After weeks of trending towards "prices are too high" and "the Lightning might stand pat at the deadline" Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman found a way to do it to us again.
A pair of late-night trades -- reported and confirmed after midnight EST -- have sent F Brett Connolly to the Boston Bruins for a pair of 2nd round picks (one each in 2015 and 2016) and D Radko Gudas (along with a 1st round pick in 2015 and a 3rd round pick in 2015) to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for D Braydon Coburn.
Yes, that's Brett Connolly to the Boston Bruins, a division opponent the Lightning might potentially face in the playoffs, for a pair of 2nds, and Gudas packaged with picks for a 30-year old Flyers defenseman.
It's tough to watch Brett Connolly go. He's been scoring goals at an elite clip at even strength this year (16th in the NHL for skaters with more than 500 5v5 minutes, 1.27 goals/60). What he's lacked is the requisite ice time/opportunity to break out in a big way like other young forwards ahead of him on the depth chart. This has been a point of discussion since October:
How can he earn more minutes if he's not being put in situations that optimize his skillset? He's got a lot of tools, which he's shown in the AHL. He might not be as dominant an offensive force as Tampa Bay had hoped when they drafted him sixth overall, but he's quick and decisive through the neutral zone and has shown some finishing ability, to the tune of 52 goals in 137 AHL contests [...] Ultimately, success in the NHL -- in any sports league, really -- is just as much about opportunity as it is ability. And, contrary to what you might think, Brett Connolly is still waiting for his.
Well, he'll no doubt get it. The Boston Bruins didn't spend a pair of 2nds to play him on the 4th line like Tampa Bay has this year. He'll get his opportunity. This one might sting in a year or two with him in the division -- of course, Boston still faces a cap crunch and Connolly's 1-year extension signed last summer expires this summer.
The corresponding move -- landing Coburn from the Flyers -- doesn't seem like the "big add on D" that Tampa Bay probably ought to make. Braydon Coburn is a fine player. He's a 30-year old lefty with decent size, some mobility, and decent enough ability to keep the puck moving the right direction. He won't score much but he's a solid player that can play top-4 minutes and not be a liability, plus, he's signed for one more year at $4.5 million.
But this just reeks of Sam Gagner 2.0.
For starters, consider the blue line as it is constructed right this moment:
Victor Hedman (L), Anton Stralman (R), Matt Carle (L), Jason Garrison (L), Braydon Coburn (L), Andrej Sustr (R), Mark Barberio (L).
Tampa Bay has become the Detroit Red Wings overnight, with not nearly enough right-shooting defensemen available to play that side the way Cooper seems to prefer.
It's not crazy to imagine a scenario where Coburn is flipped tomorrow before the deadline for a different target that balances the blue line handedness. Our own Cassie McLellan suggested as much:
Thinking Yzerman isn't done here. Traded a right-shooting D for a left-shooting D. And Cooper likes one of each as a D-pair.— Cassie McClellan (@dagmar27) March 2, 2015
Perhaps it's reading too much into much into the situation, but Coburn just doesn't seem like a target, but a go-between. He doesn't add anything to the roster that isn't already there. He doesn't fill a huge need, and Tampa Bay paid dearly for him. Yzerman always has an angle -- and acquiring Coburn sure looks like the first move in a series of moves that we simply can't predict.
Is Coburn now the centerpiece of a new offer for a bigger prize on defense? If you're going to spend a coveted 1st round pick why not go bigger for someone like Keith Yandle? Is Matt Carle on the way out? (After all, the two former Flyers essentially fill the same role, after all, with Carle's scoring all but dried up since days spent paired with Chris Pronger in orange and black.)
Ultimately, flipping Connolly -- a very useful secondary scorer for the Lightning this season -- for picks is a quizzical move on its own for a team that is looking to make a playoff run now. It might mean more ice time for rookie Jonathan Drouin, but dealing roster players for futures is a seller's move. Losing Radko Gudas stings for those who have grown to love his rough-and-tumble style, but with him sidelined for seemingly the rest of the season and his game on the ice replaceable from within, he has more value as a trade chip than as a player on the roster.
Transmuting a handful of picks, Connolly, and Gudas into a different handful of picks (and keep in mind -- NYR's 1st and Tampa's 1st in 2015 are both essentially 2nds they're so late) and Braydon Coburn just doesn't add up, unless the idea is to change what you have into a more easily exchangeable commodity in purchasing what you actually want.
That move made almost no sense until it suddenly did. And with plenty of time left before Monday's trade deadline, it's hard to look at Tampa Bay's roster and not think "Yzerman isn't done yet".