Entering the 2016-17′ season, many expected the Tampa Bay Lightning to contend for, and possibly win, the Stanley Cup. There was no mention of trades because the Bolts were expected to be fighting for a division title come late January.
That isn’t the case though, as the Tampa Bay Lightning enter the NHL All-Star break with 50 points. Yes, you read that right. 50 STINKING POINTS! They’re fighting to stay out of last place in not only the Atlantic Division but the entire Eastern Conference.
It should come as little to no surprise then that general manager Steve Yzerman is working the phones, attempting to make deals that make sense and provide some sort of return.
He finally struck one prior to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s game Thursday night against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise. Defenseman Nikita Nesterov was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Jonathan Racine and a 2017 sixth-round draft pick.
On the surface, this deal doesn’t seem like much. Nesterov has struggled to learn the Bolts system but can serve as an extra forward. He also has the potential to be a difference-maker on the power play. Racine, meanwhile, is one tough customer to play against but he only has one NHL game under his belt. The extra draft pick could mean something though, as Yzerman has found a few hidden gems late in drafts (Ondrej Palat anyone?).
For anyone who knows Yzerman, this trade is likely the prelude to bigger deals. Nobody outside of Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov is safe nor should they be with the preseason Stanley Cup favorites underachieving as much as they are. Plus, it’s widely known that Stevie Y usually makes deals in twos or threes.
So, who’s next?
Is it Ben Bishop or Tyler Johnson? Valtteri Filppula or Jason Garrison?
All four have underperformed for the most part, leading many to believe this could be the time to let go.
Bishop is a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist in the final year of his current contract. With Andrei Vasilevskiy extended for three years and the expansion draft being held this June, it makes sense to trade Bishop now instead of risk losing him for nothing.
On the flip side, Vasilevskiy struggled mightily during his recent stint as the starter with Bishop sidelined by injury. Maybe the young Russian netminder isn’t ready to handle the pressure associated with being that go-to guy.
Forward Brayden Point is close to returning from a hand injury that kept him out since early December. That might be enough to trade Johnson who, after an injury-plagued season last year, hasn’t returned to the form exhibited early in his Lightning career.
Valtteri Filppula and Jason Garrison are long shots given their contracts and age, but like I said earlier few are completely safe. That’s the nature of the business.
To me, Bishop is probably the next to be dealt. He’s relatively young and can perform at a higher level than what he’s shown often times this season. His ability to play the puck up the ice is something another team would relish, as it allows offensive rushes to form quickly which might result in a goal. He’s vocal as well, providing leadership both on and off the ice.
Will this be Yzerman’s only deal or is something else brewing? Unknown as that may be, the trade winds have certainly begun blowing in Tampa Bay. A telling sign to the entire hockey world that October’s favorites are slowly but surely inching closer to an early summer.