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Counting down the Lightning’s top five deadline deals of all time

Tampa Bay made some big moves and small moves that turned out to be important to become the elite organization it is now.

TAMPA — Trade deadline moves of the past helped make the Lightning the team they are now. Over the years, they added key pieces and acquired draft picks that became key pieces.

With this year’s looming at 3 p.m. Monday, here are the Lightning’s top five deadline moves.

No. 5 — 2018, Help on the blue line

The Feb. 26, 2018 deal that sent Ryan McDonagh from New York to Tampa Bay took some of the blue-line burdens off defenseman Victor Hedman. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

Acquired: Defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller from the Rangers

Gave up: Forwards Vladislav Namestnikov and Brett Howden; defenseman Libor Hajek; a 2018 first-round draft pick, and a 2019 second-round pick

Analysis: The Lightning raised eyebrows with the trade. The list of what they gave up seems long: a former first-round pick, Namestnikov; two prospects and two high future picks. But McDonagh brought something the Lightning needed: support for Victor Hedman. The team’s top defenseman did it all before McDonagh arrived. After the trade, the Lightning could look to McDonagh in defensive situations, too.

Postscript: The Lightning later traded Miller in June 2019 for a 2019 draft pick that became a strong goalie prospect, Hugo Alnefelt, and a conditional 2020 first-round pick they flipped to the Devils in the trade for Blake Coleman on Sunday.

No. 4 — 2017, Committing to a franchise goalie

At the time of the trade, Erik Cernak was an unknown prospect, but he's become a core piece of the Lightning's future. [JEFF ROBERSON | AP]

Acquired: Goalie Peter Budaj, defenseman Erik Cernak and a 2017 seventh-round pick from the Kings

Gave up: Goalie Ben Bishop and a 2017 fifth-round pick

Analysis: The pieces acquired weren’t the point at the time. The trade was a business move for the Lightning to settle on one No. 1 goalie between Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Somewhat oversimplifying: They picked the one who cost less.

The trade set Vasilevskiy, then a 22-year-old splitting time as starter, as the franchise goalie. The decision has worked out pretty well for the Lightning; Vasilevskiy has become one of the league’s top goalies.

At the time, Cernak was a prospect in the minors, something of an unknown. He has become a major piece of the Lightning’s future on defense, making an already good trade better.

No. 3 — 2012, Goalie of the future

The trade wasn't about the draft pick, but it ended up being the most important piece when the Lightning got Andrei Vasilevskiy. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

Acquired: Defenseman Sebastien Piche and a 2012 first-round pick from the Red Wings

Gave up: Forward Steve Downie to Avalanche

Analysis: What makes this trade great is who the Lightning got with that first-round draft pick: Vasilevskiy. Downie was a fan favorite at the time, and trading those players hurts. But in hindsight, the trade was worth it.

This was of the NHL’s rare three-team trades. The Lightning got defenseman Kyle Quincey from the Avalanche for Downie and then sent Quincey to the Red Wings for the pick and Piche, who becomes a footnote in the story of how Tampa Bay ended up with Vasilevskiy.

No. 2 — 2013, A key piece on the way to elite

Ben Bishop was a backup before coming to the Lightning, but he helped bring the team to its current standing in the league.

Acquired: Goalie Ben Bishop from the Senators

Gave up: Forward Cory Conacher and a 2013 fourth-round pick

Analysis: In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the Lightning was on its way to a second straight year out of the playoffs. This trade gave them the goalie they needed to get back to being an elite organization.

From today’s perspective, the trade looks lopsided. At the time, Bishop was a promising backup and Conacher was on rookie-of-the-year watch lists.

After being acquired April 3, Bishop played nine games for the Lightning in the 48-game season. He took over the starting job the next season as the Lightning made the playoffs to start a run of postseason appearances in five of the next six years.

Bishop wasn’t the only new difference-maker arriving in 2013. Jon Cooper was brought on from the Lightning’s AHL team as coach after Guy Boucher was fired. But Bishop had a big role in getting the Lightning back to being one of the league’s best.

No. 1 — 2014, The St. Louis trade

Anthony Cirelli might not be a part of the Lightning if it weren't for the Martin St. Louis trade. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]

Acquired: Forward Ryan Callahan, a 2014 first-round pick and 2015 first- and seventh-round picks from the Rangers

Gave up: Forward Marty St. Louis and a 2015 second-round pick

Analysis: This was one of the better moves of Steve Yzerman’s tenure as general manager. St. Louis publicly requested a trade, painting Yzerman into a corner. He found a way to get out of it. Callahan brought leadership and grit to the Lightning, and became a fan favorite even as he dealt with injuries. The team and fans were sorry to see him go last offseason when he was diagnosed with a degenerative back disease.

The kicker? The trade also ended up bringing Anthony Cirelli to the Lightning. Tampa Bay flipped the 2015 first-round pick to the Islanders for 2015 second- and third-rounders. The latter pick became Cirelli, the Lightning’s two-way center of the future. Mitchell Stephens, a promising center, was the second-round pick.

Postscript: The Lightning also traded the 2014 first-rounder to the Islanders for two 2014 second-rounders, with which they drafted defensemen Jonathan MacLeod (never signed) and Dominik Masin (prospect with AHL Syracuse).

Honorable mention — 2004, On the way to the Cup

The Lightning didn't need a big trade deadline move on the way to the Stanley Cup, because they had already acquired Darryl Sydor.

Acquired: Defenseman Darryl Sydor and a 2004 fourth-round pick from the Blue Jackets

Gave up: Forward Alexander Svitov and a 2004 third-round pick

Analysis: The trade occurred six weeks before the deadline, so it doesn’t really belong on this list. But at the time, the Lightning said they didn’t need to make big moves at the deadline because they had made their move in January, so we’re making it an honorable mention. Sydor was the missing piece that put the Lightning on a path to its only Stanley Cup win. If this trade had happened at the deadline, it would be No. 1.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at Follow @dianacnearhos.