Does Lightning run impact trade deadline plans?

If the Lightning can move a contract like Valtteri Filppula's, pictured, or Jason Garrison's, that could free up space. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
If the Lightning can move a contract like Valtteri Filppula's, pictured, or Jason Garrison's, that could free up space.DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Published February 20 2017
Updated February 20 2017

The Lightning is rolling, picking up a point in six straight games, a season-high.

Tampa Bay entered Monday just five points out of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

And that certainly complicates things for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman heading into the Mar. 1 trade deadline. That holds especially true when it comes to what to do with pending unrestricted free agents like Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle.

"We're fighting to try to get one of the eight playoff spots," Yzerman said Monday. "This is a good thing, we're playing well, we're winning games. Does it make it a little bit more difficult as to what direction to go? I guess. It's not just 'buyers' and 'sellers.' You can be somewhere in the middle of that too.

"We're competing for a playoff spot so if I'm going to move people.. I'm not just giving people away here. If it makes sense, I'll do it. If it doesn't make sense, I'm not. It's not a firesale."

Yzerman won't get into specific needs, though you'd have to imagine the blueline would be a key area of focus; the Lightning and Predators have been scouting each other. But Yzerman said they're not looking at acquiring a rental player. He noted a lot of decisions have to be make for the long-term, whether that's done this week or this summer. Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin are all restricted free agents after the season, when there will be another cap crunch. If the Lightning can move a contract like Valtteri Filppula's or Jason Garrison's, that could free up space. Even if Bishop leaves as a UFA, that's $6 million the Lightning can spend elsewhere.

With many team having cap issues, that makes trades more challenging. And Yzerman said the June expansion draft has become part of conversations.

"You're acquiring a player, and forcing yourself to make another decision," Yzerman said. "Protection issues, that is a factor in acquiring and trading players."

There have been questions whether draft picks are valued as much at this deadline considering what's being considered a weak draft. But Yzerman argues the contrary.

"I think the deadline is changing, we've kind of watched that over the years that teams that are so-called buyers aren't as aggressive as they've been in the past," Yzerman said. "So you might argue the other position that picks become more valuable."

The Lightning have two potential in-house deadline acquisitions in captain Steven Stamkos (knee surgery) and Ryan Callahan (hip). But it sounds like there's still some uncertainty whether either will play this season.

The Lightning is expected to have more clarity this week on Callahan, who has been rehabbing his surgically-repaired hip the past month or so. Yzerman said Stamkos has started light skating, and is "progressing well." But Yzerman said Stamkos is on the 4-6 month timeline. Four months is mid-March, six months means his season is over. But that hasn't been decided yet.

If Stamkos and Callahan aren't coming back this season, that would free up significant cap space. But if they do, and come off long-term injured reserve, Tampa Bay has to account for the remaining cap hit.

"Right now, we're acting that we have to be in a situation to be compliant when both players come back," Yzerman said.