Sometimes a pick is better than a player in a trade deadline deal

Five times a draft pick ended up being the hero in a Lightning trade deadline deal

General Managers around the league are draining their phone batteries this week as they scurry to find the final piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle. Despite not having much room to maneuver, Julien BriseBois is likely doing his part to figure things out as well. While most of the attention is rightfully being paid to the actual NHL players that are coming and going to teams, sometimes, in the long run, it’s the draft picks that are acquired that pay off the most.

With the Lightning always willing to wheel and deal picks (especially first rounders) how about we take a look at some of the best picks they acquired at deadlines past. The rules are pretty simple, it has to be a straight draft pick acquired, not a pick that was traded for a later pick that turned out well. The trade has to be made somewhat near the deadline, so a second round pick acquired in October of a year doesn’t count.

As always these lists are subjective, and since I’m researching this on a Southwest flight with spotty internet service, there is a chance I might have missed one. So, the comments are always open for deals I may have missed.

5. 2016-17 NHL Trade Deadline March 1, 2017

Toronto Maple Leafs acquire:

Brian Boyle

Lightning acquire:

Byron Froese

2017 2nd Round Pick - Alex Volkov

It’s the last deadline that the Tampa Bay Lightning were considered “sellers” as they’ve hit the playoffs in the five completed seasons since. There was a flurry of activity as the deadline approached with the Lightning clearing out Ben Bishop on February 26th and they also had a three-team deal with the Flyers and Penguins that made Mark Streit a member of the organization for a few minutes.

While they did pick up a couple of draft picks in the Bishop deal (a conditional pick that wasn’t exercised as well as a fourth round pick that went to Philly), and a fourth round pick in the Streit deal (that spot eventually went to Vegas so that they would take Jason Garrison in the expansion draft) no one impactful came from either of those picks.

They did make a deal with Toronto where they sent fan-favorite (and Gaston lookalike) Brian Boyle to Toronto for Byron Froese and a second round pick in the 2017 draft. With that pick, which came just three selections after their original (which went from Tampa Bay to Vegas to Columbus (who selected Alexandre Texier), the Lightning went off the board to select Alexander Volkov.

Volkov had spent most of the season in the VHL and sent us scrambling to find information about the hockey player, not the MMA fighter of the same name. As someone who was in the United Center for the draft, everyone there was kind of confused as well. There were no video highlights of the pick played on the video screen, just a spinning Lightning logo.

Volkov came over from Russia following the draft and posted back-to-back 23 goal seasons for the Syracuse Crunch before getting a 9-game cup of coffee with the Bolts in 2019-20 where he recorded one assist in the regular season. He only appeared in one Stanley Cup Final game, but he made it count, drawing a key penalty on John Klingberg that led to the game-opening (and eventual game-winning) goal by Brayden Point.

He returned to the team in 2020-21, but struggled to find a consistent spot in the line-up and was eventually traded to the Anaheim Ducks where he put up 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) in 18 games. Following that season he returned to Russia to play for SKA St. Petersburg. This season he has 12 goals and 11 assists in 56 games.

4. 2001-02 Trade Deadline March 15, 2002

Ottawa Senators acquire:

Juha Ylonen

Lightning acquire:

Andre Roy

2002 6th round pick - Paul Ranger

The pieces to the 2004 Stanley Cup team were on board during the 2001-02 season, but the team was still well out of the playoff race when the deadline rolled around. They had moved Kevin Weeks a few weeks earlier for Chris Dingman and Shane Willis. On deadline day Juha Ylonen, who had been brought in during the summer and posted 3 goals and 10 assists for the Lightning, was sent to Ottawa for tough guy Andre Roy and a 6th round pick.

The Lightning used that pick on a smooth-skating defenseman with the Oshawa Generals, Paul Ranger. As a later round pick, Ranger was able to spend a couple of more years with the Generals and then a full season with the Springfield Falcons where he put up 43 points (12 goals, 31 assists) in 62 games during the 2004-05 season.

He made his NHL debut following the lock out and seemed to be locked in as the backbone of the Lightning defense as he put up 15 goals and 62 assists in 220 games for the Bolts from 2005-2008. However, shoulder injuries sapped some of that productivity and then,one day in October 2009, he asked the coaching staff if he could take a leave of absence.

At 25-years-old, Ranger walked away from his NHL career. At the time, no explanation other than “personal reasons” was givem. It wouldn’t be until years later when he would speak about the depression he was facing during the time. Ranger wouldn’t play in the league again for three years until he made a return with the Toronto Maple Leafs and played for one season. Ranger finished his Lightning career with 270 games played, 18 goals, and 74 assists. Only 7 defensemen in franchise history have more career points in the the black and blue.

3. 1997-98 Trade Deadline March 24th, 1998

San Jose Sharks acquire:

Bryan Marchment, David Shaw.

Lightning acquire:

Andrei Nazarov, conditional right to swap 1st round picks (Vincent Lecavalier)

This one creeps in on a technicality. The Lightning didn’t actually acquire any extra picks in this deadline deal. Rather they acquired the ability to swap first round picks with the San Jose Sharks, and this was the big condition, AFTER the draft order was determined. General manager Phil Esposito told the media after the deal, “that’s important to us, because after all we’ve been through this season, if we didn’t end up with that first pick…well, I just didn’t want that”.^

Heading into the draft lottery, the Lightning had the best chance to win the number one pick overall as they had finished with the worst record. However, it was such a bad season, they couldn’t even win the draft lottery as the Florida Panthers (whose pick was held by the Sharks) won. Thanks to the condition Mr. Esposito added to the deal with San Jose, Vincent Lecavalier established himself as a superstar in Tampa, not Sunrise.

