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Jones: Why the Lightning should stand pat at the trade deadline

Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) goes off for a penalty giving the Columbus Blue Jackets a power play that would eventually lead to a  Blue Jackets goal by left wing Nick Foligno (71) as Columbus goes up 2 to 1 during third period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Friday evening (01/13/17).
Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) goes off for a penalty giving the Columbus Blue Jackets a power play that would eventually lead to a Blue Jackets goal by left wing Nick Foligno (71) as Columbus goes up 2 to 1 during third period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Friday evening (01/13/17).
Published Jan. 26, 2017

The Lightning remains a long shot to make the playoffs.

It is still in last place in its division. It still is among the worst teams in the league in goals allowed. It still doesn't have Steven Stamkos.

One good night in Chicago doesn't erase all that.

The guess is Tampa Bay won't make the playoffs. It's just a guess, based on how it has played the past three months.

The worst playoff team in the East last season finished with 93 points. The Lightning (22-22-5) would need to go 20-9-4 the rest of the season to get to 93 points. What have you seen so far that suggests it is capable of that kind of run?

It just feels like one of those seasons. A lost season. Hey, it happens. A really good team sometimes just has a really bad season.

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The reason could be one thing: injuries, bad luck, off seasons by good players. It could be a cocktail of those ingredients. Often, however, you just can't explain it. You just chalk it up to one of those seasons.

The Los Angeles Kings won two Stanley Cups in three seasons and then missed the playoffs. Just one of those seasons.

The Red Sox won a World Series in 2013 and won their division in 2016. In between, they finished last twice. That's two of those seasons.

Every sport has them. Every team is susceptible.

So what does that mean in terms of the Lightning?

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) takes a break moments after being beat by Columbus for their tying goal during the second period of Friday's (1/13/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) takes a break moments after being beat by Columbus for their tying goal during the second period of Friday's (1/13/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

Don't panic. Don't make sweeping changes. Don't fire anybody. Don't blow it up.

Just live with it, even if it means watching this season go down the drain.

That's not an easy thing to do. The instinct is to get emotional. Fire the coach. Trade this guy. Release that guy.

The worst thing you can do is allow emotion to make your decisions.

It forces you to make terrible trades that might improve you for the next game but hurt you in the long run. It leads you to getting rid of good players because the team has had a bad 50 games.

The championship window for the Lightning has not shut. It remains a good franchise with a solid long-term future even if the short term feels bleak.

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This isn't a team that is suddenly old. This isn't a team that is suddenly no good anymore. Too early to say it's trending down.

For the past three seasons, the Lightning has been as good as any team in hockey. Three playoff appearances. A trip to the Stanley Cup final. Another trip to Game 7 of the conference final. The nucleus of those teams remains intact and still is in its prime.

Stamkos (when healthy). Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov. Tyler Johnson. Jonathan Drouin. Ondrej Palat. Alex Killorn.

These are really good players. The past three seasons have shown that.

Even goalie Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy are better than they have played.

Yes, it's frustrating to watch a team we all expected to make a Stanley Cup run floundering at the bottom of the league. But that doesn't mean it's time to give up on this franchise winning a Stanley Cup with this group of players.

At this time of year — just over a month before the March 1 trade deadline — everyone wants to know whether a team will be a buyer or a seller when it comes to making deals.

What should the Lightning be?

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24) goes down while battling against the boards int he final minutes of the game against the Winnipeg Jets during third period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Tuesday evening (01/03/17).

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24) goes down while battling against the boards int he final minutes of the game against the Winnipeg Jets during third period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Tuesday evening (01/03/17).

Neither.

Don't buy. Don't sell. Just stand pat.

Stamkos will return, so that is like getting a player in a trade.

Aside from that, don't mortgage the future by trading draft picks or prospects for overpriced, over-the-hill veterans in a desperate attempt to make a last-ditch push for a playoff spot that feels out of reach.

And unless you get a really good offer for Bishop, don't trade veterans who remain in their prime and mess up what should be a contending team for the next several years.

If changes are to be made, make them in the offseason, when you're not desperate and emotional and angry.

The Lightning is a good team having a bad season.

This team will compete for a Stanley Cup.

Just not this season.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones.