Forget the trade deadline and enjoy this Lightning team

Tampa Bay might be tempted to tweak the roster next Monday, but it shouldn’t run the risk of ruining a team’s chemistry.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, center, confers with assistant coach Jeff Halpern during a game last week against Montreal. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, center, confers with assistant coach Jeff Halpern during a game last week against Montreal. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Published Feb. 20, 2019|Updated Feb. 20, 2019

Here’s what the Lightning can gain at the NHL trade deadline:

Greater depth.

Or …

Greater trust.

That’s pretty much it. Either the Lightning’s front office picks up an extra defenseman or it gains the trust of a locker room by standing pat. Personally, I’d stick with the 23 guys already in the building.

Look, any team can be better. Even a team that’s currently on pace to tie the NHL season record for victories. Could the Lightning use a more physical forward? Sure. Could it get a little deeper on the blue line? Of course.

But that’s kind of like adding racing stripes on a Ferrari.

Is it really necessary?

The reality is Tampa Bay is not going to dramatically change its roster in the next few days. There are no 30-goal scorers or two-way defensemen booking flights. The Lightning already has a bevy of stars, and there’s no need to jeopardize future salary caps or trade away draft picks for gaudy additions.

Think back to some of the big names at last year’s trade deadline.

* Boston gave up a first-round pick, a top prospect and two others for Rick Nash, who played 23 games in the regular season and playoffs and retired in the off-season due to concussion issues.

* Winnipeg traded first- and fourth-round picks and a young player for forward Paul Stastny. The Jets reached the conference finals and Stastny played well, but soon departed as a free agent.

* Vegas handed first-, second- and third-round picks to Detroit for Tomas Tatar, and six months later traded him to Montreal.

Now, clearly, those are isolated cases. And it doesn’t mean the right player can’t have a long-lasting impact. Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller did not put the Lightning over the hump when they were acquired at the trade deadline last year, but both are playing important roles down the stretch in 2019.

And it’s true that the Capitals made a minor trade at the deadline last year that just might have made the difference in their Stanley Cup run. Defenseman Michal Kempny had been a healthy scratch for most of the winter in Chicago and was available for a third-round draft pick. He quickly became one of Washington’s top four defensemen and was signed to a multi-year deal in the off-season.

So, yeah, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois should be open to any possibilities before Monday’s deadline. A low-key, strategic move to bolster Tampa Bay’s defensive depth could certainly be justified.

But BriseBois needs to weigh a trade’s impact not just on the ice but also in the locker room. There’s something special happening in Tampa Bay this year. There’s talent, but there’s also buy-in.

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The Lightning started the season hot, and has only gotten better. The first 11 games of the season, Tampa Bay went 8-2-1 and outscored opponents 41-30. The last 11 games, the Lightning has gone 9-0-2 and outscored teams 41-18. In between, there has been almost no letup.

Players might grumble quietly about ice time or sitting out a game, but they have done everything asked of them by coach Jon Cooper. It would help if they felt that was a two-way street.

All professional sports have a what-have-you-done-lately quality, and players understand their replacement is never more than a phone call away.

So bringing in a late trade acquisition is not going to create upheaval and turmoil. But it might tweak the chemistry that was borne of last season’s disappointment and this season’s dedication.

The Lightning has not just been the NHL’s best team in the regular season, it has dominated the rest of the league. Tampa Bay has superior scoring, good defense and outstanding goaltending. It has confidence. It has momentum. It has the best record in the NHL.

And, by now, it should have earned everyone’s trust.

Contact John Romano at Follow @romano_tbtimes