The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2016-17 campaign as a popular pick to emerge from the Eastern Conference to compete for the Stanley Cup championship. While it’s still relatively early, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is concerned with the team’s inconsistent play, though as Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times writes, that concern is tempered by calm.
Entering tonight’s home contest against Washington, the Lightning boast a record of just 13 – 11 – 1 through their first 25 games and currently reside in fourth place in the Atlantic, seven points behind first place Montreal. If the postseason was to start today, Tampa would be on the outside looking in, one point behind the Capitals for the final wild card spot though Washington has played three fewer games. Despite their standing and the fact the team has lost four in a row, Yzerman is not interested in making a move simply to “shake things up.”
“If there’s an opportunity to make us a better team, I’m certainly willing to explore it. But I like our team. I like the character of our players. We’re very careful of the type of person we bring in and which players we move out. That isn’t going to change.”
The trouble of late, according to Yzerman, has been the team’s lackluster play in their own zone. As Smith notes, Tampa Bay has given up 19 goals over the last four games; a figure which could have been higher if not for the quality play of the team’s net minders.
It’s easy to understand Yzerman’s hesitation to try to solve the team’s problems via the trade market. At this point so few teams have the available salary cap space necessary to make more than minor deals.
If they do decide a deal is in order either at or near the trade deadline, the Lightning do have an appealing asset to market in goaltender Ben Bishop. Bishop, who has been a Vezina Trophy finalist twice in the last three seasons, is in the final year of his contract. With Andrei Vasilevskiy inking a three-year contract extension over the summer and presumably the team’s future starter, the Lightning could move Bishop to address other areas of need.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic Division:
- Matt Beleskey of the Boston Bruins was knocked out of this afternoon’s game against Buffalo after absorbing a heavy hit from Sabres blue liner Taylor Fedun, writes Joe Haggerty of CSNNE. Beleskey suffered the lower-body injury late in the first period and his return was ruled out by the team soon thereafter. The gritty forward was a big-ticket free agent signing in the summer of 2015, inking a five-year, $19MM pact with Boston. This season he has struggled, scoring just two goals in 23 games for the Bruins.
- Struggling to find their way on the ice and having already relieved head coach Gerard Gallant of his duties, the Florida Panthers, under new bench boss Tom Rowe continue to tinker with the lineup in an effort to find some consistency. With Nick Bjugstad returning recently from injury, the team tried lining him up on the right side, instead of at his customary pivot position, to try to ease him back into the lineup. But after five games – and zero points for the 6-foot-6 center – Bjugstad is moving back to the middle, where Rowe feels he will be “more comfortable,” as Harvey Fialkov writes. Currently two points behind Washington for the second wild card slot in the East, Florida needs to improve their play if they want to qualify for the postseason for the second consecutive campaign and a return to normal production from Bjugstad would be a big help in that regard.
- Finally, with starting net minder Frederik Andersen battling an undisclosed illness and unable to practice yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs have recalled Antoine Bibeau from the AHL on an emergency basis, according to Mike Augello (Twitter link). Elliotte Friedman adds that while Andersen is still expected to play, the team wanted certainty just in case, and with the Leafs in Vancouver to play the Canucks tonight, Toronto acted early as a precaution. Bibeau has yet to make his NHL debut and it appears unlikely he will do so tonight. While he has no big league experience, the 22-year-old goalie has appeared in 87 contests over the last three seasons with the Marlies.