TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning were open for business this week. Want an impending unrestricted free agent? Limited time offer: Everyone must go.
At least forward Dominic Moore, traded Thursday to San Jose, and then defenseman Pavel Kubina, dealt Saturday night to Philadelphia. Yet Tampa Bay keeps winning, as it did by beating the Washington Capitals 2-1, creating an interesting dynamic for general manager Steve Yzerman and his team.
“I’ve made these moves. Obviously, when you’re trading players off your roster for draft picks, they’re for the future. Players in the room want to win now,” Yzerman said. “They’re determined to make the playoffs, and Guy is pushing them, and they’re playing hard to make the playoffs. It’s more emotional for them, but if anything they’re showing more determination that we’re going to continue on and play well.”
Since essentially putting up the “For Sale” sign Thursday, the Lightning are 2-0. And Yzerman has a theory on why.
“The thing is, you take two guys out of the lineup, two guys go in, they’re getting opportunity,” he said. “Everybody’s ice time is increased; they’re excited. So they’re out there trying to make the most of an opportunity.”
Guys like Steven Stamkos, who scored his league-leading 40th goal of the season on a breakaway against the Caps, are just chugging along. The likes of Teddy Purcell, Tom Pyatt and others might be benefitting from bigger roles.
The Lightning (26-26-6) are just six points back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but don’t expect Yzerman to make an about-face with his strategy. He has been stockpiling picks, acquiring two second-rounders and a fourth just in the past three days.
“Let me put it this way: I’m not going to go out and start trading these seconds to get back a defenseman. I’m not going to do that,” Yzerman said. “If this group continues to win and play, I’ll let them keep going. But, yeah, I’m not going to turn around and go and trade a pick for an unrestricted free agent to help us get in the playoffs now. That would just go around in circles.”
But he’s also not holding a fire sale, either. The Kubina deal, which didn’t get finalized until the 35-year-old defenseman waived his no-trade clause Saturday night, brought back a warm body in minor league center Jon Kalinski in addition to the picks.
And though it’s obvious that the Lightning are setting their sights on next year, an upcoming stretch against the Ducks, Jets, Penguins and Devils could make things interesting.
“We’ll see where we are. If there’s something that makes sense that’s a good deal — I’m not just moving guys to move them — if they’re good deals that we think are worth it, worth sacrificing the player, we’re going to continue to do that,” Yzerman said. “At the deadline, it’s got to be something good. And the two deals that we’ve made were things that we felt good about. So we’ll see. We’ll see how the next 10 days play out.”