Deadline dealings are about the future
The Lightning added youth and cut salary before Wednesday's trade deadline. It also maintained its draft choices for next summer in Montreal. Summer must seem like a long way away right now, but that is what GM Brian Lawton's mind was when he made these deals.
Think about it. He traded Mark Recchi and a 2010 second-round draft pick to the Bruins for highly regarded defenseman Matt Lashoff, 22; and for the potential of right wing Martins Karsums, both of whom have played only a handful of games in the NHL but are all about potential. Lashoff would be with the Lightning immediately if not for a calf laceration that should hold him out about 10 days, Lawton said.
Sending defenseman Steve Eminger to the Panthers for defenseman Noah Welch and a 2009 third-round pick was pretty much a salary dump. Eminger is making $1.2 million in the final year of his contract. He will be a restricted free agent but arbitration eligible. Given he has played top-four minutes while the Lightning blue line was decimated by injuries, Eminger likely could double his salary next season, and as Lawton acknowledged, "As we looked ahead ... we simply cannot afford what he could get in arbitration. People don't want to hear that, but in today's world, that is a reality." Welch, 26, is a huge work in progress. He has been a healthy scratch 36 times this season, and he played just three shifts in Tuesday's game with the Thrashers. But Lawton said Tampa Bay's scouts see promise and perhaps Welch is just not a good fit with Florida. The bottom line, though, is that with him making $750,000 in the final year of his contract, he will be much easier to sign than Eminger.
As for the final deal, that was the most interesting as Tampa Bay sent goaltender Olie Kolzig, defenseman Jamie Heward and minor-league defenseman Andy Rogers and a 2009 fourth-round pick to the Maple Leafs for rugged minor-league defenseman Richard Petiot, who was assigned to AHL Norfolk. The NHL actually got involved in this transaction. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league gave it a look because all the Lightning players involved are injured. The NHL, Daly said, wanted to ensure the deal included "legitimate hockey assets." The deal was approved. Apparently, Toronto so badly wanted the pick, it was willing to take what was left of those salaries.
FYI: here are the Lightning's draft choices, a first-rounder, two seconds, a third, a fourth, and sixth from the Predators that could become a fifth if Nick Tarnasky plays 55 games, and a seventh.
All the above -- the new faces, the money saved, the draft choices -- will play into how Tampa Bay operates this summer. The downside is that the rest of this season is going to be, shall we say, challenging. Losing Recchi's offense is a blow. But the real struggle will be on the blue line.
The defense already is without Paul Ranger, Andrej Meszaros and Marek Malik, all injured, and counting on hobbled rookie Matt Smaby and converted left wing David Koci. Now add Welch to a group that also includes Cory Murphy, Lukas Krajicek and Josef Melichar. Not exactly an impenetrable wall. Even Lawton agreed, "It's unprecedented tough times here."
In other words, buckle up. The last five weeks of the season are going to be quite a ride. But for those of you who can look at a macro view instead of micro, Lawton offered this: "I'm pretty pleased with what we accomplished (Wednesday). We tried to get younger. We tried to address our (defense), we're trying to add some draft picks and do a little bit of cap management."
Recchi added this perspective: "There's going to have to be some patience. It's going to be interesting to see how the summer plays out. For (owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie), this has been a good learning experience. I think they have good intentions to do good things there. I think they will."