TAMPA — As Monday’s NHL trade deadline approaches, everyone wants something. Fans, players, coaches, management of every team. The question: What that something is, and is it feasible?
The Lightning isn’t looking to blow things up (like last-place Ottawa, which traded Matt Duchene on Friday) or even add a major piece (like Columbus, one point out of the wild card, which added Duchene). For Tampa Bay, that want is likely a small piece.
Leading the NHL by 17 points and the division by 18, however, means the Lightning is in the position to be picky. This team can debate want vs. need and only move for the right player.
“I think every player would be lying if they said it’s not nice to add something and try to get better,” Steven Stamkos said. “But whatever happens, happens. This group has been assembled over the years with trades and free agencies and draft picks and signees. We believe in our group regardless.”
The 11-year veteran has seen Lightning teams take on many different shapes. In recent years, management led by Steve Yzerman and now Julien BriseBois has honed this team. Stamkos appreciates the intention behind their moves.
“If it doesn’t happen, you’re not going to make a trade just to do it; it has to make sense,” he said. “This organization has been able to keep guys around. There haven’t been rentals. There’s been thought behind the trade.”
Look at last year’s deadline-day move. The Lightning gave up a former first-round pick in Vladislav Namestnikov, two prospects (first-rounder Brett Howden and second-rounder Libor Hájek) and another high pick. That’s a lot. Tampa Bay got Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller in return. Ryan McDonagh has turned out to be a difference maker on this year’s team.
There was a long-term gain behind that trade. The Lightning also added the team’s third former or current captain in McDonagh, gaining more valuable leadership.
“The management has done an unbelievable job of bringing the right people,” Stamkos said. “I’m sure there were times that they could have brought someone in that wasn’t necessarily going to be a fit and that’s a thought.”
When Stamkos says thought went into each trade, he doesn’t just mean thought into how the players will fit on the ice. He also means how they fit in the dressing room.
Chemistry is very important to this Lightning team. Players often refer to how long they’ve been together, how close they are, how this group feels like something special.
“You look at some of the players that have come in and out of this organization,” Stamkos said, “if they’re not a fit within this room, or what our standard is here or what our makeup as a team is, they don’t stay around very long. That’s just been the way it is.”
NBCSN analyst Pierre McGuire cautioned against over-tinkering, saying it’s important to add the right piece without messing too much with the team’s makeup. He said you want to reward a team without taking anything away.
That said, a trade can also provide a boost, as McDonagh and Miller did last year. If the players feel the management did everything they could to put the best team on the ice, they will want to back it up.
“It’s like, ‘Okay, let’s go. Management has done everything they can so let’s back them up. Let’s back them up, let’s make them look good in a sense,’” Stamkos said. “They’ve done everything they can to help our team now it’s up to us to go out and perform.”
Times staff writer Mari Faiello contributed to this report.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at [email protected]. Follow @dianacnearhos.