The writing is on the wall for the Tampa Bay Lightning. They're still technically alive in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but the truth of the matter is that they're going to fall well short.
Presently, the Lightning are 12 points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final playoff spot in the East. It would take a hot streak beyond reckoning for the Lightning to catch up, and that does not seem very likely given the fact the Bolts have won just two of their seven games this month. After ending January on a five-game win streak, the Lightning look like themselves again.
General manager Steve Yzerman admitted on Wednesday that he's realistic about what this team needs to do ahead of the Feb. 27 trade deadline. He didn't use the word "sell," but it was definitely implied pretty heavily.
"We have to look at any opportunity that makes us a stronger organization moving forward based on where we stand today," said Yzerman on Wednesday, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
It would be one thing if Yzerman had said he was looking to making the "team" stronger. Making the organization stronger is entirely different.
"We're not going to just give our guys away. But if there is an opportunity that makes us a better organization, we're going to consider it," he said.
The selling process has already begun. The Tampa Tribune reported earlier on Thursday that the Lightning have asked veteran defenseman Pavel Kubina for a list of teams he'd be willing to accept a trade to, and Yzerman said that the team has taken him off the ice "until this situation is resolved."
As far as who could be next, Yzerman indicated that the team is playing it by ear.
"We're making our decisions on a player-by-player and opportunity-by-opportunity basis," he said.
Yzerman definitely has options in terms of players he can ship out. Erik Erlendsson of The Tampa Tribune notes that Dominic Moore, Brett Clark, Adam Hall and Matt Gilroy are all due to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, so there's no reason for the Lightning to hang on to any of them if they can fetch a few good pieces in return. Ryan Malone and Steve Downie could also be dealt, according to Erlendsson.
If the Lightning do indeed go into fire sale mode, the team on the other side of the trade deadline is going to look considerably different. The roster will not have been gutted, but most or all of the players mentioned above could be gone. In their place will likely be either green prospects or draft picks.
Yzerman has to do what he has to do. His team made it all the way to the Conference Finals last season, but at no point this season have the Lightning looked like a team that was on its way back to the postseason. It's been a struggle from the start, and it's only become more apparent with each passing week that this franchise would be wise to consider its future.
From the look and sound of things, Yzerman is accepting that reality.