year range.

With players like Nikita Kucherov and Ryan McDonagh receiving significant raises that kick in this offseason, and core pieces like Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy due new contracts in the coming year, there will be essentially no space for the Lightning to sign Karlsson.

Related: Lightning Defense Could Look Really Different Next Season

Even if they were able to sign him, that cap hit could quickly become an anchor for the franchise, forcing the team to shed young talent like Anthony Cirelli, who will be due a pay increase in the coming years.

Lightning Won’t Sign Karlsson This Offseason

As free agency approaches, expect to hear a lot of noise about how the Lightning are trying to find a way to make Karlsson fit on their roster. He is a great talent after all, and if BriseBois wasn’t at least discussing the idea, then he wouldn’t be doing his due diligence as general manager.

But, much like the idea of John Tavares joining the Lightning last offseason, all this talk will ultimately turn into is pure speculation. Tampa Bay may like the idea of Karlsson on their roster, but they simply aren’t in the position to make it happen without risking a lot of the future.

Erik Karlsson - Sharks
Even though the Lightning could use a defenseman like Karlsson, they shouldn’t spend the money needed to bring him to Tampa Bay. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Even if they could make it work, the Lightning don’t necessarily need an often injured player like Karlsson right now. Sure, he may be great when healthy, but if he isn’t in the lineup in the playoffs, then all of this potential is for not.

So, the Lightning should just stay clear of the incoming bidding war for Karlsson and focus on shoring up their already solid core. Sure, this isn’t the sexy thing to do, but it is the smart move that will set the franchise up for future success.

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