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A steady course versus an open mind: Tampa Bay at trade deadline

This season sucks, and I don’t mean the state of the Tampa Bay Lightning. I mean the schedule, which aids certain clubs while taxing others with many back-to-back games. And while the schedule has been part of what’s draining the Lightning this season, injuries and Jon Cooper’s tactics as head coach haven’t helped either.

Despite that, I don’t want to see the club wave the white flag, even though some fans may already be doing it. Ohers expect success ahead as the season wanes.

Right, good, great, to each their own. So, what about the trade deadline?

Everyone should know we have about a month until the deadline strikes. Everyone should also know General Manager Steve Yzerman has been talking to other franchises for who knows how long, sometimes approached and sometimes inquiring himself on the availability of specific talent at specific positions. Heck, earlier this month he went pretty public about how nearly anyone from the Bolts roster was on the table for defense help. Knowing Yzerman’s standards, he wasn’t going for a just a warm body to serve on the blue line.

Trade season requires an open ear and an open mind with potential player movement, not a stay-the-course mentality that tries to set a noble standard for the games ahead. The deadline also plays with the seasons ahead and the future of the franchise.

Right now the future of the franchise is UFA and that means staying pat. As Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones recently wrote, it isn’t so wise for a team struggling to —

Wait, wait! Hey, stop!  Stop reacting to that!  I’m not pushing a fire sale, panic, or franchise bedlam here. Jones was right about the fact fans shouldn’t overreact to due to this season’s disappointment.

Are you calm now?  And you— yes you, the one calling for Cooper’s ouster? Quit it, you’re making a scene!

OK, folks, now let’s get back to the relevant point that’s bubbling in late February with the 2017 NHL trade deadline. At this juncture of the season, you can’t lock the Bolts down. Pending unrestricted free agents such as Brian Boyle and Ben Bishop are unlikely to be stay-the-course players. Meanwhile, restricted free agency runs amok with the likes of Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Andrej Sustr all hitting that point where they need new contracts.

With all the doom and gloom of the moment, “Cost to retain” wasn’t mentioned in the Jones piece. That’s a force going forward – the Lightning under the NHL salary cap. With all due admiration and respect for Palat and Johnson, can Tampa Bay retain the rights of either player, especially with the raises they are due as RFAs?

The man of the moment remains goalie Ben Bishop, who has been the subject of talking-heads since last summer. An argument can be made that no move should happen due to Andrei Vasilevskiy’s mediocrity while Bishop was injured during the holidays. While standing pat (in the transaction column) with Bishop seems like a missed opportunity, standing pat with Vasilevskiy during his reign as starter (getting all starts until Bishop’s return) was a dubious choice that raises questions about the crease as well as coaching.

Recalled goalies Kristers Gudlevskis and Adam Wilcox may have nary a minute of NHL ice time in their careers, but it was questionable (to say the least) to go three weeks (especially with the 2016-17 schedule’s mire of challenge) with only one man tending the net.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet touched on Bishop and one possible destination for him if a trade goes down:

7. St. Louis is trying to move money for flexibility. I wondered if a Kevin Shattenkirk/Ben Bishop deal would make sense since both teams are looking for that kind of help, but Bishop is struggling and might not be the Blues’ answer. […]

While Shattenkirk and his $4.2 million cap hit has both appeal and weight for Tampa Bay in a transaction like this, it’s Bishop and the Blues who don’t fit. It’s not about stats, it’s about contract year. If St. Louis is indeed looking to stay flexible salary wise, they’re not making that investment long-term by going with Bish (who wanted $7 million per year over 7 years when he was nearly traded to the Flames last summer).

Friedman further elaborated on things with Yzerman and the Bolts on point #8 of his 30 Thoughts, speculating on long-term acquisitions versus make-a-push acquisitions. It is, in short, Yzerman’s normal habit to seek longevity in an acquisition. For long term competitiveness sake, I doubt that changes even with a Tampa Bay rapid bounce back.

As of the original cited column, I do agree with Tom Jones overall statement that things don’t need a shakeup for the Lightning. While the status in the standings is one degree of disappointing or another, the Bolts overall competitiveness and drive is still there. A bad season happens. The door isn’t exactly closed, but it won’t be easy to make the playoffs.

Just don’t lock down the roster as you know it. Yzerman has business to attend to, and a contract-bound man or pending free agent being bartered off shouldn’t come as a surprise. Trades aren’t a forced feat, but they certainly can be a missed opportunity for improvement both short- and long-term.

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