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Trade rumors connect the Tampa Bay Lightning and Los Angeles Kings: What deals make sense?

It seems this discussion is all the rage right now with fans and media alike.

Los Angeles Kings v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

A lot of rumblings have been going around social media that the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Los Angeles Kings have been looking at each other for trades. Scouts from either team have been reported to be watching each others games. Just ignore the fact that it’s completely possible they’re just doing some advanced scouting for the game they are playing against each other in a month. Or that they could have been scouting the other team on the ice that night that are upcoming opponents (Ducks for Los Angeles, Oilers for the Lightning). Or that this was just how the pro scouting schedule worked out that they ended up being at each others games.

Like most fans, I love trade speculation. It’s a lot of fun. There’s always so many ideas, and so many of those ideas that are completely unrealistic in the real world that are just as entertaining to laugh at.

So, if they really are scouting each other for a trade, and it’s not a completely innocent coincidence that the scouts have been there, what are the Lightning conceivably looking at from the Kings? To tell you the truth, I’m having a darn hard time coming up with anything that makes sense. There’s a handful of reasons for that.

The first reason is the salary cap. At the moment, the Lightning could add up to a $2 million cap hit. That would come up a little bit when Stralman returns and Cernak goes back to Syracuse, and when Vasilevskiy comes back and Ingram (or Pasquale if they’re swapped again) goes back as well. But the reality of the salary cap is that you still want to have that kind of space to call-up a couple of players for injury replacements. That still probably leaves us looking at $2 million, maybe $2.5 million in cap hit for a player acquired.

The other side of the coin is that the Kings don’t have a lot of space either. They have $2.6 million available because of Long-Term Injured Reserve. But that’s not permanent for the rest of the season. Carl Hagelin is out for 4-6 weeks and it on LTIR to give them some breathing space while Trevor Lewis, Jack Campbell, and Jonny Brodzinski are also on IR. That means that they likely can’t retain too much salary in a deal and that they can’t really afford to take a contract back unless the dollars are one-for-one in the deal.

The second big reason is that I keep asking myself what do the Lightning actually need to improve on?

Forwards

Up front, the coaching staff and front office seem to be happy with the personnel they have. There has yet to be a single roster change that was due to performance. Each time a player has come out of the lineup, it’s because they’ve either been injured or replaced by an injured player returning.

Danick Martel, acquired on waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers, has only appeared in one game due to Cedric Paquette being injured. Cory Conacher played a handful of games to start the season as Tyler Johnson and Ryan Callahan were missing time with injuries. Adam Erne has also been in the lineup because of those two injuries and came back in when Ondrej Palat was injured. Erne is likely to be out of the lineup once Palat returns to action any day now.

The team also seems to be very happy with what they are getting from rookies Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph on the third line. If they weren’t, that line would have been broken up at some point. They’ve been broken up a few times during games when Cooper needed to shift some things around for a spark. But otherwise, they are the single line that has not changed all season. If they were unhappy with either player’s performance, they could have easily been sitting Joseph to put in Martel or Conacher or maybe even Alexander Volkov from the Syracuse Crunch. But that hasn’t happened.

The Lightning are, simply put, loaded up front. There are seven players that would be playing on the top two lines for almost any team in the league in Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Johnson, Yanni Gourde, J.T. Miller and Palat. You also have Alex Killorn who would be on the second line for almost two thirds of the league and would be a top line player from some of the weakest teams in the league. The fourth line has been solid with Paquette and Callahan as well as Erne. I’ve had little to complain about with those three and how they’ve performed as Paquette and Callahan in particular seem to be fully healthy, playing hard, and playing well.

I just don’t see anywhere I can quibble too much with the line up. Perhaps the Lightning could use an upgrade on Paquette, but that’s likely to cost more than it’s worth. They’ve shown no signs of wanting to replace Cirelli or Joseph, or they would have done so already with an internal option just to see what another player could do there.

Goaltender

At goaltender, it’s basically the same deal. We already have Andrei Vasilevskiy. And Louis Domingue has been more than adequate as a backup. With Vasilevskiy coming back soon, there’s not much of a need to go out and get another goaltender. Domingue is better than any of the backups the Kings have to offer.

So that leaves us looking to the blue line, which is about the only possible place we can find some real things to look at.

