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Why the Lightning are skeptical of deadline rentals

Tampa Bay hasn’t gotten involved in the rental market. This team prefers players with more time on their contracts.

TAMPA — A lot of names fly around as the trade deadline approaches every year. Most of them are rentals, players the Lightning traditionally haven’t gotten involved with.

Rentals — players with expiring contracts — are obvious targets. Teams unsure about re-signing them or unwilling to re-sign them can move them for something in return. Teams can trade for them without a long-term obligation if they don’t work out.

This season, early talk swirled around Taylor Hall. But the star forward was traded by the Devils to the Coyotes in December. Among the notable names still subject to speculation is Rangers wing Chris Kreider as people around the league wonder if the Rangers would re-sign him or make him a trading block as part of a rebuild.

Related: The Lightning's top five trade deadline moves of all time ... no rentals here

Last season, Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky were among the big names tossed around. The Blues Jackets ended up going big, getting Duchene from the Senators and essentially renting Panarin and Bobrovsky from themselves.

The Lightning, instead of going for rentals, have gone for players with another year on their contracts, often players they plan to re-sign. This season, for example, general manager Julien BriseBois traded for Blake Coleman from the Devils on Sunday, saying the forward being under contract for next season was part of the appeal.

In 2018, the Lightning traded for forward J.T. Miller, who was in the last year of his contract Rangers, and signed him in the offseason. They ended up in a salary-cap crunch and had to trade him last year, but that wasn’t their original intention. In the Miller trade, the Lightning also got defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who had another season left on his contract, and they extended him for another seven.

“In my time here, we’ve never signed a rental,” coach Jon Cooper said. “The biggest thing we’ve done as a rental was sign a guy in September or August for one year.”

He pointed to forwards Brenden Morrow and Chris Kunitz, who were over 35 when they signed one-year deals and turned out to be “instrumental parts of us going very, very deep in the playoffs,” in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

BriseBois went back and looked at past rental deals and wasn’t impressed with what he found.

“There aren’t too many good deals in there,” he said. “It’s not a great time to be buying. You’re buying at a premium, and it rarely pays off.”

How such a move pays off depends on whom you ask.

It’s looking iffy for Arizona so far. The Coyotes, whom the Lightning play Saturday, have remained on the playoff bubble. And they have only won four of their last 16 games.

Columbus would say last season’s gambit was worth it. The Blue Jackets went all in, knowing they would likely lose their star wing (Panarin) and goalie (Bobrovsky) to free agency when the season was over.

The Blue Jackets traded two prospects and two conditional first-round draft picks for Duchene (when Duchene didn’t sign with them in the offseason, opting for the Predators instead, Columbus team kept its 2020 pick). The Blue Jackets also sent two second-rounders and a player to Ottawa for forward Ryan Dzingel. Then they sent two more picks (a fourth and a seventh) for defenseman Adam McQuaid from the Rangers and a 2022 fifth-round pick for goalie Keith Kinkaid from the Devils.

All those moves, and going into the 2019 draft with only three late-round picks, did not add up to the Stanley Cup for Columbus. They did, however, turn into a first-round sweep of the Cup-favorite Lightning for the Blue Jackets’ first playoff series win. To some in the organization, that was worth the price.

Related: Lightning trade Danick Martel to Panthers for another AHL forward

Other teams made significant rental moves last season, too.

The Stars traded a second-rounder and a 2020 third-round pick for forward Mats Zuccarello as the Rangers unloaded. They lost in the second round in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blues.

Forward Kevin Hayes, also traded by the Rangers, didn’t provide the Jets with a boost to the Cup, either. Winnipeg gave up a young player and a first-round pick but didn’t get out of the first round, losing in six games to St. Louis.

St. Louis’s deadline move for defenseman Michael Del Zotto from the Ducks didn’t make a difference on the Blues’ run to the Cup last season — he didn’t play in the playoffs — but Washington hit the jackpot on its rental the season before.

The Capitals gave up a third-round pick to get defenseman Michal Kempny from the Blackhawks. The decidedly unflashy rental proved a key improvement on the blue line on Washington’s route to the Cup.

The Capitals’ trade for Kempny, who re-signed with Washington in June 2018, is the kind that keeps teams investing big at the trade deadline. The Lightning, however, haven’t liked those odds so far.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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