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Speculating about Tampa Bay Lightning expansion trades

Reports have circulated that Steve Yzerman has a deal in place with the Vegas Golden Knights

2015 NHL Awards - Show Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

There’s been thought for as long as people have been thinking about the expansion draft that the Tampa Bay Lightning might make a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. The Bolts have more good players on the roster than they had protection spots. That conjecture only intensified on social media following the unveiling of the Lightning’s protection list.

The first big debate had been solved by the trade of Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens. That opened up a spot for Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov to both be protected. The other big debate was about the third defenseman slot. Most of the discussion revolved around Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin. Braydon Coburn was mentioned on rare occasions, but it was a bit of a surprise to many people when Coburn was protected.

The particular decision immediately led to more speculation that general manager Steve Yzerman had or would make a deal with Vegas. While Koekkoek and Dotchin are both young and unproven in the NHL, they both have value to the team. It would be a blow to the team’s depth as well as it’s future on the blue line to lose one of them.

With the expansion draft coming tonight, the speculation will intensify and then resolve when the selection of a Lightning player is announced. To aid in that speculative frenzy, here are some scenarios that I’ve thought about and discussed with others on social media.

New Speculation

Since there will be reports coming out through out the day, as new information comes around, I will update this section to add speculation based on that information. For example, the original Dumba speculation below looks to be invalidated due to the report that Vegas has signed restricted free agent Erik Haula.

TB sends rights to Nikita Gusev in exchange for Vegas selecting Jason Garrison

This is based on new reports coming out of Russia. Gusev previously played in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg on a line with Vadim Shipachyov who has already been signed by Vegas. The other member of their line was Evgeni Dadonov. Dadonov has also been rumored to be interested in coming to the NHL but has yet to sign and remains a free agent. Other reports out of Russia have said that Gusev was terminating his contract with SKA in order to sign a new contract worth more money.

Lightning fans have drooled over the possibilities of Gusev coming over for a long time. The big questions surrounding him have been his defensive capabilities, his size, and his ability to adjust to a more physical game on a smaller ice surface. He has incredible offensive instincts and a great shot. At a minimum, he would be a power play ace in the NHL. The rest are big question marks.

Steve Yzerman has likely wanted Gusev to come over and start in the AHL to get acclimated. That would mean taking a big pay cut from what he’s been making in the KHL though. The speculation is that Gusev would only want to come over if he was guaranteed NHL playing time. Vegas could offer that to him. If they could also sign Dadonov, they would have a decent looking second line that already has chemistry and good relationships with each other.

While it would be disappointing to lose the opportunity of getting Gusev in a Lightning jersey, I just can’t help but feel like it’s unlikely to happen as it is. Getting value out of a player that you might not think will ever play for you is a big win. Especially since Gusev was once a 7th round pick of the Lightning.

Jason Garrison

The most likely part of any deal with Vegas, in my opinion, is Jason Garrison. The Lightning could use the space his $4.6 million cap hit is taking up. He’s fallen off in his production and ability the past two seasons. He is only owed $2.5 million in actual salary which makes him somewhat attractive for Vegas. They won’t have to pay him much and they’ll be off the hook next summer. If for some reason he has a turnaround, he could also be an asset to flip to another team at the trade deadline if he’ll waive his No Trade Clause.

Adding to that speculation is trusted insider Bob McKenzie [I believe his official title is the “original hockey insider”- JustinG.].

Koekkoek and Dotchin

It’s actually possible that one of these two players could be a part of the deal. For Yzerman, it may have been the cost of Vegas taking on Garrison. Maybe they have their choice between the two or they’ve already agreed on one or the other. I’m hopeful that both are retained, though.

Someone from another team’s roster

If Koekkoek or Dotchin is included in the deal, my hope is that it’s because the Lightning have made a deal for Vegas to take Garrison, one of our young defenseman, and perhaps a draft pick for them to select a player from another roster and send him our way. Depending on that player, it’s quite possible that our first round pick could be involved in the deal.

