2012 NHL trade deadline - What makes Pavel Kubina expendable?

Sometimes, casual discussion can inspire a need for clarity... Or maybe not so much a need as a desire to make sure things are opaque enough for people to understand what's going on.

Pavel Kubina has been a key part to the Lightning defense since his signing in July 2010. Kubina is also in the final year of his contract with the Lightning and will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. With Kubina's age (he turns 35 on April 15th), his contract status, it's easy to deduct that Kubina wouldn't be part of the long-term plan for the club. Add to it his performance this season - being plus-1 on a bad defense and his 11 points in 52 games, and he becomes more valuable to the club as a trade chip than as a Lightning roster player down the stretch.

Other teams that come calling, asking about Kubina's availability, are hoping that Pavel can carry his performance level to their contending team and solidify things enough to help in a clubs pursuit of a Stanley Cup championship this year.

Yet why is Pavel Kubina expendable and not, say, defenseman Eric Brewer? Brewer is, after all, the Bolts top defenseman, a comparable age (turning 33 on April 17th), and would be more of a pickup for a contender than fan-favorite Kubina. Brewer, having three more years on his contract in Tampa, is part of the plan for the immediate future - for his leadership in the locker room as well as his play on the blueline. That was cemented when he was re-signed after last season. Brewer's trade price would be far too high for other teams to even consider him an option.

Despite the panic that this trade talk has induced (and further agitation brought on by the Lightning's drubbing by the hands of Ottawa on Tuesday night), the Bolts aren't so far away from contention that they need to begin a fire sale. The prospect cupboard is nowhere near as bare as SB Nation Tampa Bay columnist JC De La Torre tried to imply in his article today about the state of the Lightning.

While the 2011-12 season will not bring playoff hockey to Tampa Bay, the team isn't so far from contention that everything must be blown up.

I told fans a month ago what to expect as the 2012 NHL trade deadline approached:

What's more likely, at this point in time, is for the Lightning to shed some of its players with high value for playoff-contending teams. While the sum of Dominic Moore, Steve Downie, Ryan Malone, Teddy Purcell, Brett Clark and Pavel Kubina are not putting the Lightning in contention, they do have the potential value in what they could bring in to the Lightning system via trade.

I don't mean an everything-must-go, wholesale clearance, fire-sale involving everyone and everything on the roster. I am suggesting that if someone offers Steve Yzerman a highly touted prospect that fits the plan in Tampa, or a top draft selection (or multiples of both) for one of the aforementioned players, he'd have to take it under serious consideration.

The trade targets, as rumors have suggested, are Moore, Malone and Kubina. Steve Downie may be a restricted free agent after the season, but his movement doesn't seem likely. Teddy Purcell is still under contract, and I only would expect him moved if Yzerman were blown away with an offer.

There's an unspoken truth that needs to be remembered at this time of year: You don't have to make a trade. Steve Yzerman knows this. He's not going to move a player unless the return is valuable to the team. If what he's offered isn't something that appeals to him, he doesn't have to move on it.

This brings us back to Kubina and the rhetoric of this morning that insinuates that a trade is potentially imminent. One NHL team or another must have offered something for Kubina that piqued Jedi Master Yzerman's interest enough that he knew the Lightning would benefit by exploring a deal. That doesn't mean a trade went down. That doesn't even mean a trade will absolutely, no question, it's done - happen. But it is likely, and it's a return that is quality enough that Yzerman's willing to explore the deal as well as protect Kubina's value by not putting him at risk to an injury (and putting him in tonight's game).

Trades are part of the business and seldom are fans left happy in the immediate aftermath of a trade. But there is a method to the madness - why players are moved in the first place; it's part of the perpetual process of constructing a winning team.

Of course I don't expect Kubina's dealing to improve the Lightning defense in the short term. But this isn't a trade with the short-term in mind.