Speaking to media before tonight's game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Anaheim Ducks, general manager Steve Yzerman laid down the law and stated facts that guided his hand since last Thursday when he started moving players off the Tampa Bay Lightning roster:
"We look at our team and where we are today and the trades we've made in the last week, the players we've moved out for draft picks. Will we be able to replace them? Is the return on those players, is it worth doing? Our options today were to keep Steve Downie or to keep Kyle Quincey or the first round pick and we wanted that first round pick so the decision was made."
If you're still stung by the Bolts moving of fan favorite Steve Downie in today's deal, or even Dominic Moore's trade last Thursday, or Pavel Kubina being dealt to Philadelphia on Saturday -- focus on the words "are we able to replace them?"
Obviously Steve Yzerman and others in the Lightning organization see talent elsewhere in the system that can fill the void left by moving these players. While you don't have to be happy about losing Downie, Kubina, or Moore, there is a method to the madness.
But it's not like Yzerman wasn't tempted to keep Kyle Quincey who is a top-four defenseman and would have immediately been able to step in on the Lightning blueline:
"Initially in discussions with Colorado, yeah I was interested in Kyle Quincey. And we thought more about it and in discussions with general managers around the league and what they're looking for, this idea came up and I really had to think about it. Does this make sense to do it? And we decided what we wanted to in moving forward. Taking everything into consideration: contract status, where they're going to fit on the team, what type of player they are. We felt like, you know, do we want Kyle Quincey or do we want a first round pick and we decided we'll take the first round pick."
Yzerman went on:
"Draft related or potentially trade related to acquire players, we have some flexibility. We can hang on to some of those picks and still if there's a move that comes up, if a team is looking to move a player, there's a lot of options for us. And we get to the draft, we can move up, move down, do a lot of different things. So we're excited about the future. Today obviously, I think maybe we took one step backward today. We traded players off our roster for draft picks but I think it puts us ahead in the long run."
In a verbose way, Yzerman has invoked former general manager Rick Dudley. Dudley, as the freshly minted general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was charged with restocking a franchise that was completely bare of prospects. Dudley was fond of talking about acquiring "assets" - stuff that could be moved to gain something the team needed. He'd pull off his master-stroke of asset moves in 2001 by acquiring Nikolai Khabibulin from the Phoenix Coyotes. But the Bolts of the moment are better than the Lightning of 1999-2001.
But with the understanding of Yzerman's moves of late, there are may be more moves in the near future that will be shrewd, but also potentially painful for fans to swallow:
"These moves are made to make us better in the future. Any situation that comes along from today through the trade deadline into the offseason, we're willing to look at...My goal is to win a Stanley Cup and I think we have to do some tough things, some difficult things along the way to do that. We need young players. We need to draft well. We need to build that way and this was an opportunity to take advantage of that and acquire more picks, relatively high picks. As far as the message it sends to our players: I want to win a Stanley Cup and I'm going to what I have to do to win a Stanley Cup."
It's shrewd, and it may not be immediately obvious how getting draft picks allows the Lightning to become Stanley Cup contenders again... it goes back to the assets point above: By collecting draft picks, by potentially drafting players, or moving those picks (or prospects) in trade... The Bolts have cards to play in boosting their team long-term or short-term, if less-so than immediate contention.
It's been clear since mid-season that the Bolts were through with quick-fix actions to paint over shortcomings of the roster. The long-term remodeling of the team is ugly to start, but if it ultimately brings Lord Stanley's Cup back to Tampa Bay, so be it.