Specific Trades

So let me run down some specific trade scenarios that have come up. I feel like some of the suggested trades are over payments or seem like under payments. It’s hard to guess exactly how general managers value certain players and that valuation can even change from organization to organization.

TB sends a 2nd round pick to Vegas in exchange for Vegas selecting Garrison

This is the simplest trade possible. It gets us out of Garrison’s contract and keeps them from selecting a young defenseman. My worry about this idea though is that a 2nd rounder may not be enough to move Garrison AND protect both Koekkoek and Dotchin. If this deal is actually for a 1st round pick, I’d be much more hesitant about it.

While you could add up the value of one of Koekkoek or Dotchin plus the cost of taking Garrison’s contract and come up with a 1st round value, I would be very hesitant to use the 14th overall pick to do so. If, on the other hand, the deal was for a 2018 1st round pick I’d be more inclined to do so. I expect the Lightning will be back in the playoffs in 2017-18 and their 1st round pick in the 2018 draft will be in the final third of that round.

TB agrees to expose Koekkoek and Dotchin in exchange for Vegas also taking Garrison

This is basically the same as the previous deal. Instead of giving up a 2nd round pick, Yzerman gives up one of the two young defensemen to get Garrison’s contract off of the books.

TB sends their 2017 1st round pick, one of Koekkoek or Dotchin, and Jason Garrison to Vegas for Matt Dumba

[Update:] Reports are coming out that the Vegas Golden Knights have signed restricted free agent Erik Haula from the Minnesota Wild. If the reports are true, then Haula would represent Vegas’ pick from Minnesota and would invalidate this trade idea as Dumba could no longer be selected by Vegas.

To be completely honest, I don’t think I’m giving up enough value here. I would expect that acquiring Dumba would probably require another asset. Perhaps a 2nd round pick or one of our glut of young forward prospects.

Dumba may be the most prominent young defensemen exposed in the expansion draft. The Minnesota Wild have a great defensive corps and it left them with just too many players to protect. Dumba and Marco Scandella ended up being the odd men out for the Wild. Assuming the Wild don’t have a deal in place with Vegas to protect Dumba, Vegas could select Dumba and then trade him to another team if the return was right.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Minnesota Wild Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Dumba is just 22 years old and turns 23 in July. He was drafted 7th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by Minnesota. He is a right handed defenseman that measures up at 6’0” and 183 pounds. Despite his age, he’s played in 228 NHL games plus 21 playoff games over five seasons. He quickly made the jump to the NHL after playing in just 23 AHL games.

Over his NHL career, he has scored 78 points for 0.34 points per game. In 2016-17, he set new career highs with 11 goals, 23 assists, and 34 points. He was third amongst Wild defensemen in ice time averaging 20:19 per game. The two players ahead of him, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, averaged 26:55 and 24:01 respectively.

Short-handed, Dumba did not get much ice time only averaging 36 seconds per game. He was a factor on the power play though averaging 2:16 per game along side Spurgeon’s 2:14. Suter led the Wild’s defense with 2:45 per game on the first unit. Even with his power play time, Dumba only scored 12 of his 34 points and six of his 12 goals on the power play.

Dumba would be a great addition to the Lightning’s blue line as he is just entering his prime. Despite being young, he has plenty of experience in the league and is getting close to hitting that magic 300 games played threshold that generally marks the point where a defenseman gets over the hump. It took Victor Hedman about 250 games to get to that point in his career where he really started turning into the defenseman we knew he could be.

Swapping Dumba for Garrison would also be a win for the team financially. At least in the short term. The Saskatchewan native is playing the final season of a two-year bridge deal that has a $2.55 million cap hit. Depending on how he performs this season he could be in line for a significant bump in salary, but that’s a concern for next summer.

Still a lot of time... for us to sweat

The deal is already made. Yzerman and his staff as well as the Vegas staff know what the deal is. We won’t know though until an announcement is made sometime tonight during the NHL Awards Show. I’ll be sweating about it until it happens. Keep an eye on this evening as I’ll be writing an instant reaction to whatever happens with the Lightning in the expansion draft.