Steve Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightning trade deadline strategy primer
What Mr. Yzerman has done in the past gives some expectations of what he’ll do this year.
Since Jeff Vinik bought the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010 and hired Steve Yzerman as the general manager a few months later, Yzerman has been at the helm for four playoff teams and three non-playoff teams. He’s had the opportunity to be both a buyer and a seller. Over the past week, Yzerman has spoken with Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times and Pierre Lebrun of The Athletic about the trade deadline.
While Yzerman’s answers were typically close to the vest for him, it did still remind us that he is very methodical when it comes to the trade deadline. He’s shown a willingness to buy pieces to make the team better and doesn’t make a move for the sake of making a move. With the 2017-18 trade deadline fast approaching, it’s worthwhile to look at what he’s done in the seasons when the Lightning were headed to the playoffs and sitting in a buyer’s position.
For each of these seasons, I am looking at moves made from January 1st up through the trade deadline.
Yzerman’s first year at the helm saw the Lightning as a surprise playoff contender. They’d make it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the eventual Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins.
The first move came on January 1st, 2011 with the trade of defenseman Ty Wishart to the New York Islanders for goaltender Dwayne Roloson. Wishart had been a throw-in piece in the Dan Boyle trade with the San Jose Sharks a few years prior. A big defenseman, Wishart only played in five NHL games for the Lightning and played in 21 more games for the Islanders after the trade before heading to Europe.
Roloson, on the other hand, stabilized the Lightning in net and pushed them into the playoffs. It was a low-risk, high-upside trade as Wishart was not much of an asset to give up and was certainly not a part of the Lightning’s future at that point. Roloson was a veteran on an expiring deal. He ended up re-signing with the Lightning for another season, but his performance imploded behind a less talented roster.
The other big move came on February 18th as Yzerman acquired defenseman and Captain of the St. Louis Blues Eric Brewer. Brewer came to the team with multiple years left on his contract. Yzerman gave up 2010 third round draft pick, defenseman Brock Beukeboom plus another third round pick in 2011. Beukeboom never blossomed and spent some years playing in USports in Canada and only just this season made his professional debut in the ECHL.
The important thing to note about the acquisition of Brewer is that he was a veteran defenseman with term left on his contract, and more than just a year — he had four more years left on his contract. This was more than a rental and while Yzerman gave up some futures for him, the price wasn’t exorbitant. Meanwhile, Brewer provided the kind of top-four defenseman the Lightning needed for the second pair behind Victor Hedman.
After two years of missing the playoffs, Yzerman was looking at a team that once again had playoff aspirations. Yzerman made two trades, but one didn’t have any impact on the Lightning at the NHL level immediately so I won’t go over that one. The other trade though was forced upon him and doesn’t fit the usual mold of buying or selling as it had elements of both.
On March 5th, Yzerman made the best of a trade request from Martin St. Louis. He made the decision to trade him to the New York Rangers (the only team St. Louis would accept a trade to) with a conditional second round pick for Ryan Callahan, a conditional pick that became a first round pick when the Rangers reached the Eastern Confernce Finals, another first round pick, and a conditional seventh round pick. The conditional second going to the Rangers and the conditional seventh coming to the Lightning was dependent on Callahan re-signing with the Lightning, which he did to trigger the swap of picks.
Yzerman, in essence, sold at the deadline despite the team heading for the playoffs. But at the same time, there was an element of buying by picking up Callahan as a replacement for St. Louis. Obviously this was a downgrade though so it was more of a sell than anything else. The Lightning are not yet seeing the fruits of those two first round picks at the NHL level, but Yzerman did turn them into three second round picks and a third round pick; Dominik Masin, Johnathan MacLeod, Mitchell Stephens, and Anthony Cirelli. Stephens and Cirelli could be appearing in the NHL as soon as next season.
A sweep by the Montreal Canadiens ended the Lightning’s dreams early in 2013-14 while laying the foundation for what would come in 2014-15. With The Triplets proving to be one of the best lines in the NHL, the Lightning were roaring to the playoffs and eventually would make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Looking to upgrade the defense after Radko Gudas went down with a knee injury, Yzerman swooped in to pick up a veteran defenseman from the Philadelphia Flyers; Braydon Coburn. This deal though is a two-part deal as Yzerman has said since then multiple times that he would not have made the trade with the Flyers without the corresponding deal he made with the Boston Bruins.
When you put the two trades together, the Lightning traded Radko Gudas, Brett Connolly, a first round pick, and a third round pick for Braydon Coburn, and two second round picks.
Gudas was injured and not going to help the team for the rest of the season. While Yzerman could have held on to him, he ended up being one of the big pieces in the trade for Coburn rather than giving up a young forward prospect. The blow of losing the first and third round pick were offset by the acquisition of the two second round picks which turned into Matt Spencer and Boris Katchouk.
Like the 2013-14 St. Louis for Callahan swap, this can be looked at as a hybrid buy-sell trade. The Lightning moved on from a young defenseman that played on the edge for a more experienced, more reliable defenseman with another year remaining on his contract. It also moved on from the former first-rounder Connolly that never found much of a niche on the Lightning’s forward lines and it opened up room for younger prospects coming up.
After a run to the Stanley Cup Finals, Yzerman chose to not make any deals. He still had some uncertainty into the future with Steven Stamkos still un-signed and a free agent at the end of the season. He was also a year from Victor Hedman becoming an unrestricted free agent. The prices on the trade market were also pretty high and Yzerman didn’t bite on any of them.
It just about worked out for the team as Drouin returned to the line-up late in the season and was a beast in the playoffs for the Lightning. They again made it to game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals just falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Yzerman has proven to be a methodical and thoughtful general manager. His comments about not making a move for the sake of making a move, and only making a move when the price is right, ring true when viewed alongside his past history. Yzerman has only traded for a rental twice at the trade deadline. (Well, three times if you count the 30-minute Bolt Mark Streit from last year.) In one instance, he gave up very little, in the other, he gained more than he gave up in the trade. The rest of his deadline acquisitions have been for players with term at the right price.
I expect as we head into this trade deadline, we’re going to see the same kind of approach from Yzerman. Mike Green and Jack Johnson are a couple of popular names going around that are pure rentals. Then there’s always the rampant speculation about Erik Karlsson and Ryan McDonagh that have an additional year on their deal.
But know this, if Yzerman picks up Green or Johnson it will be because the price isn’t exorbitant. This team is built to win now, but it’s also built to win five and ten years down the road too. Yzerman will sell part of the future to improve the team now, as long as it’s the right deal at the right value that definitively upgrades the team.