As long as the Lightning keep chasing the possibility of making the playoffs, they are caught in limbo when it comes to the trading deadline. Steve Yzerman is living in a world where he is both a buyer and a seller at the same time — he is Schroedinger’s GM, if you will. The playoff thread they are clinging to is frayed, and if it should snap over the next couple of weeks, then Yzerman’s muddy waters should clear up rather quickly.
There have been a lot of names thrown out as to who Yzerman should trade, but he has to deal in a world where he’s limited by whom he can trade. Not only does he have to deal with no-trade and no-movement clauses, he also has to find another team that is willing to take the player he is offering, and willing to send back an asset that Yzerman values.
Other teams have video, and they can see that Jason Garrison has lost more than one step on the ice. While he might have some value, how much of his $4.6 million cap hit will the Lightning have to eat in order to move him? Will Garrison want to move, or will he invoke his NTC? Will Yzerman be happy with a fifth-round pick in return? Finding the answers to these questions is why he probably orders Tums by the case.
The trick to getting valuable assets back is to have a player that has the other team’s GMs calling Tampa, not the other way around. So who on the roster would compel another GM to call Yzerman that didn’t result in the Tampa Bay GM laughing and hanging up the phone?
Brian Boyle is one. An unrestricted free agent after the season, he would bring the intangibles that old-school GM’s like: leadership, experience, and some qualities that actually help a team win games: depth scoring, positive possession stats, and the ability to win a faceoff. There are already rumors that a team might be willing to part with a first-round pick to acquire his services. If a team offered that, Yzerman should be personally driving Boyle to the airport.
Another name that might seem strange at first glance would be Anton Stralman. A team desperate for defensive help normally wouldn’t be offering up their second best defenseman, especially one that is under a reasonable contract for the next two seasons. Looking deeper, though, those reasons might be why Mr. Yzerman might be inclined to deal the Swedish native.
If Stralman was to enter the market, he would be by far the biggest name on the trading block. A 30-year-old, right-handed defender under contract for $4.5 million a year for two more seasons would bring a handsome return. Tampa would be dealing from a position of strength, with no need to retain salary or settle for a middling return. The starting price would be a first-round draft pick and a high-caliber young prospect, and let teams bid themselves up from there.
When every team in the league is searching high and low for a right-handed defensive player, why would the Lightning even consider trading one? Their defense is held together with duct tape, spit and Jake Dotchin as it is right now, so why would they consider making it worse? Frankly, because they can afford to. If this year is a write-off, wouldn’t it be better to start rebuilding the roster right away?
If Stralman is traded, it opens up a spot on the roster for Slater Koekkoek. He gets a 20-some game trial to prove show coach Jon Cooper and Yzerman exactly what he can do. If Koekkoek shows he belongs, great, he is a cost-controlled solution on the blue line for the next few seasons. If Koekkoek falls on his face, at least he was given a chance instead of being buried in the AHL until he begs for a trade.
Removing $4.5 million from the salary cap would be huge in terms of the flexibility Yzerman would have heading into the off season. Victor Hedman’s raise kicks in next season, and so will Jonathan Drouin’s. Don’t expect the obscenely talented Canadian to take a bridge deal after the season he’s had this year. Just between those two players, that’s probably roughly $6 million that will be added to the payroll.
The Lightning would also be selling high on a player that will eventually start to decline, if he hasn’t already. It’s hard to say whether Stralman is struggling because he never fully recovered from rushing back from his broken leg last year, or whether he’s just been unlucky (2.3% shooting percentage!), or whether his skill set is starting to diminish. It is apparent that he is not playing up to the standard that he set over his first two seasons with the Lightning.
How long has Stralman been stuck at 299 career points? More than a month. He hasn’t registered a point since picking up an assist against Anaheim on January 17th. His last goal was on January 12th against Buffalo. While his role on the team isn’t supposed to be the Swedish Bobby Orr, he should be picking up a few more points just by sheer luck since he’s on the ice more than 20 minutes a game every night.
A lot could be attributed to usage. Now that he is not paired with Hedman, he isn’t generating a lot of offense. When paired with Jason Garrison the two are only generating 5.11 scoring chances per 60 minutes. With Hedman, they were at 8.48 SCF/60. Splitting the two up might be good for defensive zone purposes, but it has hurt the offensive contributions.
In the role of responsible defender who lets his partner roam free in the offensive zone he’s much better. When he’s anchored down with another “defensive” or slow-moving blueliner, his numbers go down. He doesn’t make many mistakes, but he also doesn’t take many chances. That’s a trait that is very attractive to a general manager looking to make a long playoff run.
At 30-years-old, Stralman should still be able to contribute at a high level, but that should be another motivation for Mr. Yzerman to move him now. It’s extremely hard to trade a defender that has already declined (see Carle, Matt and Garrison, Jason). If the season is over, move him now while he has value, and hope the assets that come back or free agency can fill the hole.
The Lightning don’t have to trade Stralman this year. They’d just get maximum value out of him if they do.