Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman hints at sell-off

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BRANDON — Things are going to be a little more tense around the Lightning locker room the next 10 days or so.

That is because general manager Steve Yzerman on Wednesday at the Ice Sports Forum indicated he will be a seller at the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

"We have to look at any opportunity that makes us a stronger organization moving forward based on where we stand today," he said.

Where the team stands is 13th in the 15-team Eastern Conference and, entering Wednesday, eight points out of the eighth and final playoff spot with five teams over which it has to jump.

Things are just as grim in the Southeast Division, where the Lightning is a gaping 11 points behind the first-place Panthers.

Given those almost insurmountable circumstances — and Tampa Bay's current 1-3-1 swoon — Yzerman's hand was forced.

"The trade deadline is in a week and a half, roughly," he said. "So we don't have the luxury of waiting until the end of the season to see if we are going to make the playoffs or not."

"We're not going to just give our guys away. But if there is an opportunity that makes us a better organization, we're going to consider it."

In whom might teams be interested? The strongest rumors concern defenseman Pavel Kubina, who apparently is drawing interest from several teams, including the Rangers; and center Dominic Moore, who might be of interest to the Penguins, according to reports out of Pittsburgh.

Generally, though, any potential unrestricted free agent could be dealt.

A player the Lightning would rather keep is Ryan Malone. There has been speculation the left wing is being shopped, but Tampa Bay likes his physical presence and how his salary goes from $5.5 million this season to $3 million next season and $2.5 million in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

What does Yzerman want? Most likely draft choices and prospects to help rebuild the team's improving but still thin organizational depth.

The search for a No. 1 goalie is more likely a summer project.

"Every year at the trade deadline is like this," said Lightning defenseman Matt Gilroy, a potential unrestricted free agent. "You just have to ignore it. There's nothing you can do about it, so you can't get all worked up about it."

Yzerman knows fans might get worked up at the notion he is giving up on the season with 26 games to play, including tonight against the Sharks at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

That is not the case, Yzerman said: "We want to make the playoffs. Regardless of what we're trying to do, we're going to keep trying to make the playoffs."

But Yzerman said he has to maintain his long-term vision.

"We're not in a position to trade our first- and second-round draft picks or trade what we consider our top prospects to acquire players to help us get into the playoffs," he said. "We're not in a position to do that, and we're not going to do that."

But it is clear Yzerman wants to do something.

"It's not easy," defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron said of the emotions around the Feb. 27 deadline. "I'm sure some people will sleep better on the 28th."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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