For most of hockey-country, thunderstorms are a summer phenomenon. Places like Ontario, Minnesota, or New York just don’t see much lightning in February.
And there may not much action by the Tampa Bay Lightning this February, either.
GM Steve Yzerman has cultivated an air of mystery regarding his team’s intentions, refusing to declare his team a ‘seller’ – despite the Bolts’ unlikelihood of making the playoffs and other teams’ rumored interest in his players.
Depending on how long the wily GM delays, a deal by the Bolts could be the first domino that knocks the rest of the league into action, making the Lightning a critical team to watch leading up to the NHL’s February 27 trade deadline.
What Other Teams Want From Tampa…
In recent years, it’s become fashionable in the NHL for many deadline buyers to seek out smaller pieces for their playoff puzzle, rather than chasing marquee players.
Salary cap complexities, the high price to be paid for prying loose a premier player, and the need to maintain chemistry on the bench have all influenced this trend. Very few eventual Stanley Cup champions have added large pieces at the deadline in the last fifteen years.
Instead, it is the proven role players that are often most attractive in February. And based on the current speculation, it is exactly these types of players that other teams are looking to pluck from the Tampa Bay locker room.
Ryan Malone’s name has been linked to several teams including the Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks, and Toronto Maple Leafs (who were serious about acquiring him last year as well).
The Toronto Star’s Bob Mitchell succinctly describes what teams see in Malone. “At 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds, Malone has size and toughness and can play 15 minutes each night, minutes that can make a difference in a playoff chase and in post-season action.”
The 32-year-old winger is playing out the third year of a seven-year contract – so he’s no rental – with a descending pay rate that will see him earn $3 million next season, and $2.5 million in ach of the next two (but with a cap hit of $4.5 million in each year). Notably, Malone would have to waive a no-movement clause to go anywhere this month.
Often praised for his two-way play, Dominic Moore’s name has also been circulating in the media as potential trade-bait.
The 31-year-old center will be a free agent on July 1. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun has reported that contract talks have commenced between Moore and the Lightning, but he’s been linked to several teams, including the Ottawa Senators.
The Yahoo! Sports’ Puck Daddy blog, declared Moore the Bolts “Most Intriguing Player Near the Deadline,” and dubbed him a “modern day Mike Sillinger.” Sillinger played for 12 teams over his 17-year career. Should Moore be traded again, his new team would be his ninth NHL franchise since he first donning the New York Ranger’s jersey in the 2003-04 season.
Pavel Kubina will also be an unrestricted free agent this July 1. The 34-year-old defensemen has a limited no-trade clause that allows the Lighting ask for the names of five teams he’d be prepared to dress for.
The Bleacher Report’s Jon Fromi wonders if the Chicago Blackhawks are eyeing Kubina for their second defensive pair. While there doesn’t seem to be much beyond wondering out loud to Fromi’s speculation, skilled defensemen like Kubina fall into the NHL’s old rule that ‘you can never have too many defensemen’.
…and What Tampa Wants From Other Teams
Yzerman has consistently stated that he will not sacrifice the team’s long-term goal of becoming a consistent contender for short-term satisfaction.
This doesn’t mean that Yzerman won’t act aggressively if he sees an opportunity – don’t forget the snake-bite quick acquisition of Dwayne Roloson in January of 2010 – but it does mean that the move will be oriented toward the Bolts’ future.
The Lightning still lack depth, with their most pressing needs in goal and on defense – particularly with uncertainty surrounding veteran defenseman Mattias Ohlund.
According to capgeek.com, the Lightning will have more than $11 million in cap space to work with by the time the February 27 rolls around. This means that, assuming owner Jeff Vinik is willing to write the checks, the Bolts have lots of room to potentially add (or absorb another team’s unwanted) salary.
When asked for this article what the Lightning might do at the deadline, Tampa Bay Times staff writer Damian Cristodero said Yzerman would be most interested in acquiring prospects and draft picks from other GMs.
“Yzerman also does not want to trade away his own top prospects or first- or second-round draft picks, either”, added Cristodero. “So any major acquisition of a top-four defenseman or No. 1 goaltender is more likely to happen in summer free agency.”
The Bottom Line
The Lightning will eventually declare themselves sellers – they’re just too far out of he playoff race to be anything else. And if Yzerman finds a good fit, they may well move Malone, Moore, or others, perhaps kicking off follow-on trades in the NHL.
Any team that does successfully bid for Tampa’s proven role-players will likely have to give up prospects or draft picks in return.
But when the Lightning’s decision-makers finally strike, don’t be surprised if the biggest flashes happen in the summer.