Sorting through NHL trade deadline silly season
With the NHL trade deadline just over a month away, it can be silly season when it comes to speculation.
At every press box, people take notice of what team's scouts are at what game. When it's a GM that attends, it can raise even more eyebrows.
"Why was Steve Yzerman watching the Kings-Sharks game Wednesday night?"
Often times, it's nothing. Scouting is the lifeblood of hockey, and a handful of teams have reps at most Lightning home games. There are millions of conversations between GMS that end up being just that.. conversations by the Mar. 1 deadline.
Still, it was at least interesting that Blues GM Doug Armstrong attended the last two Lightning games on its West Coast trip, including watching Monday's game in Los Angeles' from GM Steve Yzerman's press box suite. The two GMs are friends, so not every conversation is going to be trade related.
And Armstrong's Blues just recently wrapped up a west coast swing, so catching a couple games on the end of the trip could be considered merely convenient. And the fact both involved the Lightning a coincidence. Avs assistant general manager Chris MacFarland was also among those in attendance.
But with both the Lightning and the Blues likely looking to make a move by the deadline to improve their respective playoff chances, it's at least something to keep an eye on. Remember, the teams scouted each other heavily before last year's deadline, many assuming the Blues were part of the Jonathan Drouin sweepstakes.
Before you jump to the Ben Bishop for Kevin Shattenkirk conclusion, hit the pause button. Don't see that particular move being done, even if it's a pending unrestricted free agent for another one. We all know how much the Lightning needs a right-shot, top-four defenseman. Blues goalie Jake Allen has struggled, but he's signed through 2020-21 at $4.35 million. St. Louis could use help at center, which is a position the Lightning is very deep in.
Everything appears quiet on the Bishop front. While Bishop is a pending UFA, Andrei Vasilevskiy likely to take over as the Tampa Bay No. 1, the Lightning could use Bishop as it's still fighting for its playoff life. Bishop has looked good in starting three of the last four games, the team amassing five of eight possible points.
That's not saying that Bishop, who has a partial no-move clause, won't be dealt by Mar 1. But I still think it's a real possibility he's here through the rest of the season, which is what Yzerman has said all year. There's a saturated goalie market now, with Bishop, Marc Andre-Fleury (Penguins), Jaroslav Halak (Islanders), among others, which doesn't make it easy for teams to get great returns.
The Lightning, despite its recent defensive resurgence, could still use some help on the blueline. It has a lot of tough decisions to make by the June expansion draft. Las Vegas Golden Knights have had reps at a lot of recent Tampa Bay games, no doubt keeping an eye on the likes of Vladislav Namestnikov, Alex Killorn, among others. The Lightning, as of now, has to protect Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula, unless it can get the veterans to waive no-move clauses.
Defenseman Nikita Nesterov could be a trade chip, and it helps that his agent, Dan Milstein, shot down rumors the 23-year-old wants to play in Russia next season.
Adding to it is the fact it's hard to envision the Lightning being able to afford all three of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin this summer, when each are restricted free agents. Drouin, a rising star who has elevated his game this season, isn't going anywhere.
I asked Yzerman recently if there are any "untouchables" on his roster, players he'd never consider trading. And we're not talking about Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, both of whom have full no-move clauses.
"We have our core and I want to add to that core," Yzerman said. "Over time, your core has to change, that's the reality, you can't afford to keep everybody. They age, they mature. Are players untouchable? Yes. Because I want to build around the core.
"But at some point, to address needs, if there's something really good out there, you're probably going to have to give up something really good in order to do that."