With the NHL trade deadline right around the corner, it’s only natural for Lightning fans to imagine what our roster might look like on March 6. And with the way the team is playing of late, it’s not so bad to have a distraction.
I’m sure plenty of us are calling for heads to roll with the way the Lightning have looked since coming back from the Olympic break, and also with the way they looked heading into the Olympic break. For the first time since the beginning of the season, many of us, me included, are worried that the season is in jeopardy.
It is, however, important to note that the Bolts are very beat up right now. They’re missing their top two centers, and their third center, Tyler Johnson, appears to be playing with some sort of hindering injury. Radko Gudas left last night’s game against the Avalanche early, and Sami Salo, near the end, appeared to be in some pain.
And as beat up as the Bolts are physically, they might be in even worse shape emotionally. The majority of these players are somewhere around 23 years old, after all, and not only are they facing the biggest playoff dogfight of their careers, they’re in that dogfight with a captain who may or may not want to be their captain. (On that front, since the Martin St. Louis situation has gone public, I wouldn’t doubt that our beloved Marty has had a chance to see that the world is not on his side on this one, and maybe he’s had a change of heart. …Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.)
So while I wouldn’t advocate the Bolts making any panic moves to try to right this ship, there’s one move that’s been crying out to be made all season, and perhaps going back to last season. It’s time, in my opinion, for the Tampa Bay Lightning to trade Teddy Purcell.
It has become increasingly frustrating to watch Purcell. Night after night we watch him take the puck with speed into the offensive zone, then slow down, then skate toward the boards where the play ultimately dies. Sometimes he throws the puck toward the front of the net, just for fun, and sometimes there’s even a teammate in the vicinity. He is the definition of a perimeter player.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I would argue that it was a good thing when he found himself lined up regularly with Vincent Lecavalier. It even worked out, to a lesser extent, when Purcell lined up next to Steven Stamkos. But the team the Lightning used to be is not the team the Lightning are – few if any teams have seen the personnel turnover that the Lightning have over the last year. Teddy Purcell was a pretty good fit with the old Lightning. He’s a terrible fit with the new Lightning.
The Lightning, these days, play a high energy, tenacious game. They win puck battles with speed, and, when they’re firing on all cylinders, they drive to the net hard. Purcell’s not really a net driver. Nor does he seem to mesh well with those who are. So more often than not, when Teddy takes his detour into the boards, all he’s really doing is nullifying himself from the play.
Of course, Purcell’s still putting up decent numbers. He has 35 points in 61 games. A little down from what we’re used to, but not by an alarming amount. He should finish the season with somewhere in the vicinity of 50 points. But, last night’s assist aside, those are some of the most pedestrian points you’ll find in the NHL. I would even go so far as to argue that for most of the year, Val Filppula hasn’t been so much scoring because of what Purcell’s been doing on his wing, but more in spite of it.
Even so, this isn’t about numbers. It isn’t about the fact that Purcell’s scored just twice in 2014. There are players with far worse numbers who I think are a wonderful fit with the Lightning. Those players are effective even when they’re not putting up points. Teddy Purcell has become ineffective even when he is putting up points. (For the record, he’s credited with exactly one hit in 2014.)
But beyond Purcell’s performance, there are more reasons why this might be the right moment to move him along. First and foremost, with so many talented wingers coming through the Lightning system between this year and next, Purcell might be the odd man out. He’s yet another soft, skilled player on a team full of soft, skilled players. Vlad Namestnikov is playing well with the Lightning right now and banging on the door for a full-time spot. Jonathan Drouin should be with the team next year. Nik Kucherov and JT Brown appear to be here to stay. And then we have Richard Panik and Brett Connolly. Bluntly, there’s not room for everyone. In the following years, players like Adam Erne and Henri Ikonen will be vying for a spot. It’s only going to get tougher. And each of those players, if they pan out, will bring more to the table than Purcell’s one-dimensional perimeter pass-first game.
Of course, there’s Purcell’s trade value to consider. And here, I have some bad news for you. It’s not getting any higher. Teams don’t look at Purcell as a 50 point player who can boost their offense. The story’s out. So we can’t expect to hit a homerun with the return on him. That said, a solid single would suffice.
If the Lightning could inject some size into their forwards by way of trading Purcell, I’d consider it a win. The Lightning are woefully undersized up front, and Stanley Cup winners, year after year, tend to have at least a player or two who can make defensemen miserable along the boards. Tampa doesn’t have that. Perhaps trading Purcell can bring it. Or perhaps the Lightning could package Purcell with a prospect and maybe a pick to bring in a solid defenseman. (In all honesty, we’re nearing the point where I believe trading Purcell might benefit the team simply by his subtraction.)
Whatever the case, the trade deadline is always a fun time for hockey fans. We all keep our eye on the tickers, or, if you’re Canadian like me, you get up ridiculously early and fire up your laptop and T.V. so you can watch simultaneous coverage on the many networks who treat deadline day like Christmas. And we’ll note the goings-on around the league, and listen to the rumors, but mostly we’ll be waiting to hear if something’s going to happen with our team.
For me, I’ll be waiting to hear if we’ll finally be moving Teddy Purcell along to someplace he’ll hopefully be a better fit. It’s long overdue.