The Countdown Begins

With the All-Star Weekend out of the way and Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos home safe and sound, the attention of the hockey world turns its attention to the next big day on the NHL calendar: the trading deadline.

That magical time of year when rumors fly around more than the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, 5 teams inevitably become “contenders” over night, and Brain Burke is stalked on Brangelina levels.  The league is essentially divided into two categories: buyers and sellers.  In years past, the Lightning may have been considered sellers.  This year, however, the Bolts will be looking to buy in preparation for a playoff run.

There is one main area that the Lightning will likely be looking for at the deadline, and that’s a big, strong, veteran stay-at-home defenseman.  With St. Louis and Stamkos clicking at a career pace, they aren’t really in need of offense (although it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pick up some secondary scoring if the price is right).

There are only going to be a few teams being sellers at the deadline, mainly because if the tight Western Conference.  With most teams still being within reach of the playoffs, they will be tentative to trade away a key player thinking there is still a possibility of light at the end of the tunnel.  Edmonton will likely be the only team in the West willing to sell (though Calgary and Columbus should consider it as well).

In the East, Florida, Toronto, Ottawa, New Jersey, and the New York Islanders will all likely miss the playoffs and should be sellers.  However, Ottawa seems to be in denial about their position, and Toronto and New Jersey don’t want to rebuild.  Toronto will be willing to make deals, but Burke isn’t going to blow up a team he believes in.

One player the Lightning might be interested in is defenseman Mark Eaton of the New York Islanders.  He was a key part of the Penguins’ ’09 Stanley Cup victory, and the 10-year veteran brings a lot of experience to a young blueline.  If Buffalo is willing to move him, Steve Montador would be a good pick up for the Bolts as well.  Depending on how the next month goes, the Sabres may be willing to part ways with the 31 year-old for the right price.

From the West, Tampa may want to go into talks with the Oilers for Ryan Whitney.  While he doesn’t bring quite as much experience as some of the other options, Whitney has always been a solid, consistent player, and the Lightning defense could really use one of those.

One concern the Lightning don’t have is cap space.  They are $9,973,035 under the current salary cap, meaning they could take on a big cap hit for a team that’s up against it like Vancouver or Philadelphia.  If they are willing to spend that money, that extra space could go a long way to making a deal happen.

The team has to be aware of upcoming RFAs Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman and the impending raises these youngsters have earned with their play, so any money they take on must be short term.  However, this flexibility is a luxury few teams have.

Staying quite this year wouldn’t necessarily be a mistake for the Lightning come February 28th, but there are a few keys missing if this team really wants to take a run at the Stanley Cup.  The defense needs to be stronger, and the more experienced the better.  Steve Yzerman has shown through the Roloson trade that he is willing to pull the trigger.  The question is: will he pull the right trigger?

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