The NHL draft starts tonight in Dallas and the Tampa Bay Lightning do not have a pick in the first round...yet. Steve Yzerman and the front office still have plenty of time to make a trade into the first round, if they wanted to. They likely have several spots identified where they would be willing to make a deal for the right price, and whether those deals happen will come down to which players are available at those spots.
The Lightning have assets that could get them back into the first round if that’s what they want to do. J.T. Miller is a restricted free agent who will be difficult to retain long term. The team has plenty of room under the cap to keep him for this season but things get complicated next summer when Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are due for extensions. If the Lightning want to get ahead of that problem, flipping Miller to get back into the first round could be an option. But without any immediate pressure to do so, they can choose to hold on to him unless they get exactly the right deal.
The other player who could return a first-round pick is Tyler Johnson. However, he seems less likely to move than Miller. Johnson has been a core piece of this recent Lightning run and I’m not sure the Lightning would move him unless they were getting an overpay in return. His no trade clause is scheduled to kick in on July 1st and trading him now seems like the kind of cold asset management that doesn’t fit with Yzerman’s model of how the organization treats players. If he was to consider trading Johnson, he could require that the other team honor the no trade clause, which makes getting the deal done more complicated and less likely.
Even if the team is willing to consider trading Miller or Johnson, which we don’t know for sure, that doesn’t mean it will happen. It takes two teams to make a trade. Fortunately for those of us who enjoy trade speculation, this year happens to offer several spots where it would make sense for a team to be shopping a first-round pick. Let’s run through some of them and see if any make sense.
Edmonton Oilers - 10th Overall
The Oilers have done a terrible job of hiding the fact that they’re willing to trade the tenth pick. Initially, the rumors were that they wanted a scoring winger to play alongside Connor McDavid on their top line. Recently, that has shifted to an offensive blue liner. The Lightning don’t have a defender that fits that description so this is looking like a worse fit than it was a couple months ago.
If Edmonton is still looking for a wing, Miller and to a lesser extent Johnson both make sense. The issue is that the 10th pick might be a bit too high of a price to pay for either so it would likely take some additional compensation from the Lightning to make this trade happen such as other picks or a lesser prospect.
New York Islanders - 11th and 12th Overall
Any time a team has two first round picks, it makes sense that they would consider trading one of them either to acquire additional draft picks or players who can help immediately. For the Islanders, getting some immediate help makes sense. They’re under pressure to improve the team in the short term to ensure that John Tavares re-signs. Bringing in Lou Lamoriello as GM and Barry Trotz as head coach has likely already helped in that area but I doubt Lamoriello is done improving the team for this year.
The Islanders problem last year was mostly defense and goaltending and in that context, it doesn’t seem like the Lightning are a fit here. But if the Isles decide they’d like to add to their forward group, Miller would fit nicely and offer them another defensively responsible forward who could help alleviate some of the problems they had last season.
Philadelphia Flyers - 14th and 19th Overall
In the Oilers and the Islanders, we had two teams that seem primed to move a pick for the right return. But the Lightning don’t seem the ideal trade partner for either. In the Flyers, we have the opposite scenario. The Lightning would be a great trade partner, but Ron Hextall seems more likely to hold on to his picks and continue to develop through the draft than to try to short circuit that process.
Either Miller or Johnson would be a fit on the Flyers. They need some additional forward talent to compliment their dominant top line. Either Lightning player would slot into Philly’s top six immediately. This is also the perfect range in terms of value for Miller or Johnson. The 19th pick might be a little low but depending on which players are still on the board, it could still be viable.
On day two, I expect that Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin will both be in play for mid-round picks. I doubt either would return a second-round pick at this point but a third or fourth is reasonable if the Lightning have a chance to grab a player they like. I’m certain Lightning fans won’t like hearing that as a return but in terms of comparables, consider that Derrick Pouliot who had a similar trajectory to Koekkoek was traded for a 4th round pick and an AHL contract earlier this year.
The other name to watch is Braydon Coburn. His no movement clause will expire on July 1st. If he agrees to waive it a few days early, he could also be moved on day two to add a pick.
Trades are one of the most fun parts of the draft and what we’ve covered above are the most likely possibilities. In terms of what I actually expect to happen, I don’t think the Lightning will get back into the first round this year. Making another run at the Stanley Cup with this group including Miller seems like the most likely option. And since the team can punt these decisions until next summer, they will probably do so.
Day two is the most likely time for movement. But even that probably won’t happen. None of Koekkoek, Coburn, or Dotchin is enough to land a second-round pick. And it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Lightning would be so laser focused on a player in the third or fourth round that they would trade a roster player to move up and take him. If a trade does happen, it will be a sign that the Lightning didn’t have plans for that player next season and needed to clear a roster spot.