How should the Tampa Bay Lightning approach the 2024 trade deadline?

How should the Tampa Bay Lightning approach the 2024 NHL trade deadline next week?
Feb 24, 2024; Elmont, New York, USA;  Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) is greeted by
Feb 24, 2024; Elmont, New York, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) is greeted by / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning are nearly 75% done with their regular season schedule, and unlike recent years, will need to earn their playoff spot by paying well in March and April.

The 2023-24 campaign has not been ideal for the Lightning. Their depth scoring has been almost non-existent, their defense has been injured and underwhelming, and they haven't gotten the strong goaltending they've grown accustomed to in past years.

Despite not playing as well this season as they have in the recent past, Tampa Bay still holds a playoff spot, though it is a wild card position. The Red Wings hold the other wild card slot and the Lightning trail them by a single point, while Detroit also has two games in hand. The Devils, Capitals, and Penguins are not far behind, while the Islanders are a hot streak away from getting back into the thick of things.

At this point, barring a significant turn of events, it's highly unlikely that Tampa Bay will finish in the Top 3 of the Atlantic division standings this season. The Bruins, Panthers, and Maple Leafs seem to have those spots locked down and the specific order will be determined over the final eight weeks of the season.

The next significant on the NHL calendar is the 2024 Trade Deadline. This year, the trade deadline will be on Friday, March 8th at 3 PM Eastern.

Deadline day is one of the more exciting days for the NHL. Numerous teams load up hoping they put the finishing touches on a roster gearing up for a deep playoff run (buyers). Other franchises sell off players to acquire future assets to help rebuild their squads for future seasons (sellers). Then other teams in the middle stay (relatively) quiet and don't make a notable move. There varying degrees of all three and it's not unheard of for a team to both buy and sell at the trade deadline.

Are the Tampa Bay Lightning a buyer, seller, or neither at this year's trade deadline?

Obviously, the Tampa Bay Lightning will not be sellers at next week's deadline. Other than Steven Stamkos, they don't have a player of value on an expiring contract, and Julien BriseBois would be out of his mind to trade him. It would be a PR nightmare and would immediately eliminate any hope of a Stanley Cup run. In addition, Stamkos has a no-movement clause and the odds of him waiving it for a trade within the next two weeks are slim to none.

It wouldn't be surprising if they traded winger Conor Sheary, though he has a full no-trade clause and two additional years on his contract. He hasn't been a great fit with the team and his one goal on the season has left a lot to be desired. It'd be a surprise if he waived his NTC, but the Lightning would be wise to move him, if the opportunity presents itself. They could use the $2M in cap space this offseason to help re-sign Stamkos and improve the roster.

Should Tampa Buy be buyers? Probably not, or at least they shouldn't be too aggressive. The Lightning aren't good enough to justify moving draft capital and prospects.

If they were higher up in the standings and were playing like true contenders, then it would make sense to pay a big price to bring another high-level player.

There have been rumors that Tampa Bay could trade for star defenseman Noah Hanifin of the Calgary Flames, widely considered one of the best players potentially available this trade deadline. Although Hanifin would be a great replacement for the injured Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay would have to empty the cupboard (once again) to bring him in and the Lightning aren't good enough to justify that. Second, bringing in Hanifin could mean that Steven Stamkos isn't re-signed. Tampa Bay doesn't have enough cap space next season to sign both Stamkos and Hanifin. It would also put them in danger of trading their few valuable assets for as little as eight weeks of service. Theoretically, if such a move resulted in a Stanley Cup victory, then obviously it's worth it.

After trading away several first-round picks, countless other draft picks, and multiple young players over the past four years, the Lightning likely won't be big game hunters this year. Although some of those huge deadline deals have resulted in three deep playoff runs and two Cup victories, the team needs more than just one or two players to become bona fide Championship contenders. The risk of handicapping their future isn't not worth it given how the team has performed this year. In the past when they've been near the top of the league standings, those huge trades did make sense, but not in 2024.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the Lightning shouldn't make any moves at this year's trade deadline, just that they shouldn't be shopping for the most expensive players. It makes more sense for Julien BriseBois to go bargain hunting. Instead of trading their 1st round pick in 2026 and a quality prospect for the first-line winger, they'd be better off moving a mid-round pick or two in exchange for a serviceable depth player.

If the team had their full supply of draft picks over the next three years, then cashing some of them in wouldn't be the end of the world. The problem is that the Lightning don't have their 2nd and 4th-round draft picks this year and they don't possess another 1st-round pick until 2026 (unless their draft slot in 2025 is in the Top 10, which would result in their 2026 1st heading to Nashville instead of the one in 2025 due to the Tanner Jeannot tra). Their farm system is also one of the weaker ones in the NHL.

In conclusion, although the Lightning are a likely playoff team, they shouldn't make any huge trades this year. They don't have a strong enough of a team for a blockbuster move to be worth the risk of moving the few quality assets they still have. It makes more sense for them to retain their biggest assets and moving their mid-level ones in exchange for role players.

Will Julien BriseBois stay quiet at this year's trade deadline? It remains to be seen, but that hasn't been his style during his tenure as general manager. Some of his biggest deals have paid huge dividends (Blake Coleman, Brandon Hagel, etc.), but his premier trade last year has been a miss so far (Tanner Jeannot). The Lightning are in the midst of a playoff race, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them make a move to attempt to push them over the top. Due to Mikhail Sergachev being out indefinitely, Tampa Bay has over $6M in cap space to work with before next Friday. Will they take advantage of it?