This morning's news that defenseman Pavel Kubina is on his way out of Tampa Bay started the feeding frenzy of the 2012 NHL trade deadline. The annual NHL trade deadline, February 27th at 3 PM EST, is always preceded by both wild speculation that gives way to thoughtful, meaningful moves that underwhelm fans but bolster teams in contention and in rebuilding mode.
Buyers and that last piece of the puzzle for their playoff pushes, sellers want to retool for next season and beyond.
...And the Tampa Bay Lightning has now quantified themselves as "sellers". Come calling with prospects and draft picks, and GM Steve Yzerman will listen.
After the schooling of the Bolts by the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, it shouldn't have been a stretch for Lightning brass to concede to the inconsistency of the season - one night, the Lightning show the greatness they are capable of, the next night they are road-kill to a random opponent - and make plans for next season. Then again, that decision may have been made weeks ago - but were simply delayed until the string played out and the deadline got closer.
"We're making our decisions on a player-by-player basis," Yzerman said. "We see a potential opportunity to improve our club. In regards to Pavel, and as far as any other players or any other opportunity, there's the broader strategy of wanting to be a better team in the future, so we'll look at any opportunity to become that."
Whatever the case, Kubina will not play tonight.
The Bolts head into "Star Wars Night" at Times Palace (not that it's been promoted heavily, but it is indeed a Star Wars themed night at the arena) licking their wounds from Tuesday's drubbing from Ottawa. They may have the memory of a drubbing they received at the hands of the San Jose Sharks on their mind. The Sharks pounded the Lightning on December 21st (in Martin St. Louis' first game back after taking a puck to the face).
This time around, the Sharks aren't just the road team; they're amid an epic trek across North America that will take them to nine different cities over a two-week span. They're play the first of back-to-back games tonight (facing the Bolts, and then traveling up to Raleigh to square off with the Hurricanes tomorrow). But much like their predatory namesake, San Jose is a fierce creature. The Sharks are the #3 seed in the Western Conference at the moment with 68 points.
The Sharks are three points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings, and five points in front of the Phoenix Coyotes in the Pacific division. All three teams are currently inside the playoff bubble, and they want to keep it that way. Los Angeles has already done what it needs to do against the Lightning, taking two points from the Bolts. Now, San Jose would like nothing more than to ensure a season sweep of the Lightning to pad their division lead.
Dwayne Roloson will likely see the start in net for the Lightning tonight. He played many a relief minute in the aforementioned San Jose debacle in December (say that five times fast) and while he wasn't all world, he did play a more solid game than Garon did that night. Expect Antti Niemi to start in goal for the Sharks.
Will Brett Connolly find his way back into the Tampa Bay lineup? If so, who would sit in his place?