Friday, September 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

With no trades, Yzerman shows confidence in current Lightning roster

TAMPA

When the Lightning has an important news conference, everyone gathers in the new state-of-the-art and spacious media room at Amalie Arena. They have a cool podium with a swanky electronic backdrop and bright TV lights and plenty of room for cameras and reporters.

But an hour after Monday's NHL trade deadline had passed, the media center at Amalie sat dark and empty. Instead, upstairs in a small corner office room, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman stood up against a wall and chatted with just a handful of media.

He didn't talk about what he did. He talked about what he didn't do.

He didn't make any trades. He didn't bring in a power-play specialist. He didn't, as we all thought he would, trade disgruntled prospect Jonathan Drouin. He didn't, as he assured everyone he wouldn't, trade captain and soon-to-be free agent Steve Stamkos.

He didn't do a thing.

But no news turns out to be big news. By doing nothing, Yzerman's message said a lot:

Here's my team and it's Stanley Cup or bust.

"Yes, I feel very good about (our team),'' Yzerman said. "I like the way our team has played. … The way our team has played the last two months, I'm very encouraged.''

Why wouldn't he be encouraged? After stumbling and bumbling through the first three months of the season, the Lightning is looking more like itself since the turn of the year. It won 10 out of 11 in January to climb back into the playoff pack. After Monday night's victory at Toronto, in the Lightning's first game after the trade deadline, a seven-game win streak has reassured all that this team is every bit as dangerous as the one that came within two games of winning last season's Stanley Cup.

It also reassured Yzerman that there was no need to make a move just to make a move.

"It had somewhat of an impact,'' Yzerman said. "Obviously, if the team is not playing as well, you have bigger concerns. The areas I had hoped to address, obviously, I was not able to do that.''

Yzerman kicked the tires on acquiring a defenseman to spruce up the power play. But he wasn't about to overpay for anyone. Besides, why tinker with what's working?

"It's virtually the same group we had last year with a year's more experience,'' Yzerman said. "Now we have to stay healthy.''

Health has been the Lightning's biggest problem this season. Now that the Lightning is pretty much at full strength, the goals are started to pour in again and goalie Ben Bishop is among the best at keeping pucks out.

This team has given Yzerman and coach Jon Cooper every reason to believe it has another Stanley Cup run in it.

"This group, we've been together for a while,'' Cooper said from Toronto. "We got two wins away from the greatest prize on earth. We're comfortable with each other. There's no reason to blow this up. We have a great group of guys, they know the standard of how we want to play and we've had some success. … We're really happy with this group. This is the group we're moving forward with."

But, that doesn't mean it's all rainbows and unicorns with the Lightning.

There are still two major concerns moving forward. The first is Stamkos and his impending free agency.

"Our hope, and our hope all along, is to sign Stammer and keep him here for a long time,'' Yzerman said. "We'll keep working away at it.''

Yeah, good luck with that because it still feels as if every day that goes by, that's one step closer Stamkos is to walking out of town.

The other problem is Drouin, the third overall pick from 2013 who has been stomping his feet and holding his breath at home since the middle of January, pouting about a demotion to the minors. Yzerman was set to trade Drouin, but simply didn't get what he felt was a fair offer. Yzerman says the door is open for Drouin to return to the Lightning organization and, you know, that actually could be the best scenario for everyone involved. Still, a trade this summer is likely.

But let's be clear about this: While some Lightning fans might enjoy the thought of Drouin rotting away back home, that is not what's best for the organization. A third overall pick in a draft two years ago is supposed to be making major contributions to your team at this point. He is not supposed to be a wasted pick.

"I'm not enjoying this situation,'' Yzerman said. "It's certainly not how I want this thing to play out. … I'm not purposefully dragging this out for anyone.''

And Yzerman is not letting Drouin waste away just to send a message.

"It doesn't serve a purpose to be spiteful,'' Yzerman said. "But if you take any message out of it — we're going to do what's right for the hockey team. We're not going to be forced into doing something we're not comfortable with.''

What Yzerman is comfortable with is his team. That's why he didn't do anything Monday. Though, as soon as the deadline passed, Yzerman started to second-guess himself.

"Now I sit here and keep my fingers crossed and worry that I didn't do anything,'' Yzerman said. "I don't know if you're ever happy.''

This is a good team. This a Stanley Cup-contending team. He should be very happy with what he did Monday.

Or, more accurately, what he didn't do.

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