Tampa Bay Lightning: Can This Team Get Any Better?

Tampa Bay Lightning

With the deadline not that far away, the Tampa Bay Lightning might be looking to add another piece to the puzzle.

Approaching the deadline, the Tampa Bay Lightning are on top of the league with a 39-11-2 record, good for 80 points.

Nikita Kucherov reached the 80 point plateau himself, accumulating 22 goals and 58 assists in only 52 games played. The Lightning aren’t just riding Kucherov’s offensive production either, as Brayden Point (65 points) and Steven Stamkos (59 points) are also over a point per game themselves.

Offense isn’t the only thing going for the Lightning either, as their defense is so deep that they have a rotation for their bottom 5 defensemen (Anton Stralman, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn) with all of those guys performing at a surprisingly high level when they are in (i.e. Cernak getting called up for a temporary replacement and is now a mainstay).

But wait, there’s more! Andrei Vasilevskiy continues to perform at a Vezina Trophy candidate level, with Louis Domingue providing ever-so consistent games as his backup. Everything has been clicking for the Lightning with a little less than half the season left before playoffs.

But with the deadline approaching, is there really a way for the Lightning to improve with their cap crunch and their already unmatched skill in every area?

Who Is Available?

First off, the Lightning currently have 1.7 million USD in cap space, which limits their moves. However, that isn’t their biggest concern, as it’s this off-season that they need cap space, not now. So if they were to make a move, it would have to be for a rental, and strictly a rental. Options include, but aren’t limited to Mark Stone (7.35 million USD), Matt Duchene (6 million USD), Gustav Nyquist (4.75 million USD), Ryan Dzingel (1.8 million USD), Kevin Hayes (5.175 million USD), Mats Zuccarello (4.5 million USD), Frank Vatrano (925k USD), Nick Schmaltz (925k USD), Thomas Vanek (3 million USD), Wayne Simmonds (3.975 million USD), and/or Alex Chiasson (650k USD).

Mark Stone

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First, let’s go with the most expensive man on that list, Mark Stone. The only way this will work is if the Lightning free up over 6 million USD, maybe even 7 million USD. Pieces that they can move include Anton Stralman and Alex Killorn, or even both. They combine for almost 8 million USD, which will eat Stone’s salary. Plus, the Ottawa Senators might be open to retain a portion of his salary, considering it’s his final year and it won’t stick with the franchise for more than this season.

I’m sure people are wondering why the Lightning would trade Stralman, but it’s because they could potentially lose him for nothing this off-season as he is competing with Brayden Point for a contract. As for Killorn, he is overpaid for his duties, and has been outplayed by guys like Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde, Mathieu Joseph, and Cedric Paquette, all of which are far cheaper. Mark Stone presents a remarkable skill set, and easily replaces Killorn’s role. If they’re able to move on from Killorn’s 4.45 million USD cap hit, it can greatly reduce Julien BriseBois’ stress in his first offseason as Tampa’s GM and re-sign Point comfortably. 

Below is a potential trade in which the Lightning could land Stone.

TO TAMPA: Mark Stone, FWD (25% salary retained)

TO OTTAWA: Alex Killorn, FWD, Boris Katchouk, FWD, 2020 1st rd pick, 2019 3rd rd pick

With salary retained, Mark Stones cap hit becomes 5.51 million USD, while the Lightning, trading Killorn, have 6.15 million USD freed. So yes, it is possible for a Mark Stone trade, though it is extremely unlikely.

Matt Duchene

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Duchene also brings a unique skill set, though there are concerns about his effort. When he brings it, he can be the best guy on the ice, but he doesn’t always bring it. But, you can look at it this way; he’s almost always been on a losing team, and when he was moved to Ottawa, when they were expected to do well, went backwards. Whether it’s frustration or a lack of belief in his own team, that can be changed with a team like Tampa. The Lightning could genuinely be the best environment for a team like Duchene, even for a brief stint. Here’s what a trade for Duchene could look like:

TO TAMPA: Matt Duchene, FWD

TO OTTAWA: Alex Killorn, FWD, Brandon Ingram, G, 2020 1st rd pick, Dennis Yan, FWD

Alex Killorn can be a big presence for the younger kids on the Ottawa Senators, who have shown lots of promise this season. Brandon Ingram has been sharp this season with the Syracuse Crunch and could project to be an NHL starter in the near future, something that the Senators will need. Dennis Yan is also a decent prospect who could use a change of scenery in a less crowded farm system and looks to be a good top 9 forward in the future. However, still extremely unlikely to happen.

Kevin Hayes

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Next up, Kevin Hayes of the New York Rangers. Hayes has been one of the few bright spots for the Rangers, as he has a few points under point per game and a Corsi For % of 51.3%. He’s been good, and he is someone I would love for the Lightning to pick up. Rather us than, say, divisional rival Bruins or Leafs, or even Canadiens. So why not take a shot, right? Here’s what that deal could look like.

TO TAMPA: Kevin Hayes, FWD

TO NEW YORK R: Connor Ingram, G, Ryan Callahan, FWD, 2020 1st rd pick

Over the off-season, when the Lightning were rumored to acquire Erik Karlsson, it would potentially wind up being a 3-way deal, which would include the New York Rangers, in most cases. Rumors also had it that they would be willing to take back Ryan Callahan. Whether or not that was ever true, or that they’re still willing to take him, is a different story. But it was still rumored then, and I’ll give it a chance now. That being said, moving Callahan in this deal removes any cap worries, while Connor Ingram gives the Rangers insurance in the crease with Henrik Lundqvist very close to retirement. The first rounder adds more value to taking Callahan more than anything else. It’ll help them in re-signing Point and even maybe keeping Hayes for a couple more seasons too.

Gustav Nyquist

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Now, it’s time for the Goose, aka Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings. For a few years now, Nyquist has been on the trade market, but the Wings have never pulled the trigger. This year should be the year that Nyquist is set free from Detroit, and what better place than Tampa. What will it take? Here’s what it could look like:

TO TAMPA: Gustav Nyquist, FWD

TO DETROIT: Connor Ingram, G, Dominik Masin, DEF, Dan Girardi, DEF

Dan Girardi would help ease Detroit’s young defensive prospects, and wouldn’t cost them salary cap in the future as his contract is over at the end of this year. This allows Tampa to establish a true top 6 defense while also giving them enough cap to have Nyquist. Detroit, like most of the teams I’ve mentioned earlier, need some insurance at goalie in the form of a solid, young kid. That kid is Ingram. Dominik Masin is a decent defensive prospect, and he will help deepen a fairly shallow pool of defensive prospects that aren’t yet in the NHL for Detroit.

Finding An Asset With A Small Cap Hit

If I were in BriseBois’ shoes and I had challenges landing Gustav Nyquist, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and/or Kevin Hayes, I wouldn’t attempt to add Mats Zuccarello, Thomas Vanek and Wayne Simmonds instead. Simmonds, Zuccarello and Vanek are all guys that I feel wouldn’t fit as well as others mentioned earlier. Instead, I would look at adding a forward that doesn’t carry a high cap hit. 

For instance, Ryan Dzingel would be a good fit. On a not-so-good team, averaging 17:59 of average time on ice, he has put up 20 goals, 19 assists for 39 points in 50 games. His Corsi For % is an ugly 43.8%, but that could vastly improve with guys like Alex Killorn, Ryan Callahan, Yanni Gourde and Anthony Cirelli. His average TOI will surely decrease, but he has proven to have a nose for the net this year, and could still produce, while also improving his possession and defensive metrics. Here’s what a trade for the 26 year old Senators forward would look like:

TO TAMPA: Ryan Dzingel, FWD

TO OTTAWA: Danick Martel, FWD, 2019 3rd rd pick, 2019 7th rd pick (Chicago Blackhawks)

Tampa acquires a very underrated depth option in Dzingel, while Ottawa gets a guy in Danick Martel who possesses an NHL ready skill set that has gone untapped by Tampa due to a very deep roster. He also frees up enough cap for the Lightning to acquire Dzingel as well. The Lightning also give up this years third round pick, which will help the Senators obtain as many picks to build toward the future, as well as one of their two seventh rounders this year, just for insurance.

Contract Info via Capfriendly.com

All Stats via Hockey-Reference 

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

Author: Kyle Pereira