The Tampa Bay Lightning have had a ton of success the past few seasons, winning at least 46 games three straight seasons and making a Stanley Cup final in 2015. Today, they find themselves in last place in the Atlantic division and one point out of the bottom of the conference. They’re 2-7-1 in their last 10, and haven’t been able to find any consistency at either end of the ice.
When looking at the rest of their season, it’s not all bad. Despite being close to the bottom of the conference, they’re also just four points back of the Maple Leafs for the last wildcard spot (though they’ve played 48 games, four more than the Leafs). They should get Steven Stamkos back at some point, though depending on when he returns (likely mid-March) it may be too late.
When looking at their roster, they have very few expiring deals to sell off at the deadline. Ben Bishop would be a big chip, though most Cup contenders already have a #1 installed firmly in net. He’s also struggled through inconsistency and injury this season, making him a hard player to value for the back half of the season. Brian Boyle is a UFA this summer, and while he’s have a nice season he likely isn’t the 20 goal scorer he once was for New York. He’d be attractive to some teams to plug into a bottom-six, but wouldn’t bring much back.
The biggest problem for the Lightning though may be the upcoming expansion draft, where they will have a tough time protecting their current assets up front. Since Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula all have no-movement clauses and come with automatic protection, the team has just four forward spots left to protect.
Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin are locks to be protected, meaning there are two slots left for the crop of forwards including Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Vladislav Namestnikov among others (many, many others). Losing one of those players for nothing would be a questionable move, meaning GM Steve Yzerman may be busy in the next month positioning his team better for the draft.
Adding a defenseman is a big need for the Bolts, and if they could find one that is exempt from the draft (meaning a young, first or second year player) it would be advantageous. Johnson could likely have fetched a huge price two years ago coming off his 29-goal, 72 point 2014-15, but after the struggles last year and a perceived step backwards defensively it may be selling low on him. He’s an RFA again this summer meaning he’ll be looking for a big-money deal, but perhaps the team could get a better price after letting him play out the rest of the regular season and (hopefully) topping the 50 point mark once again.
Killorn just signed a new deal this summer that locked him up for seven years, which may scare some teams off after a sluggish first half. Palat, though also not having a huge year probably has a bigger upside than Killorn and is two years younger. Though he’s also up for a new deal this summer as an RFA, the Lightning would likely need a big offer to pry him away.
If the team still thinks that it can compete in the Eastern Conference playoffs once Stamkos is back, perhaps they don’t need to sell one of their forwards for help down the line but with the draft looming and this season slipping away they may end up shipping out a well-known name.
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