Tampa Bay Lightning: Yzerman wants to get more out of Bolts’ defense

Mar 27, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr (62) defends Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell (51) during the first period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 27, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr (62) defends Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell (51) during the first period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Tampa Bay Lightning have some work to do this offseason, and with the looming expansion draft and ‘free agent frenzy’ later in the summer, there are several things the front office will likely do to prepare for next season and beyond.

After a playoff-less 2016-17 season filled with inconsistency in the lineup and on the ice and injuries across the board, the Tampa Bay Lightning face some questions surrounding the current version of the team. Big moves were made during the regular season and more could be made as we move deeper into the offseason.

Though many fans wanted to see him stay, moving Ben Bishop was inevitable because the organization has bigger plans for goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy — who was signed to a three-year contract extension last summer — and the team wouldn’t have had enough cap space to sign the 30-year-old net minder.

Bishop has been gone for a couple of months now, and he recently signed a six-year deal with the Dallas Stars; his contract is off the Lightning’s books, and since he left, the team has been able to focus on dealing with other pressing needs this summer.

While the goaltending picture might be in a good place, there are other aspects of the team that the Tampa Bay Lightning front office is looking to address and improve. Recently, Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reported General Manager Steve Yzerman is looking to get more out of the defense and will explore his options.

"“GM Steve Yzerman said a priority for next season is getting more offensive punch from his defensemen. And Yzerman said giving up too many scoring chances in the first 50 games was a big reason Tampa Bay missed the playoffs.”"

In the same article, Smith mentions both the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks could be great trading partners with the Lightning, especially for defensemen like Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. To note, Ellis has nine points in 12 playoff games this season with Nashville, and as Smith points out in the article, this was “as many as Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison mustered in 70 regular-season games.”

So, yeah, that’s not great. But, bringing in a player like Ellis would help to solidify the Top 2 pairings and go toward increasing production from the blue line.

There’s been speculation that the team would have to give up a prized forward like Jonathan Drouin or Tyler Johnson and a high draft pick to get a Top 4 defenseman, such as Vatanen or Ellis, or something considerable in return.

Fans have questioned whether it’d be smart to ship off Drouin at this point in his career, as he’s become a star and consistent difference maker for the Lightning. Though Tampa Bay would still have players like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point on the roster, giving away Drouin would leave a big hole in the Top 6 of the forwards.

More from Analysis

Drouin accumulated 53 points last season and hasn’t quite reached his peak yet, so he could have the potential to score 70, 80-plus points in the coming seasons. While the offense did its job for the most part, losing that type of scoring potential could be costly. There were talks of executing a trade with the St. Loui00s Blues that involved exchanging Drouin for Kevin Shattenkirk, a right shot defenseman, but that potential deal fell through and didn’t materialize.

Yzerman wants to get more production out of the blueline, of course, and adding another offensively-minded defenseman to the Top 4 could help, but doing that likely wouldn’t make up the difference from losing Drouin.

Nonetheless, adding more depth on the blue line is important, especially with certain players on the back end getting older, declining in skill and taking up a significant amount of salary cap space. Defensemen Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn‘s contracts make up nearly half of the salary given to the blue line, and Garrison, 32, is the highest-paid defenseman on the team, though Victor Hedman‘s $7.875 million cap hit of his eight-year deal will start to come into effect next season.

Garrison and Coburn produced a combined 23 points (and six goals) over the course of almost a full season, while rookie Jake Dotchin, who slotted in later in the season, produced 11 points in 35 games playing alongside Hedman. In addition, Garrison and Coburn finished with SAT percentages below and around 50 percent on the season, and getting that number over 50 would go a long way toward seeing more shot attempts and production from the blue line.

Despite Garrison, Coburn and fellow defenseman Andrej Sustr‘s decline in play over the course of this past season (all three played significant minutes this past season), the Tampa Bay Lightning still have a respectable crop of blueliners, but adding a solid or near-elite defenseman this offseason could go a long way in getting the Lightning back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Next: Tampa Bay Lightning sign Taylor Raddysh to ELC

The Tampa Bay Lightning struggled on the ice for most of the 2016-17 season, and though a constant stream of injuries is partially to blame, there’s no doubt certain players regressed and did not perform to the best of their abilities. General Manager Steve Yzerman stated he wants to get more production out of the blue line and could get another quality defenseman through a trade this offseason.