2. 1997-98 Trade Deadline March 24th, 1998

Calgary Flames acquire:

Jason Weimer

Lightning acquire:

Sandy McCarthy

1998 3rd round pick - Brad Richards

1998 5th round pick - Curtis Rich

On the same day Mr. Esposito picked up the pick swap condition, he also picked up tough guy Sandy McCarthy and a couple of mid-round picks for former number one pick Jason Wiemer. McCarthy and Andrei Nazarov (picked up in the trade with San Jose) were brought in to add a little muscle and deter other teams from taking runs at the young team Mr. Esposito was putting together.

While McCarthy was a useful player in his one season with the Lightning (12 points and 135 PIMs in 67 games), the third round pick in the deal ended up being the best part of the deal. The Lightning used that to draft Vinny Lecavalier’s teammate at Rimouski, Brad Richards. As a 17-year-old, playing along with Lecavalier, Richards put up 115 points (33 goals, 82 assists) for Oceanic. While Vinny went straight to the NHL, Richards spent two more years in junior hockey, adding another 225 points for Rimouski. The extra time didn’t hurt Richards NHL career. He made the Lightning out of training camp in the 2000-01 season and put up a 21-41-62 rookie campaign, finishing second in the Calder voting to future Lightning netminder Evgeni Nabokov.

Richards, along with Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis would be the offensive engine that drove the franchise to its first Stanley Cup in 2004. As good as he was in the regular season in 2003-04 (26 goals, 53 assists), he took it to another level in the playoffs that year, posting 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 23 games with 7 game-winning goals. That earned him the Conn Smythe as the Lightning raised the Cup for the first time.

He came back from the lockout and kept rolling with a 91-point season in 2005-06. That earned him a 5-year $39 million contract from the Lightning, a contract that eventually led to his departure from the organization. Within two years he would be out of the organization as Jay Feaster traded him to Dallas for a package that included Mike Smith.

Dallas was a solid stop for Richards as he had the second 91-point season of his career. There would be a brief reunion with John Tortorella in New York and another Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015 (where he beat his former team). He played one last season with the Detroit Red Wings before he retired with 932 points (298 goals, 634 assists) in 1126 career games.

For the Lightning he ranks:

Goals - 8th

Assists - 6th

Points - 6th

Power Play Goals - 6th

It’s only a matter of time until he’s inducted into the team’s hall of fame. Not bad for a third round pick that some through wasn’t a strong enough skater to make it in the NHL.

1. 2011-12 NHL Trade Deadline February 27th, 2012

Colorado Avalanche acquire:

Steve Downie

Detroit Red Wings acquire:

Kyle Quincey

Lightning acquire:

Sebastian Piche

2012 1st round pick - Andrei Vasilevskiy

There was no doubt as to what would be number one on this list, right?  Flipping Steve Downie for a first round pick earned Steve Yzerman the rank of Jedi Master when it came to building the foundation for this run of success. Using that pick on Andrei Vasilevskiy put him on the Jedi council.

Following a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010-11, the 2011-12 dragged the Lightning back to reality as they were on track to miss the playoffs. Mr. Yzerman didn’t screw around as he shipped out Pavel Kubina and Dominic Moore prior to the deadline.

Downie was a fan favorite for his hard-nosed, and often over-the-line style of play. He was also a pending restricted free agent. Colorado was looking for a little depth and were happy to send veteran defenseman Kyle Quincey to Tampa. Quincey lasted roughly 45 minutes as a member of the organization as he was then flipped to Detroit for a first-round pick and Sebastian Piche.

Piche never made it to the NHL (although he is still playing, putting up 17 points with the Sheffield Steelers in the EIHL this season) as he was assigned to the Florida Everblades following the trade.

The pick they received in the trade ended up being 19th overall, nine picks after the Lightning’s own pick at the 10th spot. They knew they wanted a goaltender and it came down to Vasilevskiy or Malcolm Subban. With teams, including the Lightning focusing on defense, Tampa Bay was confident that Vasilevskiy would be there at the 19th spot, so they skipped him with their first pick and took Slater Koekkoek instead. Subban would go 24th to the Boston Bruins.

According to The Athletic there was one other team serious enough about drafting him that they wanted an interview with Vasilevskiy - the Ottawa Senators.  However, the day before the scheduled meeting, Vasy spent the day at a water park, got sunburned, and didn’t feel well enough to attend the meeting. Ottawa never rescheduled and the rest is history.

More than a decade later it’s funny to hear the commentators talk about his performance in big games being a concern. A couple of Stanley Cup game-clinching shutouts later, that’s been proven to be nonsense.

The Bolts didn’t rush Vasilevskiy to the NHL as he spent two more seasons in Russia and a short stint in Syracuse before making his debut in the 2014-15 season (and seeing playing time in the Stanley Cup Final). After taking over the back-up role from Evgeni Naboko it wouldn’t take long for him to establish himself as the starter, taking the reins in the 2016-17 season after the Lightning traded Ben Bishop at the deadline.

Since then, all he’s done since is lead the league in victories for five years in a row, win a Vezina, two Stanley Cup trophies, and a Conn Smythe. Not too bad.

So while the names and prospects that get bandied about over the next few days bring the excitement, sometimes it’s the boring old draft picks that are the real winning pieces in these deals.

^ “Another No. 1 undone” by Roy Cummings, Tampa Tribune, Sports Section Page 1, March 25th, 1998, retrieved via on Feb. 22nd, 2023