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Lightning in trade market for defensemen

 
Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman watches as players practice down on the ice from the second floor viewing area during the 2014 Lightning Development Camp at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.
Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman watches as players practice down on the ice from the second floor viewing area during the 2014 Lightning Development Camp at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.
Published Feb. 15, 2015

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The trade deadline is two weeks away, but there's already been a blockbuster.

When the Jets shipped controversial star wing Evander Kane to the Sabres on Wednesday in a seven-player deal, it looked like a high-risk, high-reward trade for both teams.

It took a special set of circumstances to make it happen, but the deal showed that in the NHL, to get a lot, you have to be willing to give up a lot. It's what makes deadline deals nerve-racking.

The question now in Tampa Bay is, will the Lightning make a move before the March 2 deadline? If so, at what cost?

General manager Steve Yzerman said he's happy with his forward group, barring injuries, and his goalies. But Yzerman acknowledged Saturday what everyone had expected: He's in the market for an experienced defenseman.

"I'd call it more a possibility or a consideration," he said.

Yzerman expects veteran Matt Carle, who had abdominal surgery in mid January, back around the deadline, saying it'll be a "big boost for us." He has really liked the development of rookies Nikita Nesterov and Luke Witkowski.

But Yzerman said the Lightning might look to replace Radko Gudas, who is out for the regular season after knee surgery. After all, four of the Lightning's defensemen have played a combined 199 NHL games. There's a definite need for a veteran defenseman; remember how much the acquisition of Darryl Sydor bolstered Tampa Bay's blue line during its 2004 Stanley Cup run.

Though Yzerman has plenty of chips to play with — from a deep pool of prospects to two first-round draft picks — he's not desperate. And so far, the asking prices are too steep.

"My sense is there's no pressing need right now," Yzerman said. "I think players that may be available are (on) teams that are asking more than I'm prepared to pay today. There's no rush to do it. For teams that don't consider themselves playoff contenders, there's no rush to do anything. They can sit and see if they get what they're looking for."

Though defensemen from non-contending teams might be available, such as pending unrestricted free agents Cody Franson (Toronto), Jeff Petry (Edmonton) and Andrej Sekera (Carolina), not so fast.

"In general, I'm not a big fan of giving up premium assets and top high draft picks and top prospects for rentals," Yzerman said. "In our state right now, I don't think it's appropriate, and a player to give that up for is not out there right now."

Though Yzerman said he'll "never say never," he has been pretty consistent in his philosophy on rental players: There's no need to mortgage the future. The Lightning is reaping the benefits right now of holding on to its young prospects and picks.

"If we're going to give up an asset to acquire a player, I feel he has to be better than the player he is going to take out of the lineup," Yzerman said. "And then also, what is the cost to acquire that player? Is it worth that much?"

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Should make for an interesting couple of weeks.