Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Playoffs or no, this season only part of picture for Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning is a long shot to make the playoffs and general manager Steve Yzerman is selling off assets. It is a challenging time for Tampa Bay, but consider this:

Missing the playoffs might not be the worst thing long-term for an organization trying to establish self sufficiency.

The Lightning is far from Yzerman's vision of a perennial Stanley Cup contender that, like the Red Wings — the organization that shaped his frame of reference as a player and executive — runs almost on its own momentum.

To do that, teams need organizational depth.

Think of it as a conveyor belt of talent. For small-market teams such as the Lightning that is critical because homegrown talent, generally, is younger and cheaper.

As Yzerman said of trying to build through free agency, "You can't keep going out every summer and keep trying to sign guys. That's not a recipe for long-term success."

Establishing organizational depth is a process, especially for a franchise that from 1999-2007 was gutted by bad drafting.

Things are improving. Yzerman and staff got good reviews for the two drafts for which he was in charge and even the malfunctioning ownership of Oren Koules and Len Barrie drafted fairly well from 2008-09.

This year, though, is an opportunity to really move the process forward, even though the price might be the team's regular-season failure.

Already, Yzerman has traded center Dominic Moore to the Sharks and defenseman Pavel Kubina to the Flyers for 2012 second-round draft picks, giving him four second-rounders. And there still are eight days until the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

Assets gained will give Yzerman options. He can use the picks at the draft or trade them to move up or for better assets. And if Tampa Bay does not make the playoffs, add another quality draft choice, all of which means depth and the opportunity to develop it are improved.

This is not to suggest Lightning players shouldn't push as hard as they can to reach the postseason. But if they fail, and the climb certainly is steep, consider it part of a process for which the team should be better.

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