Earlier today, Hardev brought up a few names that the Tampa Bay Lightning may be interested in when it comes to making a deal to strengthen the team. Honestly, the options are limited due to several factors, mainly the lack of cap maneuverability for the Lightning. CapFriendly has them with $719,967 in space, so any deal that brings salary in, will require salary to go out in most cases.
There is also the fact that there are quite a few teams still technically within range of a wild card spot. In the Eastern Conference, the only teams that are more than 10 points out are Montreal and Columbus. Philadelphia, Detroit, and Ottawa are 7 to 8 points out and realistically out of the race, but you never know. The Western Conference is a little more spread out with Chicago, Anaheim, Arizona, San Jose, and Vancouver more than 10 points behind, but still, more than half the league can say they are still in the race with the deadline less than a month away. Yay, parity!
Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois also has to decide if the players that are available, at least the ones that are realistically available for the Bolts, are worth the price of the upgrade. The Lightning have not been consistent this year, that’s for sure, but when they’re on their game, they’ve shown that they have just as good of a chance of winning it all as anybody else in the league.
So, today, let’s take a look at where the Lightning sit heading into Deadline Season (the actual deadline is at 3:00 PM on March 3rd. I warn you that I’m not going to list any players that they might go after, that’s a fool’s errand with this scouting and management staff.
Julien BriseBois’ Deadline History:
Since taking over the reins as general manager in September of 2018, Julien BriseBois has made six deals which can be considered trade deadline acquisitions.
He picks up Jan Rutta a month before the deadline. Let’s face it, there wasn’t much tinkering that needed to be done on that 2018-19 squad based on the regular season they were having.
Feeling a need to solidify the depth on the front lines, he makes two separate deals picking up Blake Coleman a week before the deadline and Barclay Goodrow on Deadline Day. While both are considered gross overpayments at the time, the Lightning won two Stanley Cup rings, and the duo make up ⅔ of one of the great shutdown lines in franchise history.
The one outlier deal that Mr. BriseBois made during his tenure so far. Two days before the deadline he worked a three-team deal for defenseman David Savard. The Lightning did win their second Stanley Cup, but Savard had minimal impact on the ice and then signed with Montreal in the offseason.
Mr. BriseBois tried to duplicate his success from 2020 by engineering two deals, the first for Brandon Hagel a couple of days before the deadline, the second for Nick Paul on the eve of Deadline Day. Once again both deals raised a few eyebrows at the price he paid, but Paul was signed long term in the offseason and Hagel is under team control for the next few seasons. The Lightning made it to the Stanley Cup Final, but were defeated by the Colorado Avalanche
Out of those deals, we can learn a few things:
- He doesn’t care about what he pays if he feels it’s the right fit
- He targets players that not only can help the Lightning at the deadline, but in future seasons. Rarely does he pick up a true rental.
- He likes forwards.
- He will use whatever means necessary to make the deal: veterans, prospects, picks, other team’s cap space.
- He doesn’t chase the big name on the market.
There is no reason to think that if he does make a deal, it won’t have a similar structure to the ones he has made in the past, controllable players that fill a role now and in the future.
Depth on the bottom-six, depth on defense.
If their current line-up stays healthy, they are perfectly capable of making a nice long run in the playoffs. Yes, on a game-by-game basis there are some issues with scoring from the third and fourth lines, but after a bit of a scuffling start (and the return of Anthony Cirelli), they are doing just as well as any bottom-six in the league.
As for the defense. The emergence of Nick Perbix as a reliable, every day defenseman has solidified things on the back end. Yes, there will be the occasional hiccup like the game against the Panthers, but for the most part things have shook themselves out. Victor Hedman is back to playing like the Hedman we are used to and Zach Bogosian has been a solid partner for him. Ian Cole and Erik Cernak are the shutdown pairing Coach Cooper has been looking for, again with the exception of the Florida game.
That has allowed him to control the minutes of Mikhail Sergachev and Nick Perbix. Coach Cooper can run that duo out on a regular basis, but if he needs to, he can also double shift Sergachev on a pairing with Hedman for that added offensive threat from the blueline.
The problem for both the offense and the defense lies in the possibility of injuries. Outside of the starters, there isn’t much behind them in the organization right now. Philippe Myers and Haydn Fleury were brought in to be that depth on the blueline and it just hasn’t quite worked out like Mr. BriseBois had hoped.
Should a forward get hurt for a number of games, they would have to dip into the roster in Syracuse. Rudy Balcers would likely be the first choice although Gemel Smith (37 points in 35 games) has likely earned a look as well. It’s unlikely they would ask any of the rookie or sophomore players on the Crunch to step in and take a major role, especially with Syracuse fighting for a playoff spot of their own.