Defense

Between Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh the Lightning have a very strong 1-2 punch on the. Both are bonafide number one defenders but each plays a different style. McDonagh’s shut down abilities while continuing to push offense has allowed Hedman to take on lesser lines.

Anton Stralman is still one of the more underrated defensemen in the league and is a fine #3 defender that pairs well with McDonagh. Mikhail Sergachev has continued to look good as a sophomore, though his offensive output has dipped from 0.5 points per game to 0.28 points per game. I believe that will come around though as his underlying numbers have looked good.

Braydon Coburn and Dan Girardi are in similar spots. They’re both paired with one of the team’s top four defensemen, Sergachev for Coburn and Hedman for Girardi. But their ice time is more indicative of a third pairing defenseman. In overall ice time, they’re 5th and 6th among the defense. In even strength ice time, they’re 6th and 7th, or 5th and 6th if you take Erik Cernak out of the rankings.

Cernak and Koekkoek both represent depth on either side of the blue line. The reason Koekkoek isn’t playing with Stralman on injured reserve is that Koekkoek is a left hander. Without Stralman in the lineup, the Lightning were down to just Girardi for a right handed defenseman which is what necessitated Cernak’s recall. The Lightning also have Cameron Gaunce as veteran depth and could potentially call on Dominik Masin or Cal Foote if necessary, though neither of them seem to be quite ready for the big show.

What Los Angeles has to offer...

At forward, the only expiring contract the Kings have is former Lightning center Nate Thompson. He is making $1.65 million per year. He does have a modified no trade clause where he can specify 10 teams where he won’t accept a trade. This is just my opinion, but I don’t think the Lightning would be on that list. Thompson has struggled to put up even the modest amount of offense he did with the Lightning other than in his first season with the Anaheim Ducks after being traded.

Thompson does own a 52.4% faceoff win percentage, something he has always been good at, which could be attractive. Paquette hasn’t been bad though with a 51.3% winning percentage. A deal that was a swap of Paquette for Thompson could make sense, especially if the Lightning are already thinking of moving on from Paquette at the end of the year when he’s a restricted free agent.

Otherwise at forward, it would mean committing to a player for at least one more year. Tyler Toffoli has another year remaining at $4.6 million. Kyle Clifford also has another year with $1.6 million. Alex Iafallo is a younger forward in the last year of his entry level contract that the Lightning had at some of their post-draft development camps and had their eye on while he was still in college. He decided to sign with the Kings though when he finished school. He has 10 points in 24 games for the Kings this year and had 25 points in 75 games as a rookie last year.

On the blue line, there is just one expiring contract in Oscar Fantenberg. Fantenberg though is a 7th defenseman type. He had 9 points in 27 games last year and is pointless in 14 games. He is a right hander, but otherwise is not much different from Koekkoek and doesn’t represent an upgrade over Girardi or Cernak.

Jake Muzzin and Derek Forbort are the other two intriguing candidates with just a year remaining on their contracts. Muzzin is making $4 million and Forbort is making $2.525 million. The problem here is that while they are both capable top four defensemen, they are both left handed.

Alec Martinez is the other name that stands out though as a left hander that plays on the right side. He has two years remaining after this year with a $4 million cap hit. He is their second leading scorer on the blue line with 8 points in 24 games and is averaging 21:21 time on ice. He is also 31 years old with over 500 games under his belt, plus 64 playoff games and two Stanley Cups with the Kings.

Where could the Lightning go?

I’m still having trouble finding a good spot here for a trade. The three defensemen that could potentially be targets to upgrade one of Girardi or Coburn in the line up are all left handers. While Girardi has been a favorite whipping boy on Twitter, I don’t see the team moving him to the press box as much as a lot of fans wish the team would. Coburn is more movable simply because he has a modified no trade clause. But he’s also having a bit of a resurgence this season and likewise, I have a hard time seeing him going to the press box.

For a trade to happen here and now, it’d have to be a big upgrade for the lineup and potentially have a positive effect going into next year as well. The Kings and the Lightning just don’t match up. The Lightning also gave up a lot last year at the deadline for Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller. They may not be willing to dip into the picks and prospect pool again for another such trade.

It doesn’t mean there won’t be something that makes sense at the trade deadline. But right now? No. I just can’t see it and don’t really understand where this trade chatter is coming from.