There’s no such thing as a perfect team in the NHL, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are as close as it gets. The Bolts are blessed with names like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Andrei Vasilevskiy and many others. So, what should the top team in the NHL add before the February 25th trade deadline?
Before we start throwing names around, it’s important to realize that the Lightning currently have their own first-round draft pick in 2019, but they can’t use it as a trade chip. As part of last year’s deadline-day deal with the New York Rangers that involved McDonagh and J.T. Miller, Tampa sent a conditional second-rounder in 2019 that could become a first-rounder if they win the Stanley Cup. Basically, the Lightning have to hold on to their first pick in case it needs to go to the Rangers this summer. Any trade involving the Lightning will not involve their first or second round picks.
Let’s start with the defense.
The Bolts have Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh as their top two defenders on the left side. That’s not too shabby. On the right side, they’re rolling with Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman. Sure, they could make a deal with a team like Carolina for Dougie Hamilton or Brett Pesce, but that will certainly cost them a quality forward that’s already on their roster. That’s unlikely.
So, instead, they could opt to use a mid-round pick to land themselves a veteran that could step into the lineup in case of injury. Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta are the depth right-handed defensemen on the team right now, but neither one has much experience in the postseason.
It’s possible that Julien BriseBois could opt for a veteran like Ben Lovejoy, who’s on an expiring contract in New Jersey. The 34-year-old has playoff experience (he’s suited up in 63 postseason games and he won a Cup with the Penguins) and they can let him walk after the season when they’ll need the money to pay someone else. Adam McQauid could be an option here, too.
Red Wings blueliner Nick Jensen doesn’t have any playoff experience, but he could also fit the bill as an option for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 28-year-old will also be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018-19 campaign. With the Wings out of the playoff picture, they could just decide to accumulate an additional asset for a free agent.
So a right-handed defenseman could be an option.
How about another depth center, too?
Sticking with this Red Wings theme. How about Luke Glendening? Tampa’s division rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs, have already been linked to the speedy center, so why not add a good piece and prevent a team you might meet in the playoffs from getting better?
Glendening has two years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $1.8 million. That’s a digestible number. Depending on what you’d be sending to Detroit in the trade, they might even be willing to eat some of the money left on his deal.
If they’re looking to upgrade the fourth line without being tied down by term, Blackhawks forward Marcus Kruger could be an interesting target. He’s in the final year of his contract.
The one thing you notice when looking at Tampa’s roster is that they don’t have to make a big splash to be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. This is a really good team that has the ability to go all the way. Making a small tweak here or there could be enough. After all, they have a 13-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets, who are the second best team in the NHL right now.