WASHINGTON — Lightning general manager Brian Lawton said his intention was to be a "buyer" at Wednesday's trade deadline.
But after completing one deal by the 3 p.m. cutoff — acquiring left wing Teddy Purcell and a 2010 third-round draft choice from the Kings for center Jeff Halpern — Lawton characterized himself more as a smart shopper.
"We're trying to do something to better ourselves in the short term but also trying to maintain our focus and discipline for the long term, and that's what we accomplished," he said. "We got younger. We got a little more skill. We added a draft pick for the future."
But where was the pop, the sizzle, the puck-moving defenseman or the established scoring wing the team could use in a tight playoff race?
Lawton said he looked. He said new owner Jeff Vinik gave him the go-ahead to add payroll, and Lawton said one discussion was leading to a "blockbuster" deal.
In the end, though, Lawton said, "We couldn't see it in the market" he characterized as "lots of quantity but not a lot of quality." So he heeded what he said was Vinik's caution:
"Don't give away the farm for something short term," especially when "we absolutely, 100 percent feel we have a team good enough to make the playoffs."
"It may give us some pop in the short term, but we're not going to overpay," Lawton added. "We could not trade first-round picks and things that are the lifeline in a salary cap world."
So, Tampa Bay acquired Purcell, 24, a little-known 6-foot-2, 198-pounder from St. John's, Newfoundland, who had three goals, six points and four penalty minutes in 41 games for Los Angeles but was scratched in 18 of his past 22. Lawton said Purcell was buried on a team deep at forward. Purcell has "big-time talent," Lawton said, evinced by his 41 goals and 121 points in 105 games from 2007-09 for AHL Manchester.
Coach Rick Tocchet said he will play Purcell tonight against the Capitals at the Verizon Center, perhaps on a line with center Vinny Lecavalier, who has zero points in his past six games.
"He's a guy who's highly skilled, so you have to stick him in there right away," Tocchet said. "Maybe he can help Vinny. Maybe Vinny can help him."
Purcell was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment. But Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin, a teammate of Purcell's at the University of Maine, said he has "great hands. … His release is his biggest strength."
"He loves hockey as much as anyone I've ever met," said Lundin, a senior in 2006-07, when Purcell was a freshman. "He studied the game and knew stats about everyone. He could tell me about some random third-line guy who played for the New Jersey Devils. He could explain what kind of stick he used and the pattern of the curve. He had knowledge of all these stupid stats."
Halpern, 33, acquired in February 2008 from the Stars in the Brad Richards deal, said he wishes the Lightning "nothing but the best."
"I've played on a lot of teams," he said, "and this is the tightest group and the best (locker) room I've ever been part of."
By trading the potential unrestricted free agent, Tampa Bay avoided losing him for nothing. Purcell, who could be a restricted free agent in the summer, makes $600,000 to Halpern's $2 million.
Lawton said the deal was not about saving money but finding a bargain: "We could have added a few players, but the requests were outlandish."