Once again, the Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves mentioned in Elliotte Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts column. With a title like, “No shortage of Rick Nash Suitors ahead of deadline” of course the Lightning are going to be mentioned. Friedman could have inserted any player’s name in place of Rick Nash and there is no doubt that the Lightning would come up in the conversation - defenseman, top six-winger, bottom-six winger, depth player, scoring threat, assistant waterboy - Tampa would be interested in any of them.
That’s the curse of a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. If a player is available, General Manager Steve Yzerman has to kick the tires on what the price will be. He doesn’t want to be sitting in his office at 4:01 p.m. on February 26th reading about some other team making a deal for a player that he didn’t know was available. Nor does he want to be sitting in the press box watching another team raising the Stanley Cup and wishing he had made one more deal. So, Lightning fans, prepare yourself to see the Lightning’s name pop up in just about every trade rumor that arises on the internet over the next nine days.
Before we delve into the Lightning specific points, a quick mention of Friedman’s introductory essay. This week he writes about Alexandra Mandrycky and her role as part of the analytics team for the Minnesota Wild. The story of how an Atlanta native came to work for a team in the heart of the State of Hockey is worthy of its own post, for now let’s focus on a thought Friedman mentions:
There is nothing more tiresome on Twitter/the Internet than mind-numbing analytics-vs.-eye-test debates. The best teams use everything, searching for the tiniest of edges.
Can we please get an amen on that thought? As hockey fans, it’s time to move past the “old-school vs. fancy stats” debate. If you’re a fan of a team that poo-poo the ideas of analytics, get ready for a nice, long Cup drought in the future. As Friedman mentions, the best teams, the successful teams are using everything at their disposal to get ahead of their competitors.
While the Lightning might not have a 10-person deep analytics department, they do list a Statistical Analyst, Michael Peterson on their coaching staff. Let’s give him credit, whatever numbers he was crunching showed that Dan Girardi would fit in the Lightning’s system, much to a lot of people’s (including our) objections. The Lightning’s “own analytics” seem to have paid off so far. So get used to some of the new terminology, because it’s not going anywhere. At the same time, don’t forget that no system is perfect and there will always be outliers. If someone is outperforming what their underlying numbers, don’t stress too much...just enjoy the ride.
Enough of that, time to see what Mr. Friedman has to say about the Lightning.
After spending his first three points pondering about the destination of several current Montreal Canadiens and Max Domi, he gets around to the Lightning with Thought Number 4:
Leading scorer for Jon Cooper’s 2006–07 North American Hockey League St. Louis Bandits? Pat Maroon, with 95 points in 57 games. I’d heard all three Atlantic Division playoff teams inquired, but it doesn’t make sense for Toronto (barring another move) and some other sources disputed Boston. NBCSports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reported he did hear the Bruins were interested, though. At this time of year, there is a lot of conflicting information.
Pat Maroon. Currently stranded out in the depths of Edmonton, Maroon is an 8-year veteran of the NHL who has 75 career goals. Forty-one of those goals have come in the last two seasons when he’s found himself spending quite a bit of time on the same line as Connor McDavid, aka one of the best players in hockey (as Lightning fans may remember bitterly).
Things get a little murky when a player performs well on a line with a generational talent. Is he riding the coattails of McDavid or does he have an innate talent that allows him to skate well with him? Not every player can handle being on a line like that. Sidney Crosby has gone through more wingers than Spinal Tap has drummers. So there is that.
The benefit would be cost. Both in terms of an actual trade and contract. Maroon is playing out the final year of a deal that carries a $1.5 million cap hit. That’s not bad for a 20-25 goal scorer. If he doesn’t pan out, the Lightning aren’t committed to him past June 30th. He also wouldn’t command a tremendous amount of resources to acquire. Most likely a second-tier prospect or a second-round pick.
Where would he fit on the Lightning? Would Coach Cooper put him on the top line? Maybe he finds a spot on the third line, which for the Lightning might as well be a scoring line. If Ondrej Palat is on track to return on time, bringing in Maroon would make the left side a little crowded.
