While Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman continue to anchor an outstanding top pair, the Tampa Bay Lightning and GM Steve Yzerman felt they needed just a bit more depth and experience on the blue line in order to push them over the edge for a deep playoff run.
That decision led to a pair of trades: the Lightning sent injured D Radko Gudas, their own 2015 1st round pick, and a 2015 3rd round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for D Braydon Coburn.
The Lightning then shipped F Brett Connolly to the Boston Bruins for a pair of 2nd round picks, one each in 2015 and 2016, and we were instructed to view the two trades as one; Connolly, Gudas, a 1st and a 3rd for Coburn and two 2nds.
At the time, folks accepted this instruction. "Have to restock the cupboards", they said. "Tampa Bay needs to replenish the picks they spent".
The opposing view, from the time of the trade:
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.
Coburn played 4 games with the Lightning and struggled adapting to his new situation before getting injured and missing the rest of the regular season. He returned for Game 1 vs. the Detroit Red Wings in Round 1 of the playoffs.
There's still a lot to like about Coburn's game; he's big, he's mobile, and he holds the defending blue line well. But he's struggled to read breakouts and make clean, decisive passes out of his own end to start rushes. The Bolts routinely get hemmed in with Coburn on, and for the price paid, you'd expect more than Coburn is giving. He's currently dead last on the Lightning in Corsi For % in the playoffs (38.41%) and he's torpedoed what had been a very strong season for Jason Garrison.
|Jason Garrison WOWYs||5v5 Time On Ice||Corsi For %|
|w/ Andrej Sustr||362:10||52.6%|
|w/ Radko Gudas||172:03||51.9%|
|w/ Matt Carle||141:57||52.7%|
So Garrison played just about 1/3 of his 5v5 ice time with Andrej Sustr, and the pair was quite effective at moving the puck up the ice. But since being paired with Coburn (almost exclusively in the playoffs), Garrison's Corsi For % has been in free fall, all the way to 41.31%. Some of that is due to the quality of opponent, specifically the Detroit Red Wings, but the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers weren't exactly puck possession world-beaters during the regular season, and Coburn-Garrison still struggled in both series.
Meanwhile, the secondary scoring problem that the Lightning had in previous rounds hasn't exactly gone away.
Ok, this is Tampa's bottom 6 scorig throughout their first three series: pic.twitter.com/fijI34aTA6— m g (@kikkerlaika) June 4, 2015
After an auspicious start to the playoffs, the bottom-6 (or 5, in 11-7 scenarios) has gone ice cold. Ryan Callahan notably missed on another breakaway chance in Game 1 that would have extended Tampa Bay's lead to 2-0 and might have led to a different outcome.
Compare Tampa Bay's chart to Chicago's:
This is why so much digital ink was spilled fawning over Chicago's forward depth. They have the luxury of using Antoine Vermette, Patrick Sharp and Teuvo Teravainen on a 3rd line, and they've been dynamite all playoffs.
The Lightning have potential gamebreakers like that to use outside their top-6; but Jonathan Drouin remains in press-box "can't defend his own net" exile. If the team doesn't trust him -- he who appeared in 70 of the 82 regular season games and played quite well -- to contribute in the playoffs, the moves that cost the Lightning Fs Richard Panik and Brett Connolly really sting now.
Panik, of course, was lost on waivers to the Toronto Maple Leafs as a direct result of signing Brenden Morrow in free agency. Morrow has 3 goals in 89 games in a Lightning sweater and, like Callahan, missed another terrific chance in front in Game 1 that could have steered the outcome in Tampa Bay's favor.
Connolly was traded for two 2nds this summer to backfill the organization with picks, but that makes one wonder just how valuable the players drafted in those slots will be, and how long before they're contributing to the Lightning, if at all? If Tampa Bay completes the Coburn part of the deadline deals but holds on to Connolly and lives with the fact that they have just one pick in the top 60, they get a seasoned NHL puckhandler and secondary scorer to bolster the bottom of their lineup right now, something they desperately need. You know, in the Cup Final? To get the big shiny thing all these picks and trades and moves are trying to ultimately lead to?
The bottom line is, trading Connolly and benching Drouin has been a net negative for the Bolts, and one that needs to be corrected quickly lest the Lightning lose this golden opportunity just as their window of contention opens.