General manager Steve Yzerman rarely rules anything out.
It's just not his style.
That's why his Monday statement that he won't be trading captain Steven Stamkos at the Feb. 29 deadline was a bit surprising. What if the Lightning drops further out of playoff contention and Yzerman is wowed with an offer he can't refuse?
It doesn't matter. Yzerman isn't in control of this situation. Stamkos, who has a full no-move clause, holds all the cards, and he doesn't appear interested in going anywhere at the deadline. On July 1, when he could become a free agent? That could be a different story.
But Yzerman made the smart move, taking the pressure off Stamkos and his team by removing the distraction of people asking whether Stamkos would get moved at the deadline. The Lightning has enough problems as it is, fighting for its playoff life.
If the team wants to make any kind of run at the Stanley Cup, it's much better off with Stamkos than without. Stamkos has not even been approached about waiving his no-move clause, and Yzerman is saying he still hopes he can sign the All-Star to a long-term deal.
And though it's a risk that the team could lose Stamkos for nothing on July 1 if he walks away — which is a possibility — Yzerman had no choice but to buy him, and his team, more time and go for the Cup.
DROUIN TALK: Some Lightning fans seemed intrigued when Canada's TSN TV network reported last week that teammates would welcome back suspended wing Jonathan Drouin. The report said players wished they could have spoken to Drouin this month while in Montreal, where Tampa Bay was playing and Drouin was working out, and coaxed him into returning.
Drouin, who requested a trade in November, has been suspended since Jan. 20 for refusing to play for AHL Syracuse while he awaits a deal.
That teammates still support Drouin is not a surprise. They've praised him as a good kid and teammate ever since his trade request became public in January. Several veterans have reached out to Drouin, including Stamkos and forward Brian Boyle.
But let's get one thing straight: Don't expect Drouin to come back to the Lightning, even if he's not traded by the deadline. That ship has sailed.
Stamkos said he has kept in touch with Drouin, but he hasn't tried to convince him to come back.
"That's obviously a tough situation," Stamkos said. "Guys obviously respect him as a teammate, and he never let any of that stuff creep into the (locker) room. We have to let (Yzerman) do his job in that regard and see what happens."
NUTS AND BOLTS: It's hard not to notice how good Stamkos has looked the past week after moving back to center, with his line with left wing Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan clicking. Wonder how long Stamkos will stay in the middle, his preferred spot? … The biggest person affected by the absence of injured defenseman Jason Garrison is his longtime partner, Andrej Sustr. The two had worked so well together. … Right wing Jonathan Marchessault is playing like he wants to stay in the lineup, and maybe he should. … With every game, right wing Nikita Kucherov — tied for the team lead with 24 goals — only increases his value. That's great timing. He can be a restricted free agent this summer.
QUOTE TO NOTE: NHL Network analyst Craig Button's take on the Lightning: "When I watch the Tampa Bay Lightning, I see some really good (things), and I see some gaps of really porous play, not only defensively but offensively, where they make a mistake and fall out of their game, fall out of their rhythm."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.