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The shifting faces of a good Tampa Bay Lightning team

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The Tampa Bay Lightning lost prospect Richard Panik to the Toronto Maple Leafs last week when they put him on waivers. But, he's not the first prospect to go under Yzerman's watch. Nor will he be the last.

Bruce Bennett

Carter Ashton. James Wright. Blair Jones. Dana Tyrell. Jaroslav Janus. Cory Conacher. Dustin Tokarski. Riku Helenius. Richard Panik. All Tampa Bay Lightning draft picks or free agent pickups, and all not with the organization anymore.

You can call out their individual situations for why they all left. Each has his story for not being with the Lightning anymore, after all. But the bottom line is simply that there was no place on the roster for them.

[Disclaimer: My use of the word "prospect" is very general, and may not fit the definition of what others think a prospect is. For me, it's a player who has potential to play in the NHL, but may not be able to - regardless of number of games played. Games played and/or age are often the primary basis for the definition of what a prospect is, but I'm not necessarily using either here.]

This is what developing talented prospects for a team from within means. It means that there won't necessarily be room for everyone when they're ready to play in the NHL. There are only so many spots open every year, and they have far too many players to fill them, so some won't make Tampa Bay's roster even if they're talented enough to play in the NHL.

The Lightning take the best from those prospects available, and then they try to find the rest who qualify new homes. Sometimes those homes are in the AHL, and other times those homes are with European teams. Sometimes, however, those homes are with other NHL organizations.

And when a team is created like this, sometimes they have to just give players away since they already have more prospects than they know what to do with. That wasn't the intent in Panik's case when he was claimed off of waivers by the Toronto Maple Leafs for nothing, I'm sure, but it probably didn't upset general manager Steve Yzerman very much, either.

Long gone are the days where the Lightning need to get veteran help. They can pick up guys if they want to, of course - as they did with Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison - but they didn't have to do that. They could have made do with the players that they had from last season, as they played well through a lot of adversity, but they chose not to.

This is how you build a yearly contender - by having too many prospects to choose from. It may seriously suck for the players involved, but even if some of those guys who are on the third line or third defensive pairing could be on a top line or pairing elsewhere, they're more likely to win a cup on a stacked team. Which is what the Lightning have now become, for the most part: a stacked team.

Does that make them a dynasty? Only time will tell on that score. But if things continue as they have, it does give them a shot at the Cup most years. And as a fan or a player, you can't ask for anything more than that. Even if the Lightning may possibly trade your favorite younger prospects away, or take the chance of letting them go on waivers.

Hockey is still as much a game of chance as it is a game of skill, so many things still have to go right for a team to even make the conference final. And sometimes people just don't fit, no matter how badly you want them to. So trades will still happen, just not as often as they used to for this team.

The other side of this is the salary cap, and players who price out of the team. Because there is so much young talent available, and there is only so much cap room, they may not keep better players who are asking for raises at the end of their contracts. The likes of Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman may be long term fixtures for the Lightning, but players like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat will probably end up on other teams in the next 5-10 years.

If there are guys who are just as talented, but are younger and therefore less experienced (or cheaper), then Tampa will willingly lose a few players to free agency as well. So it's not just prospects that will be squeezed out. It'll also be the better players that will eventually leave due to money as well.

So don't get stuck in thinking that everyone will stick around forever, because hockey just doesn't work that way. Be prepared instead for the eventuality of following your favorite Lightning players on other teams. Because if Yzerman's probably going to keep the best and the cheapest, then there are going to be quite a number of ex-Lightning players scattered all over the NHL and Europe for decades to come.

But also be prepared for a long line of successful Tampa Bay Lightning teams while Yzerman's still in charge. They may not make even the conference final every single year, but they ought to do it most years. And that's a pretty fun thing to think about.