Much like many other Tampa Bay Lightning fans on the east coast of North America, I woke up Monday morning and was shocked to find that Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman had once again worked the transaction wires during the late night hours. A top-four defenseman acquired as well as a pair of second round draft picks. Defense needed to be boosted, there are too many fans (and members of the Raw Charge community) who wanted to see it happen; one more defenseman of a high caliber, one more guy with a solid reputation to raise the Bolts back-end.
Braydon Coburn isn't one of the mid-to-late-20's names that were dangled during trade season - he turned 30 last month - but he's also not exactly a rental player; he has another year on his contract and that will give Yzerman time to decide if he will retain his services for a longer duration.
There's a more grandness to the cost, though. Coburn was acquired in one deal, those draft selections (a 2nd round pick in 2015 and another in 2016) were attained in a second deal... What went to the Flyers to get Coburn wasn't just two high draft picks (Tampa's 2015 1st round draft selection
obtained last year in the Martin St. Louis trade, as well as a 3rd round pick in 2015) but fan-favorite defenseman Radko Gudas as well. The Boston Bruins sent Tampa Bay those 2nd round draft choices for the services of right wing Brett Connolly.
Gudas and Connolly being moved is business; neither player being moved should be locked at as surprising. What does stand out, to me, with the deals is the fact it underlines the open core of the Lightning, one that isn't set beyond an extreme small group of two or three players.
Last year, in the wake of Martin St. Louis being moved, I wrote a pretty long piece reflecting on an era that had come to an end. I also stated a bit about Yzerman's development system and the issue it causes:
The problem here is that I don't know which players are so integral and so vital that they'll be around long term; part of the plan is to have depth enough to make players expendable when they're no longer cost effective, when they're expendable due to other players in the system, or just aren't pulling their weight.
Any solid organization is built like this. It's normal in a way. It's just a lot more difficult to take when you've heard management and the players themselves talking about believing in each other and moving forward together.
Radko Gudas and Brett Connolly are Tampacuse alumni, the second and third integral member of the group to move on this season (Richard Panik being the first) and fourth major developmental cog to be moved elsewhere since the system started to produce NHL-ready talent (Cory Conacher is the fourth). None of these players are very old; they'll have NHL careers that last years and years...
You just sort of expected them to have more time and success with Tampa Bay as you‘ve growing to love what they brought to the franchise.
Kyle Alexander wrote a few weeks ago that the goal for the Bolts had changed with the promotion of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to the NHL. It was no longer a building-for-tomorrow campaign of slow and patience, it's compete-now being trumpeted. The Coburn acquisition reflects this. The Connolly trade embodies the fact this philosophy continues to necessitate sustainability. Brett was moved for the long term sustenance of the Lightning system while Gudas was moved as an expendable commodity for the sake of immediate contention.
Contention, folks; the Lightning are going for a ring on their finger, a banner in the rafters, and their name on the Cup and that comes at a cost.
It's uncomfortable to move forward without knowing which players you can endear yourself to who won't be made expendable for the sake of competitiveness in the future, but that's pro sports in a nutshell. The core players, the integral assets that stick around, prove their place in that category as time goes by.