Lightning coach Rick Tocchet is a big proponent of the merit system: do the right things in a game, win puck battles, play within the system, you stay on the ice. It is why David Hale, for now, has nudged Kurtis Foster from the top six on defense.
Tampa Bay could use that kind of push among its forwards.
But with just 12 on the roster, each is almost guaranteed some playing time. Tocchet once went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in a game when he was disappointed in the play of left wing Todd Fedoruk, but that puts a greater strain on the forwards playing.
A 13th forward and, by extension, the threat of being benched would be another hammer for Tocchet to wield.
Not that players aren't giving their all. But as Hale said of the blue line, "There's competition to get in the lineup, and you have to play your best to get there. You can't get comfortable."
How, then, is the merit system applied among forwards?
"Right now, I have ice time," Tocchet said.
The problem is, the Lightning has nine defensemen. Add two goaltenders, and with a 23-player roster limit, there is no room for another forward.
Even Tocchet said, "We're going to have to rectify that," when asked about the blue line glut in which three players are scratched for each game. That's more than $2.5 million in salary on the bench, not a good equation for a team that has to watch its budget. But beyond that, it limits the Lightning's options in another area.
Trading one defenseman for even a low draft choice — and it appears the likely candidate is Lukas Krajicek, who is being paid $1.475 million and has played just two games — would open a spot for a 13th forward.
Granted, it's not an easy trade to make. Krajicek's market value isn't high right now. But something has to give on the blue line. Until then, the forwards are capped at 12. And the Lightning lacks a tool for motivation.