With the injury bug biting extra hard for the first place Tampa Bay Lightning, the architect of the Bolts' rise from obscurity, GM Steve Yzerman, sets his sites on the NHL Trade deadline to give his hockey club the last bit of firepower needed to make a run at the most sacred trophy in sports.
With offensive defensive Marc-Andre Bergeron already making an impact since his call-up from Norfolk, Tampa Bay looks to upgrade their leaky blue line that is this dynamic team's Achilles heel.
Yzerman got started early, trading prospect Ty Wishart to the NY Islanders for veteran netminder Dwayne Roloson. Roloson has been spectacular for Tampa Bay, posting four shutouts in his first 14 games with the Lightning.
Still, word on the street is Yzerman may not be done in goal. With incumbent Mike Smith shipped off to Norfolk and Dan Ellis getting fewer minutes as Roloson's backup, Yzerman may just be looking for one more goalie to push his 41-year-old starter and give the Lightning a fallback option if Roloson can't finish the season strong.
In addition to addressing a continued perceived need in goal, Tampa Bay needs a few more major pieces on the blue line as well as another threat at forward.
First, a power play QB: Bergeron has certainly provide some offensive spark as an offensive specialist on the backside, but few consider him a true QB of the power play. Tampa Bay has been forced to have forwards share time with Bergeron, Kubina and Victor Hedman, which isn't ideal.
What is the most important role the Lightning must address at the deadline?
The Ottawa Senators' Sergei Gonchar could fit the bill, but he's a bit on the pricey side with a $5.5 million dollar cap number.
Tampa Bay could get in the rent-a-player game, but don't look for Yzerman to surrender any top picks or high end prospects to rent a guy for the playoffs.
For that type of payout, it would need to be a player that will be with the Lightning for more than a season and not preclude Tampa Bay from making other deals (such as re-signing Steven Stamkos).
That would rule out a player like Calgary defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who's making $6.5 mill a season for the next few years. Tomas Kaberle might be in the right ballpark, but the return to the Leafs on him makes a deal prohibitive, especially if the Lightning have no interest in re-signing him for a deal later.
Joni Pitkanen of the Hurricanes could be a nice addition, but the Canes likely would want the moon to trade to a division rival.
The Coyotes' Adrian Aucoin, who played with the Lightning briefly in 2000, could be just right for the power play. He makes just $2 million, is signed through next season so he's not a rent-a-player, and with his play being down a bit this season, he may not cost as much. However, Phoenix is in the middle of the playoff hunt in the Western Conference and will be buyers, meaning the Bolts would need to surrender an NHL caliber player.
The second level the Lightning are looking at is solid, stay-at-home defensemen. It's no secret that of the playoff contenders, Tampa Bay is one of the worst at keeping the biscuit out of their own basket.
Like Pitkanen, Brian McCabe and Zach Bogosian are likely out for the Lightning as their division rivals will try to rake them over the coals, especially if they have to see them several times a year.
Ottawa is having a fire sale, and with disappointing Chris Phillips not getting the job done there, they may be willing to try to get something for the veteran defender. Phillips would likely be a rental.
With the President's Trophy in their sights, it's unlikely the Vancouver Canucks will do anything. They don't need to. However, if they were willing to move defenseman Kevin Bieksa, the Lightning would be interested. The return of Sami Salo certainly has an effect on Bieksa's situation.
Alex Goligoski of the Penguins could definitely be an option. Pittsburgh has been riddled with injuries and could use a solid forward to help out. At $1.8 mill, the price is right for Tampa Bay.
At goaltender, Tomas Vokoun looms large in everyone's mind, but would Florida trade him to their most hated rival? Not without raping the Lightning's farm system in the process, not something Yzerman has an interest in.
Every trade deadline, it seems Jean-Sébastien Giguère is on someone's trade radar. Like Roloson, Giguère has done the best he could with a bad team in front of him. At age 33, he still has a few more miles on the tread and he's definitely available. Whether the Lightning want to pay the price and work with his $6 million salary are major factors.
Here's a question...and I'm just throwing it out there...out of the playoff chase and with a dreadfully high cap number, would New Jersey be willing to part with Martin Brodeur and his $5.2 million dollar cap figure?
Finally, there's forward. Surely an offensive powerhouse like the Lightning shouldn't be looking for forwards, right? Wrong. With long term injuries to forward Ryan Malone and defenseman Mike Lundin, as well as the concussion-like symptoms plaguing Nate Thompson, Yzerman still wants more depth and goal distribution along the lines.
Tampa Bay was rumored to be hot after Mike Fisher before he was dealt to Nashville to be with his sweetie, Carrie Underwood. The fact that Tampa Bay was willing to swallow the $4.2 million a year salary of Fisher means they could still be real players for a top line forward.
Still, it has to make sense. Renting Alexi Kovalev for a season would be cost prohibitive. Jason Arnott (New Jersey) would be a solid option, but he is also a potential rental. Former Bolt Corey Stillman is out there, but again, that rivalry hatred may supersede sanity down in Miami.
Keep an eye on Edmonton's Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner. The Oilers are out of it again and wouldn't mind stocking up on a few more prospects.
Any deal that Yzerman does at this point won't be at the expense of the future. He believes strongly in building an organizational foundation and lord knows, with frick-and-frak running the club previous to Stevie Y, the Lightning's foundation has been gutted.
So if draft picks and prospects aren't the Bolt's trade bait, what would be?
Well, certainly there's Ellis and Smith. Neither figure into the Lightning's future plans, and they're both veteran netminders who have had success in the NHL. They could bring some value.
UFA's are always good to look at. Role players like Sean Bergenheim, Adam Hall and Randy Jones are expendable. Simon Gagne is also a UFA after this season, but the Lightning like the chemistry he has developed with the team captain Vincent Lecavalier.
Speaking of Lecavalier...could this be the year he's finally dealt?
The answer: no.
First, no one wants his $7.7 million dollar contract. Secondly, Yzerman has promised stability for Vinny. It's allowed Lecavalier to grow in his role as captain, and Tampa Bay is seeing some solid results now with Gagne.
Lecavalier likely will never be the player that score 50 goals a season, but that's not his role any more.
Roloson is also a UFA, but it's extremely unlikely that the Lightning would part with their best netminder in the middle of a playoff push.
It should be interesting to see what Yzerman can pull off.