We’re less than a month away from the NHL trade deadline. Everyone knows what that means, right? Trades! ...And wild speculation that is likely out in left field as far as feasibility. But is that going to stop us from speculating? Nope. This is America (and Canada I guess), so that’s what we’re going to do!
We’ve talked a lot here at Raw Charge about the woes of our defense. When you’re playing both a regressed Jason Garrison and a up-against-his-ceiling Andrej Sustr in the top 4, you’ve got some issues. If you can get away with just one of those two in your top 4, that’s not so bad. You can deal with that. Ideally getting a right-hander to bump Sustr to the third pair would be great. Even a left-hander to bump Garrison down would be good enough, as long as he could carry Sustr to the promised land.
The biggest impediment to making any trade work, though, is the salary cap. Earlier this week, I suggested that Ryan Callahan could be shut down for the season and provide some salary cap room by being put on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR). Stamkos is currently providing the team with some relief by being on LTIR. However, as I stated in the above article, any move that took advantage of Stamkos’ LTIR would have to be offset before Stamkos returns to the lineup, unless he’s out until the playoffs.
The other possible solution to the salary cap problem is trading Ben Bishop without taking any salary back, or at least not much salary. Trade ideas surrounding the Dallas Stars have always suggested that Yzerman would have to take Antii Niemi back, possibly with up to half of his salary retained by Dallas, to make a deal happen. With Marc-Andre Fleury also out there on the trading block, and not many teams with a clear need for a goaltender upgrade, trading Bishop is still a deal that could be hard to accomplish.
With the following trade speculation, let’s just assume that the Lightning find some salary cap room in the realm of $4-$5 million either by putting Callahan on LTIR or trading away Bishop. It makes it a lot easier then to find a corresponding trade that can work for both teams. Many other contending teams also are up against the salary cap. It will be hard to make a trade including someone like Filppula or Garrison that doesn’t ultimately hurt the team more than helping it now and in the long-term.
Looking around the landscape of defensemen who might be available, the big name is Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues. He is a highly skilled offensive defenseman that happens to be right handed. He’s also an unrestricted free agent after the season and reportedly wants a lot of money in his next contract, money that the Lightning aren’t likely to be able to afford. He would be a short term rental (and perhaps a Bishop for Shattenkirk deal would make sense), but would not solve the long term concerns on the blue line.
Michael Stone out in the desert with the Arizona Coyotes is another possible option with some of the same downsides as a Shattenkirk deal. He too is a pending unrestricted free agent. He’s also right-handed and has some offense in his game. However, he’s been in a slump this year, or maybe just returning to his norm.
He had a break-out year in 2015-16 with the Coyotes putting up 36 points in 75 games. The two seasons before he combined for 39 points in 151 games. With 8 points in 37 games this year, things aren’t looking too great for him. The question for the scouts would be if they still see the positives in him from last year and he’s just being hampered by a sub-par Arizona team. Also, would he come alive with the higher skill in Tampa and a spot at the point of one of the best power plays in the NHL?
But the one big trade partner that catches my eye, who could potentially be a good deal for the short term and the long term, is the Anaheim Ducks. They have a wealth of defensive players on their roster and their farm. The Ducks have right-hander Brandon Montour and left-hander Shea Theodore ready to step in to the lineup. Both have had some NHL time, but are currently playing in the AHL. Neither of them are my target here though. With their age and still-cheap cap hits on their entry level contracts, their prices would be exorbitant. They also don’t have the experience that I think Yzerman is seeking even though they have all the looks of being future top-four defensemen.
Instead, we have to look at the players that these young prospects could replace, the players that the Ducks could deem expendable especially as they look to shed some future salary.
First up is left-hander Cam Fowler. Now, I think it would be a shame for a player with a name like Fowler to leave the Ducks, but it can’t be helped. He is 25 years old, and making $4 million this year and next before becoming an unrestricted free agent. He is in his seventh year in the NHL and has played in 466 games. During that time he has 45 goals and 160 assists for 205 points. He also doesn’t take many penalties, averaging just 0.23 PIMs per game, which translates out to one minor penalty every 8 or 9 games.
This season, his point production is at its highest per-game pace since his rookie season. He’s sitting at 11 goals and 16 assists, for 27 points in 52 games. Five of his goals and 11 points overall have come on the power play this season. He also averages 24:50 TOI, which leads Anaheim’s defense. He has been one of their best defensemen, though, and it may be hard for the Ducks to give him up.
The other, more likely option is Sami Vatanen. The Finnish defenseman is a right-handed shot. He is also 25 years old, but has three years remaining after this season with a $4.875 million cap hit. He is in only his fifth year in the NHL but has similar production over his career to Fowler. In 242 NHL games, he has put up 31 goals and 83 assists for 115 points.
This season, his production has taken a little bit of a dip. He only has two goals and 17 points in 48 games after putting up 38 and 37 points the previous two seasons. He is a better shooter than Fowler, having found the back of the net at a higher clip than Fowler. Vatanen takes a few more penalties than Fowler, but not by much.
Vatanen seems to be the more available option simply because he is having a down year, and is perhaps a little less important to Anaheim’s team this year than Fowler. So that begs the question, what does Anaheim need?
Well, they need more offensive depth for their forward group. Goal scorers would be preferred, but even a playmaker would be helpful for them especially on the left wing side. The name that I have to suggest from the Lightning for trade consideration is Vladislav Namestnikov.
With the expansion draft coming, the Lightning have a forward or two too many that they want to protect. Namestnikov seems to me to be the odd man out. He also hasn’t stepped into much of a higher role with the Lightning despite the injuries that have crippled the top end of the forward corps for much of the year. He’s playing more on the power play, and has also proven that he can play on the left wing as well as center, giving some flexibility.
He’s young and cheap, which plays well into what the Ducks need moving forward as they look to manage their salary cap. The Lightning also have young, cheap centers in Brayden Point and Matthew Peca that could replace him on the center depth chart. Evaluating what it would take to make a trade, though, is difficult. I don’t want to predict the exact price, but a deal centering around Vatanen and Namestnikov makes sense for both teams.
By bringing in Vatanen, the Lightning could solidify their right-handed defense. Beyond Anton Stralman, the team has struggled to find consistent contributors on the right side. Jake Dotchin is making an impression with the team early in his NHL debut, but who knows if that will last. At the very least, it would mean moving Sustr down the depth chart to the third pair (or potentially out of the organization during expansion). It also provides insurance behind Anton Stralman in case of injury.
The benefits of acquiring Vatanen is the term on his deal, with three years remaining. He’s in the prime of his career at a reasonable cap hit. He’s a proven top-four defenseman. While it will create trouble for Yzerman in the offseason to deal with the cap, it’s a problem he would have this summer anyway, if he wanted to upgrade the blue line. This deal can do that for the short-term goal of getting this season back on track as well as providing a needed upgrade for the next three seasons.
The Lightning staff and Steve Yzerman will get another chance to see both Fowler and Vatanen in action this Saturday night as the Anaheim Ducks come to Amalie Arena to take on the Lightning.