The concept of the “untouchable” player has been dwindling for years in the NHL. Strip-down rebuilds, salary cap considerations and the fear of a player leaving in free agency for nothing has prompted general managers to at least listen to deals for players that at one time would be considered franchise cornerstones. As the trade deadline looms ever nearer, Elliotte Friedman tackled the possibilities of a league where every player is available in his his latest “31 Thoughts” column.
For the last month, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has been spreading the word that while he wants to improve the team, he isn’t interested in dealing any players on the current roster. It’s only logical to say that. After all, the team he has built, despite average play of late, is atop the Eastern Conference and has been lauded by the media all season long. It’s good for morale as well. No player wants to hear his name bandied about in trade talks, especially by his boss.
Yet, there is a sense that the Lightning are going to pull off at least one major deal this weekend. Whether it’s for Ryan McDonagh, Erik Karlsson or Mike Green, Tampa has been listed as a possible destination. With names like that, draft picks and prospects aren’t going to be enough. The dealing teams will want a roster player back, and Mr. Yzerman will most likely need to move a little salary.
I’m sure teams are asking for players that most fans would deem “untouchable”. Not the big names like Nikita Kucherov or Steven Stamkos, but the young guns like Brayden Point or Mikhail Sergachev. A general manager that sells off a veteran like Karlsson or Green would buy a lot of goodwill with his fan base if Point or Sergachev come back the other way.
Mr. Yzerman has proved time and time again that he’s willing to make a deal if it’s best for the team. He overpaid for Braydon Coburn. He moved Cory Conacher for Ben Bishop after paying a hefty sum for Anders Lindback. Brian Boyle was moved to make the Syracuse Crunch better. He cut Vinny Lecavalier and traded Marty St. Louis. Everything he does is to make the team better, not to appease the fans or the media.
For a player like Karlsson, Mr. Yzerman has to decide if the juice is worth the squeeze. Is one plus years of the Swedish defender worth five or six years of the young Russian? In a vacuum, no. But if the goal is to win the Stanley Cup, the Lightning might not have a better shot than they do in the next two seasons. Karlsson gets them closer to that goal. At a certain point, a general manager has to figure out a time to sacrifice a little bit of the future for the present. When that happens, the untouchables become a lot more touchable.
On to Friedman’s Thoughts:
4. Someone who strikes me as an under-the-radar possibility for Tampa Bay: Alex Edler. Remember though, he does have a no-trade.
Alex Edler is a veteran left-handed defender with over 700 games of NHL experience. He also seems like a consolation prize. If the Lightning make a move for the Vancouver blueliner it’s most likely because they missed out on the big prizes mentioned earlier. Would Edler help the Lightning? Yes. Would he cost less than Green, Karlsson or McDonagh? Undoubtedly. Will fans be running out to buy Edler Lightning jerseys? Probably not.
Still, the best moves aren’t always the ones that get fans all hot and bothered. In fact, the big name moves rarely pay off with a Cup. What were the big moves the 2004 Lightning team made during the stretch run - Darryl Sydor and Stan Neckar. Two depth defensemen that filled roles on the team. Other blueliners were available. Sergei Gonchar and Vladimir Malakhov were both bigger names that were moved at the deadline. Would the Lightning have won the Cup with Gonchar? Maybe, maybe not.
5. Newly extended Canucks GM Jim Benning raised eyebrows on Hockey Night in Canada last weekend when he said the team “would like to add a big player. Maybe a forward with some physicality who has the skill to make plays.”My sense is they are looking for youngish players with some term or team control. Possible fits could be the likes of Nick Bjugstad (Florida), Vladislav Namestnikov (Tampa Bay) or Brock Nelson (Islanders).
7. The Lightning kept Namestnikov on the top power play, but moved him to the third line with Ryan Callahan and Chris Kunitz at even-strength. Tampa always has an eye to the future, and Namestnikov is arbitration-eligible this summer. He’s another potential piece that could bring them some trade help.
Let’s tackle these both at the same time. Vlad Namestnikov is a name that has been popping up a lot lately in the last week or so. He’s having a career-season, can play on any line, and is relatively cheap. That could be enticing to a team looking for young talent. For the Lightning, he makes sense as a potential trade piece.
Even though he’s a restricted free agent after this season he’s in line for a nice raise over the the $1.94 million cap hit he accounted for this season. Moving him off of the pucks opens up some breathing room down the way for Mr. Yzerman, especially if they take on more salary in a trade.
The team is also deep down the middle with prospects. The top two lines have settled out a bit and Namestnikov is currently part of it. He could be moved with minimal impact to the scoring (weird saying about someone with 20 goals and 44 points). Would he bring back something more than Edler? Yes, but if he’s included in a deal for Eriksson or McDonagh, it’s not the end of the world.
The deals that have gone down recently, most notably Michal Kempny and Nick Holden, show that teams are placing a premium on depth defenders. That is both good and and bad for the Lightning. On one hand it will drive up the price on a piece they could use, but on the other if they want to move Andrej Sustr or Slater Koekkoek after they pick up a defenseman, they could recoup a decent return.
Whatever happens, it looks like the next 48+ hours will be interesting.