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Lightning Round: The myth of the untouchable player

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Does such a thing actually exist in today’s sports world?

Tampa Bay Lightning Victory Rally & Boat Parade Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Rays fans are currently dealing with trade rumors in regards to Blake Snell, a former Cy Young pitcher who is still well into his prime but scheduled to see his reported base salary salary jump to about $11 million next season - a price the cost-conscious Rays may not be willing to pay. Earlier this season, Tampa Bay Lightning fans went through a similar bout of anxiety in regards to the captain, Steven Stamkos.

Does it make sense from a wins/losses perspective to trade your best starting pitcher while he’s in the prime of his career, especially after losing another important piece of the rotation, Charlie Morton, to free agency? No, not really, but we are no longer in an era where only wins and losses factor into decision making in any sport. Since salaries started exploding (rightfully so) around the turn of the century, teams have had to make tough decisions based not only on finding the best skilled players, but also those that make sense on a financial terms.

Major League Baseball doesn’t have a hard-salary cap so there are teams, if they are willing to fork over millions in luxury tax money, that can theoretically keep escalating salaries until their heart’s desire. For teams in the NHL, that’s not the case. They have to be under the salary cap or, as Bill Daly made clear earlier this offseason, they won’t play. As we are all well aware of, the Tampa Bay Lightning are facing a situation where there are going to have to trade a player off of a roster that just won the Stanley Cup. Most likely, that player (or players) is going to be pretty darn popular among fans.

In early October, the dean of NHL reporting, Bob McKenzie, fired out a Tweet thread about random league business and in the middle of it dropped a little nugget about the Tampa Bay Lightning:

This caught fire primarily because one quite noticeable name, Steven Stamkos, was missing from the list of reportedly “untouchable” players. That’s right, after years of perseverance, hall-of-fame-worthy play, countless comebacks, the most memorable goal in Lightning Stanley Cup history, and a celebration speech where he re-avowed his commitment to the team and the region, the captain didn’t warrant an immediate hang-up by Julien BriseBois if another team threw Stamkos’ name into a possible trade.

How could a player like that not be untouchable? Well, because, in reality, no player is untouchable. Nor should they be. If a general manager of a team has one goal, it’s to put together a team that has the best possible chance to win a Stanley Cup. If trading Steven Stamkos does that, then the GM would be doing the organization and the fans a disservice if he didn’t at least consider it.

The same goes even for the names that Bobby Margarita mentioned like Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy. If some team is calling him with a godfather offer for Kucherov, why wouldn’t Mr. BriseBois think about it. Let’s say this hypothetical offer provided enough cap space to sign the pending RFA’s, supplied the farm system with high-end, blue-chip prospects, along with NHL talent that, while not replacing Kucherov’s productivity, at least offset a little of it. Should Mr. BriseBois dismiss it out of hand because of this subjective “untouchable” status? No. He would be a fool to do that.

A good GM should have a few unredeeming qualities. One - they should be able to stare directly into a television camera and straight out lie to whoever is watching. And they should be believable when they do it. If a GM is able to tell a reporter, “Nope I have no intention of Billy Slapshot. He’s a valuable member of this organization now, and hopefully for the future” and then trade Mr. Slapshot two days later - that’s a GM I want running my favorite team.

Second, they should have absolutely no sentimental attachment to any player on the roster. Your first ever draft pick? Don’t care. A player that played for the same junior team you played for? Don’t care. Your son-in-law? Don’t care.

Yes, that’s a bit callous and veers dangerously into a territory where players are treated as just another commodity, but it’s a line that can be toed. Steve Yzerman has shown that it can be done. He treated the players on his roster about as well as you can expect from a GM. There are few reports of him blindsiding players with trades or demotions. At the same time, if he felt moving certain players, no matter what their status with the team was, he would do it. Look at the carnage of his first round pick history as an example. While some might say he did a poor job of evaluating talent since he traded 90% of them, he also knew when to move them and the deals more often than not, made the Lightning better.

We like to think of certain players as untouchable because, quite frankly, we like them as players. I never wanted to see Vinny Lecavalier traded despite the “Vinny is going to Montreal” rumors that rolled out seemingly every year during his career. Mainly because he was my favorite player, but also because I didn’t think some of the GMs the Lightning had during his tenure would get fair value for him. However, if Mr. BriseBois is able to extract fair value out of Kucherov trade, or a Victor Hedman trade, or yes, even a Steven Stamkos trade, then you have to hand it to him. You don’t have to like it, but you have have to give him credit for doing what’s in the best interest for the team.

