If you follow hockey for long enough, you’ll learn that the NHL is ruthless.  Take this offseason as a prime example:  just as I started to convince myself that the Maple Leafs are inherently a loser franchise even with their newly acquired John Tavares, rumors surfaced that Erik Karlsson is being hotly pursued by the Tampa Bay Lightning, among other teams.

This, if you’re unfamiliar with the name, is Erik Karlsson (photoshopped into a Danton Heinen uniform for aesthetic effect):


Hopefully the image above establishes Karlsson as a badass viking warrior and validates why I have the utmost respect for him.  Every so often you’ll hear some idiot claim that he’s just an overhyped version of Torey Krug, but that is false for so many reasons.  At 28 years old, Karlsson has proven himself as possibly the best defenseman in hockey, and that’s not really up for debate if you look at his stats.  After a career-high 82 points in 2016, last season he had a “down year” and still churned out 62 points – for reference, that’s only one fewer than Patrice Bergeron had.  Two seasons ago, he practically carried the Senators singlehandedly to within one game of the Cup Finals while beating the Bruins along the way.  This guy is basically the NHL equivalent of LeBron James with a bonus feature of no flopping.  Not to mention he looks extremely good in black and gold.  So all due respect to Torey Krug, Karlsson is lightyears better, period.

Unfortunately, as it pertains to the Bruins, Karlsson and the Senators could royally screw them over this upcoming season, as it appears he could spend his contract year with the Lightning pending a three-team deal with the Lightning, Rangers, and Senators.

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Now, as you might remember (I remember vividly), the Bolts put a chokehold on the Bruins just a few months ago in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. It was a pretty depressing five-game series, cutting the Bruins’ season short after they could not score a single 5v5 goal in three straight games.  It’s fair to say that the Lightning were the better team.  It’s also fair to say that they have talented players all the way around their roster:  defensive MVP Victor Hedman, for example, or pure scorers like Stephen Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, or deadline deal Ryan McDonagh.  I won’t go into explicit detail on how stacked they look next year, but to put it shortly, they’re locked onto a clear-cut path to the Cup – even without Karlsson.

Now the Bolts are willing to give up a haul of prospects – probably including but not garuanteed to include Mikhail Sergachev and/or Brayden Point – for Karlsson, reportedly even if it turns into a one-year rental.  They’d have to clear some cap space, but according to reports they’ll make it work.  Meanwhile, the Bruins have been stagnant aside from a minor John Moore deal, which brings us to the bottom line:  none of this Karlsson talk bodes well for the Bruins, or any team who plans on winning playoff games in the Eastern Conference.

If Don Sweeney was smart, he would sabotage any trade talks involving Karlsson for his team’s own safety next year, because as much as I hate to say it, he cannot join the Bolts if the Bruins want to compete.

One of Karlsson, Hedman, and McDonagh being on the ice at all times all season long – and potentially longer – probably snuffs out any championship aspirations of the current Bruins core, with Chara wearing down his last pair of skates and Bergeron on the wrong side of thirty.   And I haven’t even mentioned the Leafs yet, who probably surpassed the Bruins already by acquiring Tavares.  Much like the NBA’s Western Conference, this Atlantic Division has turned into a nuclear arms race and the Bruins are quickly being left in the dust as the Leafs and Bolts stock up.

All things considered, I’m praying that the Senators hold onto Karlsson, for the entire league’s sake – and especially for the Bruins’ sake – because I don’t plan to enjoy watching the Bolts rip them apart even worse than they did a few months ago.

Send him to Vegas.  Send him to Colorado.  Send him to Mars.  Just don’t send him to the Lightning and give them any more ammunition to aim at the entire Eastern Conference.  The Sens might realize that Karlsson is important, but what they may not realize is that he holds the fate of the entire Eastern Conference in precarious balance.

Ben Healey is a high school senior from New Hampshire.  You can contact him on Twitter here or email here.

Image credit to postsumo.com

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