Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning to stay the course for now

The Lightning on Sunday put defenseman and perpetual healthy scratch Brendan Mikkelson on waivers for the purpose of sending him to AHL Syracuse so he can get some playing time.

But general manager Steve Yzerman indicated a Crunch player possibly could be promoted, and if so, a defenseman is likely.

"We brought up forwards the last few weeks," he said. "We've got options in other areas."

The most obvious: Radko Gudas, a defensive-minded bruiser who was so impressive at training camp, and point-producer Mark Barberio.

The small move, if it happens, will not assuage fans who want coach Guy Boucher's head or a roster shakeup in response to a 4-13-1 streak that has Tampa Bay one point from the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

But with Yzerman reiterating "I think our coaches do a good job of preparing the players and getting the game plan ready" and "I am very pleased with the effort and attitude our team shows up with on a daily basis," there seems a willingness for now to stay the course.

"I think we're doing a lot of things the right way to win games," Yzerman said. "Our coverage in our own zone, we're improving upon. The results aren't showing up in wins and losses, but we're hoping if we stick with the process, that will start to show up, and we hope sooner rather than later."

That's not to say Yzerman isn't working the phones ahead of the April 3 trade deadline for help on the blue line, which is thin after the top four and shouldered the blame for the final goal in Saturday's devastating 4-3 loss to the Canadiens.

"We want to make the playoffs," he said.

So, the plan is to add to the roster rather than sell?

"I wouldn't say add; I would say improve," Yzerman said. "We'll certainly explore that. It's pretty early, but we're not going to start trading draft picks and prospects and young players for (potential unrestricted free agents) to bolster our lineup. I'll be looking more for real trades for players that can fit into our lineup and be with us for an extended period of time."

NHL Network analyst and former Flames GM Craig Button said that is the correct approach and added that blaming Boucher when the team is weak defensively and in net is "low-hanging fruit."

"Everybody is trying to help Steve right now, saying, 'Here's your life preserver,' but it's really an anchor," Button said. "(Toronto defenseman) Mike Komisarek, I'm sure Steve could have him, or (Toronto defenseman) John-Michael Liles or players like that. But I can't imagine Steve Yzerman is interested in those players.

"Sometimes you know where you want to get, but sometimes you incrementally get better. It's still a work in progress. That's the biggest thing people have to keep in mind."

But with the Lightning losing eight of its past 10 games, progress is difficult to see, especially when Tampa Bay is eight points behind first-place Carolina in the Southeast Division and eight out of the East's final playoff spot.

"We've got to get on a streak," center Steven Stamkos said. "We have the guys who can do it. We have a big hill to climb, but you've got to believe."

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