December 2, 2011. The Tampa Bay Lightning are mired in mediocrity with an 11-11-2 record, good enough for third place in the Southeast Division, six points behind the Florida Panthers. In his second year of coaching, Guy Boucher was struggling to find the same results that had propelled the team to the Eastern Conference Finals the previous season.
So they did what any team would do to shake things up - made a trade. It was on this day that the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired Evan Oberg and Mike Kostka. In exchange they sent the Florida Panthers Michael Vernace and James Wright. All four players were playing for their respective AHL franchises at the time of the deal. I told you it was a not-so-epic deal.
In fact, this deal wasn’t really for the Lightning at all. While their defense was wildly inconsistent at the time, these two undrafted blueliners weren’t going to provide immediate help. Kostka had never played in the NHL at that point and Oberg had just a couple of cups of coffee with the Vancouver Canucks. Neither player was considered to be a top-end prospect. What they were, though, were defensemen, something the Norfolk Admirals desperately needed at the time. Other than Radko Gudas and Mark Barberio there wasn’t much to write home about.
The Admirals, led by a guy named Jon Cooper, were playing ok hockey with a 13-9-1 record in early December of that year. Things improved greatly following the trade. They went 42-9-2 the rest of the season (a 28-game winning streak does wonders for your record) and ended up winning the Calder Cup.
While the two players picked up in the trade weren’t the main reason the Admirals won so many times, they did contribute. Oberg put up 7 goals and 16 assists in 42 regular season games and added another 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) in 18 postseason game. Kostka bettered those regular season numbers with 7 goals and 25 assists in 52 games. In the run to the Calder Cup he recorded 6 goals and 6 assists in 18 games.
As you might have noticed, despite being acquired on the same day, Kostka played in 10 more regular season games than Oberg. The reason - travel. Oberg became a bit of a cult legend that season as he was recalled multiple times by the Tampa Bay Lightning, starting just 4 days after the trade.
According to an old NHL.com link, he was called up and sent down TEN times between December 6th and February 29th. As you might have guessed, the Lightning had some injury issues throughout the season. Mattias Ohlund dealt with a knee issue all season long while Victor Hedman, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Pavel Kubina, and Matt Gillroy all missed games.
Despite all of that travel time Oberg only appeared in three games (one in January and two in February), playing under 30 minutes total without recording a point. He would spend one more season with the organization before signing with the Chicago Wolves in 2013.
It would be a couple of seasons before Kostka donned a Lightning uniform. In fact, he would leave the organization (signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012) before coming back as a waiver claim from Chicago in February of 2014. He appeared in 19 games that year for Tampa Bay and put up a respectable 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists). That was good enough for the New York Rangers to sign him as a free agent the following summer.
Heading to Florida in the deal was another cult favorite in James Wright. A fourth-round pick in 2008 by the Lightning, Wright surprised a lot of people by making the team in 2009 as a 19-year-old. He stuck around with the team until January of 2010 when he was returned to the Vancouver Giants of the WHL when the Bolts claimed Nate Thompson off of waivers from the Islanders.
Since he had played in 48 games that year (2 goals and 3 assists in that time) the Lightning burnt the first year of his entry level contract by sending him back to the WHL. He would only appear in one game for the Lightning the next year before the trade to the Panthers. He never played for Florida, but did pop up in Winnipeg playing 97 games for the Jets between 2012 and 2014.
Wright, known as “Killer” around these parts due to a preseason interaction with his stick and Alex Kovalev’s face in Saskatoon in 2009, was a high-energy player that was quick and able to play a little defense, but just couldn’t find consistent offense. If he had hung around in the system a little longer he might have found a role on the bottom six with the Lightning. In his one full season under Jon Cooper in Norfolk he did put 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) for the Admirals.
Mike Vernace had played in 10 games for the Lightning in 2010-11 after he had signed with them as a free agent. He never made it back to the NHL, banging around in the AHL for a couple of seasons before spending four of the next five seasons in Europe.
Happy trade-a-versary to this not so historic trade in Lightning history.
Gary Bettman (who is in the Hall of Fame) was speaking at a Sports Business Journal’s conference and somehow the topic of the return to play negotiations came up (shocking, I know). He gave a very Bettman-esque answer in which he claims that they aren’t trying to renegotiate the deal made under the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed this summer despite news leaking they asked the players to change the amount of money they defer or put into escrow. He did make a valid point that since the players and owners split revenue 50/50 the players are likely to have to pay up now or later since revenue is going to be way down no matter what happens. [Sportsnet.ca]
One of the unfortunate side effects of rooting for a team that is up against the salary cap is that your team is never really interested in any free agents. I’m not sure how interesting of a free agent Mikael Granlund actually is, but several teams are reportedly wondering about his services. It would be nicer if they were inquiring about the services of a player the Lightning were trying to trade. [Twitter]
The Seattle Kracken are less than a year from playing their first game. They still don’t have a coach. Granted, they don’t have any players yet so a coach would be awfully lonely skating around on the ice by himself randomly blowing his whistle. For comparison sake, the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t hire Gerard Gallant until April of 2017, roughly 5 months before their first game. There is no sense of hurry for GM Ron Francis at this point [ESPN NHL]
The Finnish Liiga is the latest hockey league to pause their season. They are on hold until at least December 19th as the country is under stricter restrictions due to COVID-19. One of the top prospects in next year’s draft, Aatu Raty sees his season come to a halt scoring 2 goals in just 6 games for Karpat. Otto Somppi, on loan from the Lightning, has 1 assist in 5 games for the Pelicans. [Twitter]
Stanley Cup. Gronk. Two sports icons meet in front of a Christmas tree.