Does the Lightning need to make a move?
The holiday roster freeze in the NHL ended on Sunday at midnight, alllowing teams to commence moving and shaking.
The question is, will the Lightning make any moves? Does it need to?
While Tampa Bay (18-15-3) is not in a great spot, still three points out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, it's not in an awful one, either. Believe it or not, it's just four points behind Montreal, which it hosts Monday at Amalie Arena, and five points behind first-place Florida.
The Lightning has played better the past month or so, despite a rash of injuries to key players, winning 10 of its last 16 games. Captain Steven Stamkos has come alive, with five goals in his last four games.
GM Steve Yzerman could just wait for Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Brian Boyle to return to the lineup, which could be by the end of this week, and consider those in-house acquisitions. It can't hurt, right?
But while I don't think Yzerman is considering a major shakeup - he told the Times a couple weeks ago to not be "holding your breath" for a giant move - he's constantly searching for ways to improve this team.
And, soon, when all his injured forwards are back, Yzerman will have a surplus up front, with 14 forwards. That would mean two healty forwards would have to sit each night, not an ideal situation. With the way Jonathan Marchessault has played, on a six-game points streak, the odds of him clearing waivers and getting sent down to AHL Syracuse are slim.
So what do you do?
It was certainly intriguing to find out that Yzerman attended a St. Louis Blues game a few weeks back, and that assistant GM Pat Verbeek was at a Blues game a couple nights later. The Lightning doesn't play the Blues often, so you'd have to think that was some significant scouting attention on the Blues. The Blues do boast plenty of right-shot defensemen, a need for Tampa Bay (which has two in its top seven). The Lightning's 17th-ranked power play could also use a quarterback, and right-shot D Kevin Shattenkirk, if availlable, could provide a boost.
The Wild also has depth on defense, and a reported need at center, a position the Lightning is well-stocked in.
Yzerman has noted the inherent difficulty in making trades in this climate, with teams very "leery" of taking on contracts wtih term. So, it's not going to be easy to unload contracts like Matt Carle ($5.5 million annual cap hit through 2017-18), for example.
But if Yzerman can find something that lines up, I wouldn't be surprised if he makes a deal. Yzerman likes his team, and has pointed out it's been hard to evaluate with all the injuries. His pre trade deadline planning doesn't really ramp up until six weeks before the Feb. 29 deadline, so there's still some time to see where Tampa Bay is at.
But with Stanley Cup windows so small, and Stamkos' contract uncertain beyond this season, it might be worth it to upgrade the current roster, if possible.
I'll leave you with something Yzerman told me a couple weeks ago.
"If everybody is sitting around waiting for this big huge deal that's going to turn things around, those are hard to do," Yzerman said. "We have a good team that's been (in) a grind, injuries have been another complication for us. We'll keep working towards it. We generally like our team, but all I can say is, if something makes sense to make us better, we'll do it."