The NHL trade deadline is fast approaching. How should the Tampa Bay Lightning approach it?
For years, trade deadlines have been arguably the most exciting part of the NHL regular season. But this year, contenders across the league are strapped to the cap ceiling. with the number of potential rentals on the market and likely on the move, it’ll be extremely interesting to see how teams maneuver around obstacles and make a splash. One of those teams is the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Though they did start the season slowly, they have been cruising as of late. Similar to last season, I have the mindset of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Well, last season has come and gone. It’s safe to say that maybe if they made one small move, they could’ve won at least one playoff game. Which begs the question – will Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois take notes and learn from what might have been a mistake and look out at the market?
Before going into whether or not a deal is actually made, let’s actually see what makes the most sense. The Lightning generally don’t have any glaring issues to cover up. They’re don’t really need a top-six forward. Nor are they weak when it comes to their defensive core. Plus, they have a very good goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy with a veteran goaltender in Curtis McElhinney, who is looking to turn his season around.
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Why not just add to an already solid team? There are a lot of ways to go with this, so let’s now look at patterns that have been established through trade, or other ways, that could point us in the right direction of a move that makes sense.
For example, the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning connection is very real, as through the years, the Lightning have cycled through Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, J.T. Miller, Ryan McDonagh, and Kevin Shattenkirk. Chris Kreider and Lias Andersson are the two main guys on the market for the Rangers.
Another team that has a connection with the Lightning is the Detroit Red Wings. Former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman is the Red Wings general manager. The Red Wings are having a historically bad season, and it ultimately means that there are a ton of players that are open for a deal. That includes Andreas Athanasiou and Mike Green, as well as former Bolts Valtteri Filppula and Adam Erne.
Other teams include the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings, and the Philadelphia Flyers. Options from those three clubs include Ilya Kovalchuk, Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Toffoli, Kyle Clifford, Justin Braun, and Shayne Gostisbehere.
However, there are some issues. Montreal is very much still in the playoff race, and they would likely not want to improve a divisional rival while weakening themselves. Philadelphia is a weird team, as they’re on the outside looking in, but are also looking to move Gostisbehere.
The problem is the Flyers are looking for a top-six forward for Gostisbehere and I highly doubt the Lightning would part ways with one, especially considering all of their no-movement clauses. That leaves us with three teams – the Kings, Red Wings and Rangers.
Out of the bunch, another trade with the Rangers makes the most sense. However, the salary cap could cause some problems. The Lightning currently have $2,863,111 in space. Kreider’s cap hit stands at $4.625 million. It’s pretty clear that space needs to be made in some sort of creative way.
That’s where the Anaheim Ducks come in. The Ducks recently came out and stated that they are willing to use their cap space as a weapon, meaning that they’re willing to retain a player’s salary in a three-team deal as long as they get assets in return. Now, the Lightning should pick up the phone right now and ask the Ducks what it would take for them to retain salary on a player like Kreider.
But a three-team deal is a three-way street. So, how can the Rangers be sold on the idea? They have a disgruntled player in Lias Andersson who could hold value for a team like Anaheim, which could net the Rangers a decent return. So, let’s break it down, team by team.
The Tampa Bay Lightning receive Chris Kreider, with a 50% retained salary, putting his cap hit at $2.3125 million). That would leave the Lightning with $550,611 in space. They recently sent down Mitchell Stephens, who will more than likely get the call back up after the all-star break, which means they’d be over the cap.
However, Carter Verhaeghe has struggled a bit this season, and if the Lightning would rather keep Stephens up, then sending down a guy like Verhaeghe to get more ice time with the Syracuse Crunch, then that’s more than doable. So, ultimately, it’s a win for the Lightning.
Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks would receive prospect Taylor Raddysh from the Lightning and Andersson from the Rangers while also retaining 25% of Kreider’s contract. Basically, the Ducks get two players who are buried on the totem pole on their respective teams, whether it’s based on performance, disagreements with coaches/management, or the sheer amount of competition ahead of him on their current rosters.
The Ducks would give both of these players the opportunities to succeed, whether it works out or not. That’s more than enough to make them keep 25% of a player’s contract for the rest of this season, even though that player isn’t on their roster. But they do have to pay the Rangers for Andersson.
So the Rangers would receive a hefty return for Kreider and Andersson. They would receive defensive prospect Dominik Masin and Tampa Bay’s 2021 first-round pick. Masin is a young defenseman on Syracuse who has the potential to be a second pair defenseman and could be on the brink of NHL-readiness as soon as next season.
First off, it looks as though Vancouver is making the playoffs this year, which means the Lightning are projected to have two first-rounders in a very good draft. That said, they’d want to hang onto those picks, making 2021’s 1st rounder expendable. It’s a win-win for both clubs. As for what they get from Anaheim, how about struggling forward, Ondrej Kase?
Kase has a lot of potential to be a very good player, but could not perform with all the high expectations hanging over his head. A change of scene could be good for him. Not to mention, the Ducks getting both Raddysh and Andersson can balance out the loss of Kase, and maybe even wind up being a better deal in the end, if Kase doesn’t work out in New York.
Ultimately, it’s a very complex trade. There are a lot of moving pieces to pay attention to, and a lot of players whose value isn’t known in the open market (such as Lias Andersson and Ondrej Kase). Plus, there are the comments from BriseBois, reported by Elliotte Friedman in his 31 Thoughts article.
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Based on the patterns that BriseBois alluded to, and what Friedman researched, it could mean that the Lightning will “tinker” with their roster. So maybe bringing in Andersson, Clifford, or a Kovalchuk will be a more reasonable and far simpler deal for Brisebois to make.