TAMPA — The Lightning definitely wasn't a buyer at the trade deadline.
It was more of a seller, dealing center Valtteri Filppula by Wednesday's 3 p.m. deadline, following trades early in the week of goalie Ben Bishop and forward Brian Boyle.
That doesn't help Tampa Bay in the short term with a playoff push, especially with contenders the Panthers, Senators and Canadiens adding pieces.
But you have to like a lot of the moves general manager Steve Yzerman made with the big picture in mind. Yzerman cleared much-needed salary cap space for next season and gave the Lightning more flexibility for June's expansion draft. In a way, getting rid of some established players allows the Lightning to keep more of its remaining core together this summer.
"We're in a position to be better off in the future," Yzerman said. "Now we've got to make some good decisions along the way to improve our team."
Yzerman said the Lightning wants to re-sign forwards Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, who can be restricted free agents this summer, and these moves help him have cap room to do that. Tampa Bay has roughly $18 million in cap space for next season to sign all three, plus a veteran backup goalie. Another salary likely needs to be shed — such as defenseman Jason Garrison's $4.6 million 2017-8 cap hit — if the Lightning wants to squeeze in a desired top-four defenseman.
The key trade Wednesday was dealing Filppula to the Flyers for defenseman Mark Streit, who was then flipped to the Penguins. All the Lightning had to give up for Philadelphia to take Filppula's $5 million cap hit next season was a 2017 fourth-round draft pick and a conditional seventh-rounder. Plus, Tampa Bay got a 2018 fourth-rounder from Pittsburgh.
Filppula's deal also allows Tampa Bay to protect another forward in the expansion draft. The Lightning would have had to protect Filppula because he had a no-move clause. Using a seven-forward, three-defensemen protection format, the Lightning could now, for example, keep Steven Stamkos, Drouin, Johnson, Palat, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan (guaranteed protection with a no-move clause).
"If I do nothing (by the trade deadline), I probably lose a player off our roster that I prefer not to," Yzerman said.
Having to trade key veterans and leaders Bishop (Kings) and Boyle (Leafs) must have been difficult, considering their impact on the ice and in the dressing room. Yzerman opened Wednesday's news conference by lauding their contributions.
"It's tough, it's really tough," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "I would be lying if I said it wasn't affecting guys. But come game time, you've got to push that aside. We're going to stay together through this. It's not very often you can stay with the same team for three years like we have. We knew this was a possibility. But when it comes to reality, it (stinks)."
Yzerman said his message to the players would be: If the Lightning was in a better spot in the standings now, some decisions might have been made differently (or at least later). But with Tampa Bay entering Wednesday's game against the Hurricanes five points out of the second wild car spot in the Eastern Conference (with several teams to climb), his had was forced.
"These particular (decisions) had to be made at some point," Yzerman said. "Our record dictated that we had to make them now."
The Lightning's AHL affiliate, Syracuse, is in the playoffs, and Yzerman gave the Crunch a boost with a Wednesday goalie swap, sending prospect Adam Wilcox to the Panthers for veteran Mike McKenna. Yzerman said prospect Connor Ingram was expected to replace Wilcox next season, paired with a to-be-determined veteran. It looks like goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, who can be a restricted free agent in the summer, likely will be exposed in the expansion draft.
Yzerman said that though he had plenty of cap space at the deadline due to putting Callahan on long-term injured reserve because of his hip problems, pursuing a rental player for a playoff push while also trying to move current players "didn't make sense."
Yzerman still has plenty of maneuvering to do this summer. But these deadline moves put him — and the Lightning — in a much better position.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.