As for his relationship with Coach Cooper, it’s always nice when a player from a coach’s past is available isn’t exactly the best reason to make a trade. Graham Sisson also had a pretty good year for him in 2006-07, but nobody is reporting the Lightning are working with Envolve Health to make a deal for the former Bowdoin College forward.
Rick Nash and/or Ryan McDonagh
Friedman spends his next point talking about Nashville’s interest in Rick Nash before bouncing back to Mr. Yzerman in Thought Number 6:
Steve Yzerman told Tampa Bay Times beat writer Joe Smith, “We are trying to win. We would want to add to our team, not go sideways.”That said, if he wanted to, I could see a package of players, prospects and picks that could tempt the Rangers for both Nash and Ryan McDonagh. The Lightning would consider moving a centre for a signed winger.
Not going “sideways” indicates that he doesn’t want to give up too much on-roster talent for a deadline addition. If he does go all-in for a big name, he’s most likely going to try and use a combination of picks and non-roster prospects.
That being said, a package of Nash and Ryan McDonough could be worth a couple of familiar names like Vlad Namestnikov or Brayden Point (that sound you heard was Saima swearing a thousand plagues on Mr. Yzerman for even thinking about trading our precious young forward).
Honestly, in all likelihood, Mr. Yzerman is probably going to make a trade for a player no one has mentioned yet. It will be a good fit and the offer, at first blush, might seem a little steep. Think of the Radko Gudas, a first and a third for Braydon Coburn. That worked out rather well. As did the Cory Conacher for Ben Bishop deal (another one that seemed way too much at the time).
The Lightning have a bevy of attractive young forwards that rebuilding teams might be interested in. He can put them in a deal for a player that will help, or for in a separate deal to replenish draft picks a la Brett Connolly for two second round picks (picks that turned into Mitchell Stephens and Boris Katchouk). Besides, it’s been awhile since he’s traded one of his former first round draft picks.
A lot of thoughts go by before he mentions the Lightning directly again. After a brief mention in Thought Number 23, Friedman devotes Thought Number 24 to Yanni Gourde:
As for Gourde, he had a great comment about his first one-way contract, a two-year, $2-million deal with the Lightning: “It’s only one contract,” he said Monday. “I’m not guaranteed another one.”Keep racking up those 20-goal seasons and no worries. It’s amazing how many AHL coaches/executives used the word “relentless” to describe him after last season. Gourde said that a couple of years ago he promised himself that, as much as he loved hockey, he would only continue if he was “moving forward” in his career. He went from being a part-time ECHL player in 2013–14 to a 29-goal AHL scorer to a guy getting an NHL cup of coffee to being a legit threat. Good on him.
Good on him indeed. Relentless is the perfect word for Gourde who currently has 22 goals for the Lightning in his breakout season. It’s great to see that he’s not taking anything for granted. His $23,256 per point is a hell of a deal for the Lightning. It ranks third in the NHL for players not on entry level contracts (Jonathan Marchessault and William Nylander are the only two players ahead of him).
Players like Gourde and Point are the reason the Lightning can afford to lock up their core players to long-term deals. Getting high-level production from low-cost contracts is key to long-term success in the cap level. At least for now. If he continues to play like he has this year, then he becomes another headache for Mr. Yzerman after the 2018-19 season when a lot of key players will need contracts. Don’t think that the summer of 2019 won’t factor into some of the deals that Mr. Yzerman makes this year. With basically his entire defense, Gourde, Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov all needing new deals that summer, he has to start manipulating the cap now so that he isn’t backed into a deal he doesn’t want to make.
Most of the rest of the column is dedicated to various trade possibilities. Some of the names (Nash) are familiar, some (Xavier Ouellet) are new. Some of them might fit with the Lightning, but trying to predict what Mr. Yzerman is going to do is an effort in futility.