Following their Saturday night loss to the Arizona Coyotes, the Lightning are sitting in last place in the Atlantic Division. They sit five points outside of third place in the division, and four points outside of the second wild card spot, but these gaps will widen when Bolts go on their bye week.
Granted, that’s not an insurmountable distance to make up, but it still means they will have to outplay probably eight other teams in the Eastern Conference to crawl back into the playoff picture. That’s a tough feat to pull off.
A little over a month away from the trade deadline, teams aren’t particularly eager to make trades yet. They want a better idea of where they stand and how willing they are to make a big splash to try to win it all.
Typically the only time teams will trade this early is if there is a clear upgrade hockey trade of two roster players with similar salaries. By waiting until the deadline, teams also gain more salary cap room to take on other players, since the cap hit is prorated over the remainder of the season.
If the Lightning don’t want to be sellers at the deadline, they need to go on a tear and really pick up the slack and cut down their distance to a playoff spot. As fans have been losing confidence in this team’s ability to turn it around, it’s a decent time to look at what the Lightning have that they can sell. I won’t speculate on what kind of return they could bring though because it’s often hard to find trades from previous years that are comparable or don’t include additional players in a package deal.
As a little bit of a history lesson, Yzerman is not afraid of being a seller at the deadline when the team is clearly out of contention. In 2011-12, one year removed from a game 7 appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, Yzerman traded away Dominic Moore, Pavel Kubina, and Steve Downie. In the 2012-13 season, Yzerman’s only major trade was Cory Conacher for Ben Bishop.
Who will Yzerman trade at deadline? Here’s my speculation.
Boyle has been having an outstanding year with the Lightning. He’s also in the last year of his three year contract that pays him $2 million per year. While you have to think that Yzerman would have interest in bringing Boyle back next year if the price is right, he’s a valuable commodity to trade. Teams are often looking for depth scoring and veteran leadership going into the playoffs.
Boyle has played in two Stanley Cup Finals and four Eastern Conference Finals in his career. He has 100 career playoff games, earning 24 points. He’s also closing in on 600 career NHL games and has double digit goals for the third season in a row and fifth overall in his career. He’s a capable penalty killer and faceoff specialist, and has an underrated shot.
Filppula is another player that is having a very solid year. Filppula is sitting at 30 points in 46 games, a definite improvement over his previous two seasons. Filppula has one season remaining on his contract and also has a No Movement Clause (NMC). This could cause problems as it will mean that whoever he is traded to will have to protect him in the expansion draft. He does have a modified No Trade Clause (NTC) though, which will give Yzerman some room to be able to shop him around without getting his permission.
Like Boyle, Filppula is a superb penalty killer and faceoff center. He can distribute the puck on the power play. He also plays a defensively responsible game that makes him a solid second-center option that can match up against an opposing team’s skilled lines.
The bigger sticking points for trading Filppula will be his NMC, the year remaining on his contract, and his $5 million cap hit. That means the team that trades for him will also need to be committed to having him on their roster next season and have a spot for protecting him in the expansion draft.
If Yzerman can find a suitable trade partner, it would also be a big help for getting under the salary cap for next season, with so many restricted free agents in line for raises, on top of the raises that Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy are already locked into.
Ben Bishop is the only other pending unrestricted free agent besides Brian Boyle and minor leaguers. If he can pick up his performance over the coming month, a market could develop for him. Or if a contender loses their top goaltender, they could come knocking. Bishop could bring back a king’s ransom for Yzerman, especially if the acquiring team can agree to a contract extension with Bishop prior to completing the trade.
Dallas has often been linked to Bishop trade talk, but they’ve been getting decent enough goaltending from their current tandem. A trade with Dallas would probably also require Yzerman taking back Antti Niemi in the trade — he has another year remaining on his contract.
Cedric Paquette/J.T. Brown/Michael Bournival
I’ll lump all three of these players together because they are pretty similar. As of writing this, Condra is currently on waivers. He could be included in this group. However, if no one claims him, it seems unlikely that someone would give up an asset to acquire him.
Paquette has had a bit of a resurgence since the calendar changed to 2017. He’s again showing the type of game he can play when he’s healthy. He’s aggressive, he’s fast, he kills penalties, and he has a little bit of goal scoring touch. He’s under contract for next season for a reasonable sub-million dollar cap hit.
Bournival has also had a resurgence after dealing with concussions these past two seasons. He’s another fourth-liner that can provide value to a playoff team with his speed and aggressive forechecking skills.
J.T. Brown is dealing with a concussion, but once he’s healthy and back on the ice, he would be another potential player to move. He’s making $1.25 million and is under contract for another season. He can play up a bit on the third line when necessary, but is best suited as a fourth liner. He’ll forecheck and occasionally plays on the penalty kill.
The likelihood of trading any of these three players is probably pretty low. However, with all of the prospects that Yzerman has auditioning this season, it could be tempting to move one for a draft pick to open up a roster spot for a younger player next season. The balancing act will be that Yzerman needs a certain number of forwards under contract exposed to the draft meeting the 80/40 games played rule.
The Lightning have dug themselves a hole that’s going to be hard to pull out of. The eventual return of injured players like Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point could give the team a boost that turns the season around. Point should be back in the next couple of weeks. Stamkos appears to be still on track for a mid-March return. For Stamkos’ return, though, it may be too late to make a difference.
Yzerman has to be looking for help on the blueline. But before he can pull the trigger, he needs to see some signs of life from this team. They sit at the bottom of the Atlantic Division and it’s going to be hard to climb over all of the teams that are sitting in front of them.
The loss to the Arizona Coyotes, who themselves are hovering around the bottom of the Western Conference, is not a good sign for this team turning things around.