Would they give Alex Barre-Boulet another shot? The 25-year-old is proving once again that he can dominate the AHL as he’s put up 54 points (15 goals, 39 assists) in 41 games. The question that Mr. BriseBois and Coach Cooper have to answer (with input from Syracuse head coach Benoit Groulx) is if he can handle the defensive side of the game at the NHL level, something he’s struggled with in his previous recalls.
Draft Picks Available:
2023: 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 2 7th rounds (theirs and Anaheim’s)
2024: 2nd, 3rd, 4th (originally Chicago’s), 5th, 6th, 7th
2025: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th
As you can see, there isn’t much in the way of draft capital to make a large splash. There are likely other teams out there that have more in the way of draft picks that a rebuilding team like Chicago, San Jose, or Anaheim would be looking for. Not only do the Lightning not have a first round pick this year or next, or a second round this year, the picks that they do have typically come later in the rounds. So for all intents and purposes a 2023 3rd rounder is basically a fourth round pick.
Couple that with the salary cap bind and any picks that they move will likely be sweeteners in the deal. That means the return for any team trading with the Lightning will likely involve players, possibly even one on the roster right now.
Prospects and Players:
Prospects: Hugo Alnefelt, Gage Goncalves, Dylan Duke, Jack Thompson, Simon Ryfors, Lucas Edmonds, Isaac Howard, Alex Barre-Boulet, Gabe Fortier
Rostered Players/ Veterans: Cal Foote, Haydn Fleury, Philippe Myers, Vlad Namestnikov, Ross Colton, Alex Killorn
Much like their draft picks available, the Lightning aren’t boosting the strongest contingent of prospects at this moment. The current trend for teams shopping the big name trade pieces is for a high draft pick, a NHL-ready prospect, and a Grade A prospect.
The good news is that the Lightning do have some prospects that might be ready to ply their trade at the NHL level. Fortier, Ryfors, and Goncalves are likely at that point where either the Lightning or another team will want to take a look at how their game plays at the NHL level within the next year or so.
As for the Grade A rating, not so much. They do have a lot of players that will make it to the top level and put together solid careers. Will they be future All-Stars? That’s hard to say. Their best bet to be a breakout player is also one that might be the furthest away from joining the league at this point - Isaac Howard. The 18-year-old is in his first season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and there have been some growing pains. He’s sitting at 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in 24 games. The good news is that two of those goals have come in his last 5 games so he may be adjusting to the pace of play at the collegiate level.
Jack Thompson might be another prospect that emerges and performs better than the pundits currently project. Right-shot defensemen that can put up points are always coveted in this sport. In his first full season at Syracuse Thompson has 5 goals and 7 assists in 43 games.
For teams looking for a netminder down the road, Hugo Alnefelt is an intriguing puckstopper that might be fun to pick up. After a rookie season that saw him bounce between the ECHL, AHL, and NHL he has found some stability in Syracuse and performed very well as a 21-year-old. He’s posted a 2.34 GAA and .923 SV% in 20 games for the Crunch. He just has to show that he can stay healthy.
With the Lightning basically at the cap limit, they would likely have to include a rostered player in any deal that they make, the good ol’ “dollar in, dollar out” deal that Mr. BriseBois spoke about during his state of the team address last month.
So, who can the Lightning afford to part with? The first name that comes to mind is Cal Foote. Based on his reduced playing time and the fact that the Lightning signed Nick Perbix to an extension already, the writing is kind of on the wall for Foote.
Still, he is just 24-years-old and what he needs most is playing time. A team that isn’t chasing a Stanley Cup and can put him out on the ice for 20 minutes a game, allow him to learn from mistakes, and grow from there could benefit in the long term by picking him up in a trade.
Ross Colton is another name that other teams may consider. He has a pretty good pedigree (a Stanley Cup clinching goal) and has the flexibility to move up and down the line-up. As the Lightning are currently constructed he’s unlikely to see much time in the top-six in Tampa any time soon. In another organization he might get that chance.
Of course, Colton is the exact type of player that Mr. BriseBois usually looks for in a trade so why would he move him out? Possibly to break tradition and bring in a rental. Colton is a RFA this summer and is due for a raise from his $1.125 Million cap hit. Should the Lightning feel they have an internal replacement with a lower cap hit, they may be willing to part with Colton if the deal is right.
The biggest name on the list is Alex Killorn. He’s been here for the low times and all of the high times. He is, however, also an unrestricted free agent next year. For a rebuilding team that needs to work a deal with the Lightning for a player with a higher cap hit, they may need to take on Killorn’s $4.45 Million cap hit for the rest of the year. He does have a 16-team no-trade list so that does limit Mr. BriseBois’ options a bit.
Personally, I wouldn’t be shocked if he didn’t make any moves or just a couple on the AHL level. The prices are going to be high for any players on the market, and for Mr. BriseBois, the juice may not be worth the squeeze. (That being said, expect a big deal within 24 hours of us posting this.)