Over the weekend, it was reported that Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman was in St. Louis on Thursday night to watch the Blues play the Nashville Predators. On Saturday night, it was Assistant General Manager Pat Verbeek's turn to watch the Blues play the Calgary Flames. Our friends over at St. Louis Game Time (SLGT) have speculated about what the scouting could mean. I've also been hearing some rumblings about something being in the works and where there's smoke, there's fire.
Obviously the first thought that jumps out is !Stamkos! But let's back that up just a little bit. As SLGT states, it would be really hard for the Blues to sign Stamkos to an extension. They have six forwards and one defenseman that will be unrestricted free agents come July 1, as well as three forwards and one defenseman who'll be restricted free agents. Included in that RFAt group is Jaden Schwartz who could be due for a big raise.
While a lot of money is coming off with the UFAs, that is going to be a lot of holes to fill. The Blues just do not have the kind of young, cheap prospect talent ready to step in to fill in that many slots. That means they will have to do some shopping in the free agent market next summer. Fitting all of that in plus Steven Stamkos would be difficult to say the least. Plus they already have one fairly high priced forward in Vladimir Tarasenko.
SLGT also suggests that the Blues could be reluctant to dive in on another big rental after getting burned with Ryan Miller two years ago. As I've written previously here on Raw Charge, I think the minimum it would take to trade Stamkos would be two grade A assets. For the Blues, there would also likely need to be a salary going back in the trade for them to stay under the salary cap. They do have their 1st round pick and their top prospects include players like Robbi Fabri, Ivan Barbashev, and Ty Rattie (a player mentioned by SLGT as being in the doghouse).
If something comes to pass, I think it will be more of a hockey trade. Both teams are still in the playoff hunt. Neither team is likely looking to get prospects for a roster player. SLGT suggested Kevin Shattenkirk could be a player the Lightning desire and I find it hard to disagree with that assessment. Shattenkirk's a right-handed, offensive defenseman and would slot in well on the second pair with Jason Garrison and on the point on the first power play unit. Anton Stralman has been ineffective there at times because he does not use his shot enough to keep teams honest. They know he's much more likely to pass than take a shot from the point. He has a $4.25 million cap hit for this year and next and is only 26 years old.
The other roster player mentioned by SLGT was Carl Gunnarsson for Matt Carle. I'd love that trade. It'd be incredible. But it just won't happen. The Lightning are flush with left handed defensemen and wouldn't be trading for Gunnarsson without moving someone back. Unless St. Louis scouts see something in Carle that would suggest he would suddenly flourish in their system, then there's not much sense to making that trade. The Lightning would also likely need to retain half of Carle's salary. I would consider that a win since it seems likely Carle will be bought out this summer if Yzerman can't find a trade partner.
If you're looking to make a one-for-one or one-for-one-and-a-pick type of trade, you'd look at players like Valtteri Filppula, Alex Killorn, and Braydon Coburn as they all have decent sized cap hits to trade for a player with similar cap hits. Filppula has a limited no trade clause and two years left at a $5 million cap hit. The Lightning are also pretty loaded with centers especially with Namestnikov taking a big step forward in the NHL while the Blues are a little light down the middle. The Lightning also have some skilled centers on the way in Matt Peca and Brayden Point in the next two to three seasons.
Alex Killorn could be getting a bit too big of a contract for the Lightning to hang on to him for much longer. He's got a cheap contract this year and will be a restricted free agent this summer and due for a pretty nice raise. Already 26 years old, a one year deal would make him a unrestricted free agent when that is up. With him that close to Free Agency, he'd either want a one or two year deal and then be able to negotiate with everyone or a long term contract. Braydon Coburn is a UFA this offseason, but it's a bit tough to see him in this trade as he wouldn't be a clear upgrade for the Blues. The possibility is still there though if the Lightning thought Gunnarsson was what they needed on the third pair.
The injury woes on the front end have definitely put a damper on this team. It has struggled to find consistency and chemistry and the blue line has often struggled to move the puck well outside of the top pairing. With the holiday roster freeze in effect until the 27th, nothing can happen until then. Yzerman will have a chance over the next week to see if some forwards can get healthy and back on the ice and continue any talks that may be going with the Blues before working out a deal. The smoke is there and we'll see if it gets a little thicker as we get closer to the new year.