TAMPA — While most of his players will be on vacations or staycations during the five-day All-Star break, general manager Steve Yzerman plans to do some scouting.
Where Yzerman shows up this weekend, if anywhere, could be significant, especially considering how he's actively and aggressively trying to trade disgruntled and suspended wing Jonathan Drouin, who has drawn interest around the league.
With the trade deadline one month from today, Feb. 29, Yzerman is monitoring the market to see what — if anything — he can do to boost his streaking Lightning (27-18-4). Tampa Bay has won eight of nine, propelling it to fourth place in the Eastern Conference, but it's far from secure, just three points out of ninth.
"We were hoping a month ago we'd be in the thick of a playoff race, and we are in the thick of a playoff race," Yzerman said. "It's a month from the deadline, and if something makes sense to make us a better team, that can help us one, get in the playoffs, and have a good playoff run, we would look at it."
Just three weeks ago, the Lightning was in 11th, coming off an embarrassing road loss in Calgary. Yzerman remained confident, believing that the defending conference champion, once completely healthy, could go on a run. Tampa Bay would win seven straight, which might have saved Yzerman from considering selling at the deadline.
"Every point is crucial," Yzerman said. "It's a tight race."
With just six points separating fourth from 12th in the East, almost every team, save Buffalo, Toronto and Columbus, is in the playoff hunt. That might make it difficult to find trading partners.
Yzerman does have a valuable chip in Drouin, who requested a trade in November and is back home in Montreal awaiting a deal. Yzerman is believed to have a few offers, but seemingly patient to find the one he wants.
It doesn't appear captain Steven Stamkos will be a factor in the trade market. Even though Stamkos is still unsigned and just five months from unrestricted free agency, he has a full no-move clause. It's unlikely Stamkos would waive it, especially if the Lightning is in the hunt, the captain maintaining he wants to win a championship with this group. The Lightning, which reportedly made Stamkos an eight-year, $68 million offer, still hopes to keep the All-Star and hasn't asked him to waive his clause. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Stamkos-Lightning talks, already more prolonged than most envisioned, continue through the rest of the season and maybe beyond. Asked if the trade deadline is a deadline for Stamkos negotiations, Yzerman has said, "There is no deadline."
Yzerman made a significant move at last year's trade deadline, acquiring veteran defenseman Braydon Coburn from the Flyers and dealing 2010 first-round pick Brett Connolly in a separate trade with Boston. Yzerman felt the move improved his team's chances at making a lengthy playoff run, and it did, the Lightning reaching the Stanley Cup final.
Yzerman said this season's team has some needs and areas it can improve. Tampa Bay could be in the market for another right-shot defenseman or a forward with some bite. Even if the Lightning stands pat, Yzerman remains confident.
"I believe we have a good team," Yzerman said. "I'm not going to sit here and say, 'We're going to really go out and try to do something.' But if an opportunity is there, we'll certainly try to do it."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.