I’m not arguing that Mr. BriseBois should trade those players. In fact, most of those names that McKenzie mentioned are as close to untouchable as you can get in the league due to their talent, their importance to the team, or their price tag. I’m just saying that he shouldn’t arbitrarily disregard all trade offers before hearing them.

The same goes for offer sheets. There was a well-reasoned article that circulated a couple of days ago about why the Bruins should offer-sheet Mikhail Sergachev. We all know that is not going to happen because no one actually sends out serious offer sheets, or if they do, players don’t seem interested in signing them.

However, if a team like the Bruins does decide to toss that grenade towards the Lightning, should Mr. BriseBois match it right away? Couldn’t he work out something instead? Maybe he’s not interested in the three draft picks the Bruins would surrender for signing Sergachev and he works out a side deal with Boston to trade those picks back for a different package that involves prospects and players.

A label like “untouchable” is kind of like a no-trade clause in a contract. It’s not necessarily the shutting off of a deal before it happens, it’s just setting the bar for a return at a much higher spot. After all, if Wayne Gretzky can get traded....

Lightning News:

Samuel Walker checking in at #17 in our Top 25 Under 25 yesterday. [Raw Charge]

Walker can be described as a speedy, agile, center with amazing vision and puck handling skills. His wrist shot is pretty good, especially as a finisher on odd-man rushes.

Former GM Brian Lawton made some questionable moves during his tenure with the Lightning, but one under-the-radar move that he made in 2009 helped the team win the Stanley Cup in 2020. Michael Peterson is the director of analytics for the team and has his name etched on the Stanley Cup. [The Athletic - subscription required]

“I [Julien BriseBois] would have a hard time finding an area where (Peterson) or his department are not providing us with some sort of information. Most of the time we’re looking for information, we add it to other information we have from other sources and help paint the picture. They’re not in opposition, it’s more complementary to help us make better decisions. It might challenge our assumptions or it might help us dig deeper to validate assumptions.”

NBC Sports had Brayden Point ranked #3 and Mikhail Sergachev ranked #25 in their list of the top 25 players under 25 in the NHL. Where will the two end up on our list (hint, it’s a little higher). [NBCSports]

He [Point] was already on the map as one of the league’s best young players, but his playoff performance this year only cemented that status. An elite scorer, an excellent defensive player, and a possession driver. He does it all.

Elite Prospects had there go at the Tampa Bay Lightning farm system. While they had a similar grading of the prospects as a whole as other outside sites have had - the Lightning don’t have a lot of high-end talent waiting in the wings, they did qualify that statement a bit. [EP Rinkside]

To wit, the Lightning’s prospect pool isn’t an especially strong one, but it’s pretty well-suited to their needs. They don’t have much if anything in the way of top-of-the-lineup talent in their system, but they’ve several capable players well on their way to filling out the margins of the Lightning’s roster.

Hugo Alnefelt introduces the scissor-kick style of goaltending. Whatever works.

With no AHL games being played in December that means we won’t see one of the best traditions in hockey - the Teddy Bear toss. The Syracuse Crunch have come up with a way for their fans to get their fur-flinging jollies on with a drive-by tossing.

Hockey News:

Because there is nothing new to really talk about, let’s look at pictures of Connor McDavid’s house. It’s a tad bit better appointed than the Raw Charge office. [Twitter]

Despite not having a confirmed regular season scheduled yet, Pierre LeBrun takes a look at some possibilities for a post-season format. The most likely option seems to be a divisional playoff. [The Athletic - subscription required]

The idea some have floated is that the top four teams in each division would make the playoffs, then it’s 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 in each division and a divisional final in the second round. The four division playoff winners would then meet in the league semifinals.

The first Indigenous player in NHL history, Fred Sasakamoose, passed away on Tuesday. The former Chicago Black Hawks player was 86. [NHL.com]

After his playing career was over, Sasakamoose returned home to the Ahathkakoop First Nation to help give others the same kind of opportunities he received. He worked to build and develop minor hockey and other sports in the community. Tournaments, leagues and sports days followed as a result of these initiatives, as well as the Saskatchewan Indian Summer and Winter Games. Sasakamoose also was on the NHL Diversity Task Force as well as the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Who is ready for the K-pop invasion of the NHL? NCT released a hockey-themed video for the song “90’s love”. I’m not going to lie, the uniforms aren’t horrible.