All it took was a little trade speculation and a bit of a slump to get the Tampa Bay Lightning back into Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts column. This week’s column is heavy on speculation as the trade deadline grows nearer. If there is anything we’ve learned in the last few seasons, it’s that teams aren’t waiting for deadline day (the 26th of February this year) to pull the trigger on deals. As the top team in the league, it’s not surprising that the Lightning are garnering national attention and they pop up in three of his thoughts.
Thought 12: “Quote of the week is from Steve Yzerman, asked what he learned about his team without Victor Hedman: “I like our team better when he’s healthy.”
Well, leave it to Mr. Yzerman to state the obvious. Of course the Lightning are better with Hedman. Just like hot wings are better with cold beer and Alex Killorn’s Instagram is better with Andrej Sustr.
To be honest, it was a little nerve-racking to see Hedman back in the line-up and playing his usual 25 minutes a game so soon after his injury. Hopefully having him come back to play games in February isn’t going to lead to him missing games in May or June. There doesn’t seem to be any lingering effects in his play so it might just be that the Big Swede is a remarkable physical specimen [I mean. - Acha].
Thought 13: “The Lightning are going through a rough stretch, tortured Monday by Connor McDavid’s four-goal game. Since the calendar flipped to 2018, Tampa Bay’s power play is 28th (15 per cent) and penalty kill 18th (76.6). They were first and 24th, respectively, from the start of the season until New Year’s Eve. (The penalty kill may be higher in the rankings, but the percentage actually dropped.)They are still very, very good and one of the few teams with enough assets to do almost anything. Yzerman never tips his hand, but will do what it takes to make them better. I was talking about this with a GM the other day: is there a single available difference-maker Tampa would not be able to trade for?”
A lengthy thought that can be summed up by saying - the Lightning have the ability to sign any of the top names on the trading block. They have their draft picks, the cap room and the prospects to keep any other GM on the phone if they call. Will they? That is the million dollar question.
It will be interesting to see if the special teams numbers that Friedman referenced are an anomaly or a trend. There were some solid signs in the win against Vancouver on Thursday - namely Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov getting back on the scoresheet. They also went 2 for 3 with the man advantage and have scored power play goals in four straight games. All good teams seem to go through rough stretches during a long season and perhaps that is what January was for the Lightning. If they continue to self-correct, it might end up being a quiet trade deadline.
Thought 14: “ Yzerman was complimentary of Slater Koekkoek, who got an opportunity when Hedman went down. “He acquitted himself really well,” Tampa’s GM said. “You can see he’s getting more comfortable.” There’s been a bit of interest in him (Ottawa, for one) and we’ll see where it goes.”
Ah...Slater Koekkoek. The player who acquitted himself so well that as soon as Dan Girardi was back in the line-up he was a healthy scratch. To me, this sounds like Mr. Yzerman might be posturing a bit. It comes off as, “Hey I really like this guy it would be such a shame if someone called me about including him in a trade!”
Koekkoek did see his ice time click up while Hedman was on the shelf, and cracked 18 minutes against Vegas and Nashville. While he didn’t rack up a lot of points, he also wasn’t on the wrong end of any glaringly obvious mistakes, which in Coach Cooper’s eyes is pretty important. Since Hedman has returned, Koekkoek’s minutes have dropped back down to their normal level. Still, he could be an enticing asset for a team looking for a young affordable defenseman.
On his own he wouldn’t command a large return, but packaged in with a few picks and and some other prospects he could be part of an interesting trade.
In one of his other thoughts, Friedman mentions a possible Justin Faulk for Andreas Athanasiou swap between Carolina and Detroit. Both of those players would be intriguing pickups for the Lightning. Faulk is a right-handed defenseman who is averaging 22 minutes a night for the Hurricanes. He could bolster the defensive depth and chip in a few goals down the stretch as well. He isn’t cheap ($4.8 million cap hit for two more seasons), but it’s not an amount that is unreasonable for the Lightning to absorb either.
As for Athanasiou, it seems like Detroit has never found the right way to use him. At 23-years-old, he’s finally getting a regular role in the Red Wing offense and has contributed 23 points in 42 games. He possesses top end speed and could be a solid forward who could add some offense to the third or fourth lines. It’s odd that the Red Wings would be interested in moving a player with his skill, but if he is truly on the block, he could be a nice addition at a low cost for the Lightning.
It was nice to see the Lightning as part of the national conversation again. We’ll have to stay tuned to see if it continues.